Past Event: Kinema Club III

Suiten Kan Weekly cover

This event has passed.

Dates: Friday, February 13, 2004 to Saturday, February 14, 2004

Venue: New York University

City and State: New York, New York

Organizers: Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (NYU) and Abé Mark Nornes (UM)

The success of Kinema Club II in Honolulu left participants screaming for more. So here you go!  Kinema Club III will be held at New York University, and the format will be more like our first outing. Papers will be distributed beforehand in mid-January, and presenters will give only the barest of introductions before opening the floor to discussion.  

This also means that space at the table is limited to about 20 participants. We will fill those seats on a first come, first served basis starting with this email. If you would like to come to New York for Kinema Club III please contact us now.  

If you are unable to come (or get turned away for that matter) fear not. We will hold Kinema Club IV in late spring/early summer 2005. This will be a large gathering—perhaps larger than this year’s event—and if you would like to host it please contact us directly.

  • February 13 (Friday) 15:00-18:00
    –Tom Lamarre, “Worlds without Others: Anime and the World-Making Power of the Fetish”
    –Satomi Saito, “The Evolution of Anime Language: Anime Consumption”
  • February 14 (Saturday) 9:00-12:00
    –Daisuke Miyao, “Stardom and Japanese Modernity: Sessue Hayakawa and the Pure Film Movement”
    –Mark Anderson, “The Star System in Japanese Cinema”
    –Michael Raine, “Non-intensive Mise-en-scene: Textual Analysis and Japanese Popular Ephemera”
    –Catherine Russell, “Naruse at P.C.L. (1935-37): The Moga and her Sisters”


Worlds without Others: Anime and the World-Making Power of the Fetish

Thomas Lamarre
This paper is basically a comparison of two kinds of fetish, one that opens world-making power, one that forecloses it.  My examples of the foreclosure of world-making power come from recent series that try to construct histories across different media — primarily Blood: The Last Vampire with its animated film, video game, novels and manga; and the recent Matrix sequel, with its video game and animated films (a strategy borrowed from Blood and other anime series).  I argue that the multi-planar aesthetics (or internal montage) characteristic of many anime films and series allow for the production of ‘signature layers’ within the image.  The spectator attends to, and often notes the difference between, character designer, writer, producer, and director.  The use of signature layers has allowed anime to explore the possibilities for histories across media — and potentially new ways of imagining history and media.   Yet it is a strategy of serialization that remains so close to the logic of the commodity fetish that is almost indistinguishable from it.  These series foreclose the world-making power of the fetish in the commodity.

As an example of animation that opens world-making power differently, I call on a recent Japanese animated series, Chobits, based on the popular manga penned by the four-women team named CLAMP.  (CLAMP is team known for their reworking of different genres, and Chobits is their version of (or response to) hentai.)  Although Chobits also remains disturbingly close to the logic of the commodity fetish, the way in which Chobits reworks the conventions of hentai allows us to see what is at stake in hentai — the narrative and visual construction of a ‘world without others.’  I look at how Chobits works narratively and visually to construct its world without others — to remove otherness from the structuration of the visual field.  This not only tells us about how hentai works.   It also offers another way to think about how, in the drive to produce new worlds, the multi-planar aesthetics of anime strive to go beyond the logic of commodity fetish.  While (perhaps inevitably) Chobits and other hentai may fall short, their virtue is to show the problem so clearly.

The Evolution of Anime Language: Anime Consumption

Satomi Saito
Japanese animation, now commonly referred to as anime, is an interesting field of study, not just because of its popularity in the global market today but because of the way it disturbs existing disciplinary boundaries.  Despite its demand from the side of students, anime has always been a nuisance for scholars and teachers of literary studies, Japanese studies, and film studies.  Anime resists these disciplinary approaches firstly because anime’s dominant format, which is the serialized TV program, is hopelessly multiple denying the notion of authorship and textual coherency.  Moreover, anime cannot fit into a single medium, cell-animation, since it developed along with fan cultures that traverse several different media such as manga, music, garage kits, idol culture, and a game.  What we see in anime culture is a media-mix consumption that characterizes the global consumer market today.  If we fail to see the role of anime in media-mix global markets, we end up reinforcing the same disciplinary problems by accommodating anime harmoniously into existing boundaries.

In my paper, I would like to discuss possibilities of a new visual theory for anime analysis that makes it possible to treat anime not as a coherent category, but as dynamic media-mix phenomena.  When Japanese animation started to target young adult audience, which is also the birth of “anime,” it went through changes in its visual aesthetics.  Characteristics of limited animation, i.e. segmentation of shots and reliance on still images, introduced the issue of point-of-view comparable to cinema.  This point-of-view links the discourse not simply to the story-world as in cinema but also to the characters that are extremely fetishized with excessive details, shades, and highlights which inevitably makes the images flat and static.  This change in visual aesthetics is resulted from the changes in consumer habits in the 80s.  The consumption of stories, which facilitated the proliferation of manga-based animation (telebi manga) in the 70s, was gradually substituted by the consumption of images (anime characters) in the 80s.  Instead of plots and stories, rapidly consumable “flat” characters became primal commodities that traverse multiple media in the 90s.  In such circulation of images, stories these characters convey become more and more marginal; or rather they become something that can be fabricated depending on the consumers’ demands in its aftermarket.

