Authors of the Japanese Cinema: Mizoguchi Kenji, Oshima Nagisa, Kitano Takeshi

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

Author: Michael Raine
Institution: University of Iowa

Course Description:

Each of these three filmmakers represents a new generation in the history of Japanese cinema: Mizoguchi Kenji, master of the mobile long take whose career spanned the two Golden Age of Japanese cinema; Oshima Nagisa, leader of the aesthetically and politically radical Japanese New Wave; and Kitano Takeshi, new standard bearer for personal filmmaking in an increasingly banal Japanese film industry. In this class we examine the ways in which these directors have been considered film authors, or “auteurs.”We will discuss various ways of understanding authorship, in itself and in relation to the other factors involved in film production. We will also discuss the reception of these films, the way in which these three directors “author” our sense of what Japanese cinema, and by extension its culture, is all about.

Goals and Objectives:

  1. Develop skills in talking about films not just stories and characters but technical details of image and narration.
  2. Develop an awareness of the history of Japanese Cinema follow the career of three film artists whose careers span virtually the whole of Japanese film history.
  3. Develop an awareness of the history of film studies study the debate over authorship from the 1950s to the 1990s.
  4. Develop discussion skills learn how to analyze what others say and practice making persuasive arguments in class.
  5. Develop reading skills learn how to analyze complex arguments in the material that we read.
  6. Develop writing skills learn how to describe precisely and argue cogently in the written assignments.

Course Materials:

Japanese films are our primary texts. One film will be screened each week at the time and place noted above. One (free!) booklet will be distributed in class.

  • Gerald O’Grady (ed.) Mizoguchi the Master

Two books will also be available from the Prairie Lights book store.

  • Donald Kirihara Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s
  • Maureen Turim. The Films of Oshima Nagisa

Additional materials will be available in xerox form. A copy of the required reading for each week will be placed in the Reserve Room of the Main Library, under the instructor’s name and this course number. Another copy will be available in the file cabinet in room 107 BCSB.

Assignments, Class Requirements, Grading:

There will be three written assignments, a mid-term test and a final exam. In addition, you are required to participate in class discussions and to make presentations on films and reading assignments. Presentations will often be made in groups. The same grade will be applied to all members of the group. All written assignments will be explained fully in a hand-out given three weeks before the assignment deadline.

  • Participation: classroom discussion and presentations (20%)
  • Assignment 1: 5-page paper on Mizoguchi, due 10/1/98 (20%)
  • Mid-term test: quiz on material covered so far 10/22/98 (5%)
  • Assignment 2: 5-page paper on Oshima, due 11/12/98 (20%)
  • Assignment 3: EITHER: 5 page paper on one of these directors OR: 10 page paper that incorporates material from one of the earlier assignments, due 12/10/98 (20%)
  • Final Exam: short exam on issues covered in the course and on Kitano Takeshi’s film, Sonatine (15%)


