Comic Legacies on the Japanese Silver Screen


I have been thinking a lot about Japanese comedy these last few years. It started not just with watching lots of film comedy, but also with going frequently to comedy halls in Japan, from yose vaudeville halls to theaters that feature manzai acts or even stand-up comedy. I taught a course in Japanese comedy in 2022, I put on a live comedy event called Verbal Arts of Japan in 2023, and even did a review of a recent book on rakugo for Monumeta Nipponica

My most recent endeavor has been to program a series featuring some of the great works of Japanese film comedy. This was not easy to do. While comedy has been a central genre in Japanese film history, few foreign festivals have programmed it and not many scholars have studied it—why is an interesting problem—so there are actually not many English subtitled film prints. The National Film Archive of Japan had a pretty good collection of prewar films, but I had to rely on the Japan Foundation for postwar films. Even then, some of the legendary series like the “Irresponsible” series featuring the Crazy Cats could not be shown because there are no subtitled prints. We also had problems with one of the film companies, which did not give us permission in time, so we had to cancel an Enoken film. Still, we came up with a pretty good set of films. 

The film are all being shown at the Humanities Quadrangle at Yale University at 7pm on each day:

February 24, 2024 

  • Ishikawa Goemon’s Memorial Service (1930, Saitō Torajirō)
  • Japanese Fighting Friends (1929, Ozu Yasujirō)
  • Singing Lovebirds (1939, Makino Masahiro)

March 1, 2024

  • Akanishi Kakita (1936, Itami Mansaku)
  • Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryō (1935, Yamanaka Sadao)

March 30, 2024

  • Room for Rent (1959, Kawashima Yūzō)
  • Doctor’s Day Off (1952, Shibuya Minoru)

April 6, 2024

  • Oh, My Bomb! (1964, Okamoto Kihachi)
  • All Under the Moon (1993, Sai Yōichi)

April 13, 2024

  • Nest Egg (1956, Chiba Yasuki)
  • Gambler’s Luck (1966, Yamada Yōji)

April 20, 2024

  • Kamome Diner (2006, Ogigami Naoko)
  • Make Way for the Jaguars! (1968, Maeda Yōichi)

The April 20th screening will feature a Q&A with Ogigami after the first film, and a panel discussion including Tomita Mika of the NFAJ. Make Way for the Jaguars!, a truly wild and outrageous comedy, will be shown for the first times with subtitles produced my me and some of my students.

The film series is co-sponsored by the Council of East Asian Studies of Yale University and the National Film Archive of Japan, with support from the Japan Foundation and the Yale Film Archive.

My students and I created a pamphlet for the series, somewhat like the pamphlets we’ve done for other big series at Yale, which is available for PDF download from the CEAS repository. Please take a look at it.

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