News and Opinion

The Japanese Film Ephemera Collection at Yale

Wow, it has been a long time since my last post! Sorry about that! It's been a busy semester, but I also have found few things to write about. But now I have one.

The Yale University Library has finally made public an important archival collection on Japanese film that I helped create. It is the Japanese Film Ephemera Collection which is housed in Manuscripts and Archives, inside Sterling Memorial Library.

Those who study film history in general know that ephemera can be important sources for understanding the way cinema works. Ephemera can include such things as posters, stills, magazines, handbills, advertisements, and programs. One may think that the only real thing that matters in studying a movie is the film itself, but as years of research in film history have shown, especially under the rubric of reception studies, the actual meaning that real audiences garner from a film is not exclusively the result of the text or of the director's intention. Viewers play a significant role in working with the text to create its meaning, interpreting it and adding their own experiences and feelings. Critics and other figures try to shape the text as well, and film companies, knowing the role of audiences quite well, also try, in advertisements and other publicity material, to not just get people to fork out money, but to form certain expectations that will frame how they view the film (informing people of the genre is one of the main examples of this). The notion that reception shapes a film is old hat for those of us who study Japanese film, because we know that a major portion of Japanese film history was dominated by the figure of the benshi, a person who took what was never a complete text and worked with the audience to complete it. As one of the elements that shape or represent reception, ephemera are thus crucial for understanding how a movie came to life amongst real people in its own time, becoming an experience that might have been quite different from us watching a DVD of the film on our laptop.

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