Eiga Kagaku Kenkyu and Film Studies in Japan


When it comes to old magazines, Japan is still a reprint (fukkokuban) culture. The North American libraries I used from grad school mostly had microfilms or microfiches of old journals, but Japan didn’t really get on the microfilm bandwagon, at least in a broad, commercial fashion. Old periodicals were made available to lots of institutions by reprinting them. With some reprints even reproducing the original colors, they were far better to look at than microfilms but they tended to be quite expensive. Still, it was thanks to such reprints that more libraries now have copies of prewar film magazines such as Kinema junpo, Kinema Record, Kokusai eiga shinbun, or Nihon eiga. The only reprints I had been involved in before were reprints of old film books, such as the Nihon eigaron gensetsu taikei series (Yumani Shobo), for which I contributed commentaries on Gonda Yasunosuke or the Film Law. 

Whenever I go to the annual Association for Asian Studies conference, I make a point of visiting the publishers’ booths, in part to find out what reprints have been recently published. Most of the reps of the Japanese publishers know me, so in our conversations, I am occasionally asked what should be reprinted next. Given my current research on Japanese film theory, I often suggest some of the prewar film theory or film studies journals. 

That’s been happening for some time, and nothing ever came of it, so I was surprised to get an email in early summer this year from Yumani Shobo (which published our anthology of classical Japanese film theory and the Japanese translation of our research guide). They said they had decided to reprint one of my suggestions—the journal Eiga kagaku kenkyu (Scientific Studies of Cinema—though “Studies in Film Science” could work as well)—and that they needed a statement for the publicity and a commentary for the published volumes in a little over a month.That put a monkey wrench in my summer plans, but in the end, I became the supervising editor for the reprint. 

I recommended Eiga kagaku kenkyu, which was published from 1928 to 1932, because it was one of the first concerted efforts by film practitioners to rigorously study the film medium. including not only filmmaking technique, but many aspects from the film business to cinema aesthetics. It is a treasure trove of contemporary insider accounts of the multiple dimensions of cinema, and essential for anyone researching the history of film technology, industry, filmmaking, and aesthetics. Here’s the statement I wrote for the publicity: 

The rich history of Japanese film, which has produced many of the masterpieces of world cinema, is the product of many years of hard efforts and foundation building. While it is important how filmmakers acquired the art of film through learning from and training under their seniors at the studio, they did not simply learn cinema through practice. In many cases, film artists researched the cinema, analyzed it, and published their results inside and outside the studio. Eiga kagaku kenkyu (Scientific Studies of Cinema) is a landmark experiment in this history: a serious journal written by those on the film set that “scientifically” researches film. Under the initial editorship of Murata Minoru and Ushihara Kiyohiko, two of the leading directors of the 1920s and early 1930s, the journal featured the participation of a star-studded cast of filmmakers and actors, such as Mizoguchi Kenji, Ozu Yasujiro, Yoda Yoshikata, Itami Mansaku, Natsukawa Shizue, Midorikawa Michio, Suzuki Denmei, Negishi Koichi, and Mori Iwao—as well as critics such as Tanaka Saburo, Ishimaki Yoshio, Ikeda Hisao, Kishi Matsuo, and Futaba Junzaburo. Researching many of the fundamental issues facing the film world of the day, the journal took on many problems, both practical and theoretical, including the introduction of sound, the management of studios and theaters, censorship, film distribution, scriptwriting, the use of film technique, and cinema’s relation to the other arts. With most every issue featuring a detailed analysis of a single film, Eiga kagaku kenkyu can even be considered one of the origins of film studies in Japan.

The 19-page commentary I wrote in Japanese, “Eiga o kagakuteki ni kenkyu suru koto” (inserted at the end of Volume 5), gets into more detail about the nature of the journal and its history.

The reprint includes all the 10 issues produced of the journal, assembled in five volumes. As with many reprints, it is expensive (over $1000), and is not intended for individuals to purchase. The publication is aimed at libraries, and I hope as many can purchase it as possible. Yumani is not likely to reprint some of the other film theory journals I recommended if this doesn’t sell.

Here is the bibliographic data and links to information on the reprint.

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