By treating anime as a new mode of consumption, my paper will offer an alternative to the thematic analysis of anime that presumably reflects contemporary Japanese society and to the historical analysis of anime that traces its chronological history to pre-war era presupposing anime’s identity as cell-animation.

Stardom and Japanese Modernity: Sessue Hayakawa and the Pure Film Movement

Daisuke Miyao

Sessue Hayakawa (1886-1973) was a very popular silent film star in the United States from 1915 until 1922. He was the only non-Caucasian movie star who had the status of a matinee idol. Hayakawa’s unique stardom was formed and received at the complex intersection of global film culture and social and cultural discourses, especially on race, class, gender, nation, and modernity. Films and film stardom have been produced and consumed in locally specific contexts and various conditions of reception. Miriam Hansen claims, “To write the international history of classical American cinema, therefore, is a matter of tracing not just its mechanisms of standardization and hegemony but also the diversity of ways in which this cinema was translated and reconfigured in both local and translocal contexts of reception.” This paper examines the way Hayakawa’s stardom was differently appropriated and articulated within the social and national formation by various and contradictory political, ideological, and cultural interests before, during, and after his or her public circulation.

The 1910s was the time when the American film industry achieved global market dominance, largely during and due to the First World War. The 1910s and early 20s marked a pivotal period with Hollywood coming into existence as a global center of film production and promotion to a certain degree. Japanese audiences were often dismayed by the result and protested against Hayakawa’s representation of Japan in the light of authenticity.

Simultaneously they tried to utilize Hayakawa’s star image for their own political or nationalist purposes. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Japanese government domestically adopted a modernization policy. Particularly after World War I, Japan tried to participate in world politics and economy as a modernized nation. As an attempt to compete with European and American cultural colonialism and to bolster nationalism using cinema, Japanese intellectuals and government officials initiated a movement, or a trend, called “jun’eigageki undo,” the Pure Film Movement, to appropriate Hollywood-style filmmaking for the purpose of modernizing cinema in Japan. In such a trend, Hayakawa’s American stardom was incorporated into Japanese modernity in a complicated way. As an American import, Hayakawa was praised because his star image had a universal appeal well beyond Japanese cultural boundaries. As a Japanese actor, Hayakawa was praised as an ideal representative of Japanese people and culture for his popularity in the US, but simultaneously he was often criticized for appearing in anti-Japanese films that were considered as distorting actual Japanese national and cultural characteristics.

The Star System in Japanese Silent Film

Mark Anderson

I am interested in a collaborative project that undertakes a historical survey of the star system in Japanese film, its ties to genre, and the
evolution of typecasting as it relates to gender, class, and ethnicity.
The paper I will be presenting examines the shimpa to silent film transition in connection with Konjiki Yasha and Hototogisu. There are
seventeen silent versions of Konjiki Yasha. My preliminary research indicates that rival studios placing their stars in this vehicle have something to do with this incredible proliferation of remakes.
The notices on silent versions of Konjiki Yasha I’ve found so far generally relate Entertainment Tonight type of information: where the film
is being shot, which stars are involved, and how anxiously the film release is being anticipated. Much of the story seems to come from the press buzz around the celebrity actors and actesses.
My paper will develop this line of questioning toward answering how casting was conducted in early silent family drama and from what point casting was relied upon in packaging and marketing film to the public. Lastly, I will try to examine what the particular codes of typecasting assume concerning gender, class, and ethnicity in film roles and celebrity as sold to the Japanese public in the early 20th century.

Non-intensive Mise-en-scene: Textual Analysis and Japanese Popular Ephemera

Michael Raine

In the middle of Taiyo no kisetsu, the first of the “taiyozoku” films of 1956, a scene opens with a high angle extreme long shot of a group of young men about to launch a boat in the harbor at Hayama. At the bottom of the screen we see that they are chased by a group of young women in swimsuits. After importuning them for a ride on the boat the leader of the girls asks where the boys are from, which brings a geographically implausible reply that sounds like “Shiga-ken, sa”. But the line also sounds like “see you again, sa” a play on the girls’ strikingly foreign bodily presentation – a low angle shot of swimsuits and sunglasses – that is reinforced when their leader replies to her own question, saying that they’re from the Yoshida English school. When the boys’ spokesman asks for the girls’ names their leader replies, “Mary, Sally, Michi, Judy … Elsa”. That response leads one of the boys to ask after their nationality to which Elsa replies, equally facetiously, “Issei, of course. Everyone says so”. That foreign affiliation seems the point of a scene that ends without resolution (it is not clear whether the girls get their ride, nor do they appear in the rest of the film), a point confirmed by one of the boys who highlights this feminine detournement of nationality by dubbing each of the boys with an archaic male name suited only for jidai-geki.

