Kawabata and Cinema: The Ambivalence of Knowledge, Medium, and Influence

In 2014 I had the fortune of participating in an international symposium on the Nobel Prize winning novelist, Kawabata Yasunari, that took place in Paris. I wrote about that experience here. There I spoke about Kawabata’s relationship with cinema, a topic that was an extension of my book on A Page of Madness, a film which Kawabata helped create. Through the hard work of Wada Hirofumi and others, a Japanese anthology emerged first from that conference at the end of 2016, which contains a short version of my paper on Kawabata and film (I introduced that here). 

Well, the full version in English finally came out in January of this year. Thanks to the diligence of Michael Bourdaghs and others, the journal Japan Forum published an issue devoted to the theme “Kawabata Yasunari in the Twenty-First Century” largely composed of selected papers from the symposium. It features a wonderful piece by the novelist Tawada Yoko, as well as thought provoking scholarly articles by Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Kono Kensuke, Nihei Masato, Tomi Suzuki, and Wada Hirofumi. 

My contribution ended up with the title: "Kawabata and Cinema: The Ambivalence of Knowledge, Medium, and Influence.” Here’s the abstract:

Many researchers have considered the involvement of Kawabata Yasunari in cinema and the medium's possible influence on his literature. Such approaches, however, tend to assume a definition of the motion pictures as visuality or montage that then influences Kawabata instead of first considering Kawabata's own conception of cinema, his own film theory. By analyzing his writings on film, including his film criticism, short stories involving cinema, and his involvement in the film A Page of Madness, this paper outlines Kawabata's conception of cinema and argues that he developed a portrait of cinema that posed it as a challenge to identity, perception and knowledge itself. Often associated with the female body, the movies became to Kawabata both an object of fascination and a threat, something ultimately to be controlled through literature and the literary subject. What influenced his literature was then perhaps this perception of cinema as posing an epistemic crisis. It is his ambivalence towards this challenge that can serve as a key for elaborating on Kawabata's complicated location within prewar modernism.

And here is the bibliographic information:

  • Aaron Gerow. "Kawabata and Cinema: The Ambivalence of Knowledge, Medium, and Influence," Japan Forum 30:1 (2018), 26-41. DOI: 10.1080/09555803.2017.1307254

The publisher Taylor and Francis allows me to post a copy of my own article on my university repository. You can download a copy of the article there.

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