Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory: An Anthology


It’s finally out!

As many of you know, Markus Nornes and I have been working on an anthology of Japanese film theory for over a decade. The English one is still in the works, but the first volume of the Japanese edition is finally out from Yumani Shobo under the title Nihon senzen eigaronshu: Eiga riron no saihakken. The title in English is Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory: An Anthology.

It is really the first of its kind even in Japan. There have been collections of writings on film in Japan, but whenever there is a collection of “film theory” (eiga riron), almost all the authors are foreign. It is as if “film theory” did not or does not exist in Japan. This is a problem I have called the “theory complex” in a previous article (available here). 

There is and has been, however, a plethora of fascinating and stimulating writing about the nature of cinema—what anyone would call “theory”—in Japan since the first years of cinema, some of which I have been introducing for over two decades, starting with the work of Gonda Yasunosuke (an example is here). Others have been investigating Japanese film theory as well, and so Markus and I started putting together a table of contents for what could become an anthology of the more interesting theoretical pieces on Japan. The themed issue of the Review of Japanese Culture and Society I edited in 2010 was a test run of such an anthology. 

But the two of us were bogged down by post-tenure duties and not much progress was made. Since translation would be the biggest hurdle, we decided to try publishing it in Japanese first, especially since that itself would be a first. We asked Iwamoto Kenji, the distinguished film scholar who long ago talked to me about putting together an anthology of Japanese film theory, to join the project and he graciously agreed. He was an important addition because he introduced a number of splendid pieces we were not familiar with.

It took several years to come up with a table of contents, however. We all had different ideas about what should be included. Iwamoto-sensei, for instance, suggested a number of pieces that were practice-oriented and reflected their times—and were certainly valuable as historical documents—whereas I focused on articles that still seemed to speak to today’s concerns. There were a lot of compromises. The biggest problem was the issue of “film theory.” Osaki Midori’s “Eiga manso,” for instance, may not seem very theoretical, but I would argue her decision to write as she does is a conscious, arguably theoretical stance towards cinema.

The next problem was finding a publisher. We were turned down by one and then approached Yumani, which published the Japanese translation of our Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies. They thankfully came on board, but a lot of negotiations followed. The first was over length, and we ended up cutting about a third of volume, though we tried to do it by preserving as much as we could the number of pieces by excerpting the best parts of some. The other problem was production costs. Having to transcribe over 1000 pages of Japanese, check for errors, and then adjust for modern kanji and kana usage, was a difficult and costly task. In the end, I had to offer to subsidize the publication through my Yale research account. Ultimately, much gratitude goes out to the staff at Yumani for publishing such a challenging work. We also must thank Iwamoto-sensei not only for joining us, but also for going above and beyond the call of duty in the final proofreading stage.

Nihon senzen eigaronshu: Eiga riron no saihakken is 746 pages in length with over 65 selections from over 50 authors. It basically covers writings on cinema before 1945, and is divided into 13 chapters, covering a variety of topics such as early cinema, sound, montage, machine art, Marxism, criticism, audiences, animation, Japanese film, psychology, time and the frame, and nation. Each chapter has four to six pieces, each piece accompanied by a specially written commentary, capped by a commentary for the entire chapter. Markus, Iwamoto-sensei, and I split up much of these duties, but we also asked such scholars as Saito Ayako, Koga Futoshi, Yamamoto Naoki, and Tsunoda Takuya to help as well. I wrote the introduction, which touches on problems of the “theory complex," and Iwamoto-sensei and Markus each wrote short afterwords.

A complete table of contents in Japanese is available in the Books section of this website (here), but it includes works written by (in order of appearance) Nakagawa Shigeaki, Gonda Yasunosuke, Tsubouchi Shoyo, Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, Osanai Kaoru, Kaeriyama Norimasa, Tachibana Takahiro, Edogawa Ranpo, Murayama Tomoyoshi, Omori Yoshitaro, Sasa Genju, Iwasaki Akira, Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke, Iijima Tadashi, Uchida Kisao, Nakai Masakazu, Shimizu Hikaru, Terada Torahiko, Hasegawa Nyozekan, Mori Iwao, Hazumi Tsuneo, Sasaki Norio, Inagaki Taruho, Tanikawa Tetsuzo, Okuma Shigenobu, Tsumura Hideo, Osaki Midori, Uno Chiyo, Chujo Yuriko, Tosaka Jun, Takagiba Tsutomu (Miura Tsutomu), Imamura Taihei, Oya Soichi, Aono Suekichi, Otsuki Kenji, Kitagawa Fuyuhiko, Takiguchi Shuzo, Sugiyama Heiichi, Sawamura Tsutomu, and Nagae Michitaro. Some authors such as Imamura are represented by multiple pieces. 

We worked hard to keep down the price, and at ¥4800 yen, it is much cheaper than a book like this should be. The cover is quite colorful—it is from a theater pamphlet in Iwamoto-sensei’s collection—but frankly it was not my choice (I preferred one of the images now on the back cover). But it does stand out and some people seem to like it.

Yumani has not printed many copies and has not yet made any indication they want to publish the postwar volume. So if I dare say so: I think it is important for the field that this book sells well. (I should add the editors will not make a dime from this—again, I actually paid to get this published.)

So please buy it if you can. And if you are associated with an institution whose library might buy it, please request a purchase of one or more copies.

Here is the bibliographic information:

  • 日本戦前映画論集―映画理論の再発見/
Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory-An Anthology 
  • 監修: アーロン・ジェロー/岩本憲児/マーク・ノーネス 
  • 出版 ゆまに書房
  • 刊行年月 2018年11月   
  • 定価5,184円(本体4,800円) 
ISBN 978-4-8433-5365-3 
  • 目次

You can buy it on (here) or at other sellers introduced on the Yumani page for the book.

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