Since “gender” is the single category most often applied to ideology critique in the cinema, this scene should pose few problems. In these arguments women are made to bear either the burden of nationality (the woman as the threatened “Japanese thing” that must be preserved) or the mark of a suspiciously anti-national modernity (the moga, the pan-pan, or the apure ge-ru). The task of the critic is to choose between these fetishizing and sadistic representations, and to prosecute the film accordingly. Perhaps in the end that’s the best thing to do with Taiyo no kisetsu, a film for which it would be difficult to mount an aesthetic defense. Instead, I would like to consider the importance of non-intensive “mise-en-scene” to this portrayal of linguistic and bodily “miscegenation”, as it relates to 1950s Japanese “audio-visual culture”. That is, rather than find in the film hidden resources of formal play or ideological tension, I will claim that the film’s relation to the social phenomena that produced it was one of citation, and that a more productive understanding of how we should think of the film as a film comes from an study of its connection to wider extra-cinematic discourses.

In the course of that project I will discuss the aural and visual composition of the scene, and the place of such mise-en-scene analysis in the recent theorization of “visual culture” in the recent writing of Ella Shohat, Robert Stam, and Nicholas Mirzeoff. I will conclude that attempts to find abstract and non-exclusionary formulations of visual culture fall back on less sophisticated “logic of the form” assumptions to give them structure. Nationality (and Americanization) will still be the foreground topics of the piece but I will also be concerned with changes in Japanese cinema as an institution, and to changes in Japanese “body culture.” Perhaps in the end, this scene from Taiyo no kisetsu is most interesting for its striking typicality: audio-visual culture is best understood as a web of nodes with no center, and no automatic political consequences, rather than as a field punctuated by self-deconstructing texts.

Naruse at P.C.L. (1935-37): The Moga and her Sisters

Catherine Russell
In 1935 Naruse Mikio was invited to join the new studio P.C.L. as a key new director of their “modern” cinema. The move also corresponds to his shift to sound film production. The analysis of Naruse’s films during the two years before P.C.L. was integrated into the Toho enterprise suggest how his representation of women and urban space coincided with the larger shifts in Japanese culture and mass media during this period. Cultural historians Miriam Silverberg and Harry Harootunian have discussed the interwar period in terms of the construction of Japanese modernity as a discourse of everyday life. Naruse’s cinema demonstrates how this discourse was articulated in filmic form, and how the dynamics of “modan culture” gave way in the latter part of the decade to a very different national culture that nevertheless remained grounded in the everyday.

While Naruse’s cinema studiously avoided any direct acknowledgement of the ascendancy of the military in Japanese life, two of his films of this period include pairings of women associated with modernity and tradition. Otome-gokoro sannin kyoudai (Three Sisters With Maiden Hearts, 1935) and Uwasa no musume (The Girl on Everyones Lips, 1935) are both about sisters living in downtown Tokyo. While these two films include characters close to the infamous moga figure of interwar Japan, in Naruse’s cinema female characters are given a greater complexity than is usually associated with the moga stereotype. Tsuma yo bara yo no ni (Wife! Be Like a Rose!), the first Japanese feature to be distributed in the U.S., includes his most engaging female character of the period, played by Chiba Sachiko. Although there is no evidence to support Burch’s claim that Naruse “refused certain norms of Western cinema,” Tsuma yo bara is indeed among his most well-executed films. I will argue that, despite Burch’s analysis, Naruse was not engaged in any kind of “transgressive” practice; and while his films of the 30s are certainly stylistically and formally idiosyncratic, his experiments were motivated more by a need to find an appropriate means of expression for modern Japanese life, than to challenge established patterns of representation.

The paper will also include brief discussions of some of the other titles Naruse was responsible for during this period: Sakasu gonin-gumi (Five Men in the Circus, 1935), Kumoemon Tochuken (1936), Nynoni aishu (Feminine Melancholy, 1937) and Nadare (Avalanche, 1937). These films suggest how Naruse contributed to a popular culture in which gender norms were under continual revision and contestation. The volume of films is in itself remarkable (he made 10 films during these three years), and although the quality is uneven, there is a consistent articulation of a “vernacular modernism” appropriate to the shifting dynamics of the public sphere. Precisely because of its association with new industrial methods of mass culture, Naruse’s cinema provides a privileged insight into the shifts in the symbolic cultural economy of the period. My reading of these films is thus particularly attuned to the details of fashion, architecture, music and narrative as well as—or as elements of—cinematic style and effects of gender.