  • Week 0: Introduction to Film and Authorship
    • Tuesday: 8/25/98 Discussion and explanation of the course
  • Week 1: Mizoguchi Kenji Zen and the Art of International Cinema I
    • Thursday: 8/27/98
      • Readings: Audie Bock. “Kenji Mizoguchi”
      • Film: Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogatari, 1953)
    • Tuesday: 9/1/98
      • Readings: Reviews of Ugetsu
      • Keiko McDonald. “Ugetsu: Why is it a Masterpiece?” in Mizoguchi the Master
      • Donald Richie. “Distance and Beauty in the Films of Mizoguchi”
  • Week 2: Mizoguchi Kenji, Zen and the Art of International Cinema II
    • Thursday: 9/3/98
      • Readings: Auteur theory: Extracts from Cahiers du Cinema, Movie, and Andrew Sarris
      • Alexandre Astruc. “What is mise-en-scene?” Extract from Cahiers du Cinema: The 1950s, pp. 260-265
      • David Bordwell. Extract from “Interpretation as Explication”
      • Film: Sansho the Baliff (Sansho Dayu, 1954)
    • Tuesday: 9/8/98
      • Readings: Robin Wood. “Mizoguchi: The Ghost Princess and the Seaweed Gatherer”
      • Keiko McDonald. “Sansho Dayu (Sansho the Baliff, 1954)”
  • Week 3: Mizoguchi Kenji Shimpa Melodrama and the Benshi
    • Thursday: 9/10/98
      • Readings: Joseph L. Anderson. “Spoken Silents in the Japanese Cinema”
      • Donald Kirihara. “Traditions and Backgrounds” in Mizoguchi the Master
      • Film: The Downfall of Osen (Orizuru Osen, 1935)
    • Tuesday: 9/15/98
      • Readings: Donald Kirihara. “An Unhurried Gaze” in Patterns of Time
      • Donald Kirihara. “A Zig-Zag Career” in Patterns of Time
  • Week 4: Mizoguchi Kenji Space and Realism
    • Thursday: 9/17/98
      • Readings: Donald Kirihara. “The Downfall of Osen” in Patterns of Time
      • Film: Osaka Elegy (Naniwa Hika, 1936)
    • Tuesday: 9/22/98
      • Readings: Donald Kirihara. “Naniwa Elegy” in Patterns of Time
  • Week 5: Mizoguchi Kenji – Sound and Image
    • Thursday: 9/24/98
      • Readings: Carole Cavanaugh. “Unwriting the Female Persona in Osaka Elegy and Life of Oharu” in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 64-65
      • Film: The Story of the Last Crysanthemum (Zangiku Monogatari, 1939)
    • Tuesday: 9/29/98
      • Readings: Kinoshita Chika. “Floating Sound: Sound and Image in The Story of the Last Crysanthemum” in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 45-47
      • Donald Kirihara. “The Story of the Last Crysanthemum” in Patterns of Time
  • Week 6: Mizoguchi Kenji Ways of Being “Feminisuto”
    • Thursday: 10/1/98
      • Readings: Critical reflections on Mizoguchi in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 3-9
      • Interviews with Mizoguchi in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 10-13
      • Memories of Mizoguchi in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 14-16
      • Film: Five Women Around Utamaro (Utamaro O Meguru Gonin No Onna, 1946)
    • Tuesday: 10/6/98 [First assignment due]
      • Readings: Keiko McDonald. Extract from “Facing the Occupation: Films About Women’s Liberation”
      • Dudley Andrew. “Ways of Seeing Japanese Prints and Films: Mizoguchi’s Utamaro” in Mizoguchi the Master, pp. 17-20
  • Week 7: Oshima Nagisa Youth and Cruelty in Oshima’s New Wave Films I
    • Thursday: 10/8/98
      • Readings: Audie Bock. “Nagisa Oshima”
      • Noel Burch. “Oshima Nagisa”
      • Film: Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun Zankoku Monogatari, 1960)
    • Tuesday: 10/13/98
      • Readings: Oshima Nagisa. “Is it a Breakthrough? (The Modernists of Japanese Film)”
      • Maureen Turim. “Cultural Iconoclasm and Contexts of Innovation” in The Films of Oshima Nagisa
  • Week 8: Oshima Nagisa Youth and Cruelty in Oshima’s New Wave Films II
    • Thursday: 10/15/98
      • Readings: Oshima Nagisa. “To Critics, Mainly from Future Artists,” “A Review of ‘Sleeping Lion’ Shochiku Ofuna,” “Authorial Asthenia,” “Beyond Endless Self-Negation: The Attitude of the New Filmmakers”
      • Film: The Sun’s Burial (Taiyo No Hakaba, 1960)
    • Tuesday: 10/20/98
      • Readings: Maureen Turim. “Cruel Stories of Youth and Politics” in The Films of Oshima Nagisa (I)
  • Week 9: Oshima Nagisa Iconoclasm in Politics and Film Language
    • Thursday: 10/22/98 [Mid-term Test] [Hand out Assignment #2]
      • Readings: Maureen Turim. “Feminist Troubles on a Map of Split Subjectivities” in The Films of Oshima Nagisa
      • Film: Night and Fog in Japan (Hihon No Yoru To Kiri, 1960)
    • Tuesday: 10/27/98
      • Readings: Oshima Nagisa. “What is a Shot?” “The Laws of Self-Negation,” “In Protest Against the Massacre of Night and Fog in Japan”
  • Week 10: Oshima Nagisa Independent Production and the Theatrical Sign
    • Thursday: 10/29/98
      • Readings: Maureen Turim. “Cruel Stories of Youth and Politics” in The Films of Oshima Nagisa (II)
      • Film: Death by Hanging (Koshikei, 1968)
    • Tuesday: 11/3/98
      • Readings: Oshima Nagisa. “About Death by Hanging”
      • Maureen Turim. The Films of Oshima Nagisa, pp. 61-81
      • Student Research: Reviews of Death by Hanging
  • Week 11: Oshima Nagisa Transitional Art Cinema
    • Thursday: 11/5/98
      • Readings: Roland Barthes. “The Death of the Author
      • Michel Foucault. “What is an Author?”
      • Film: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Senjo No Merii Kursumasu, 1983)
    • Tuesday: 11/10/98
      • Readings: Student Research: Articles on Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
      • Maureen Turim. The Films of Oshima Nagisa, pp. 168-184
  • Week 12: Kitano Takeshi Violent Cops and TV Genres
    • Thursday: 11/12/98 [Assignment #2 due]
      • Readings: Oshima Nagisa. “Perspectives on the Japanese Film”
      • Peter Wollen “The Auteur Theory”
      • Film: Violent Cop (Sono Otoko, Kyobo Ni Tsuki,1989)
    • Tuesday: 11/17/98
      • Readings: Student Research: Articles on Kitano and Violent Cop
  • Week 13: Kitano Takeshi Death of the Author
    • Thursday: 11/19/98 [Hand out Assignment #3]
      • Readings: Edward Buscombe. “Ideas of Authorship”
      • Film: Sonatine (Sonachine, 1993)
    • Tuesday: 11/24/98
      • Readings: Student Research: Articles on Kitano and Sonatine
  • Week 14: Kitano Takeshi
    • Thursday: 11/26/98
      • No Class Thanksgiving Break
    • Tuesday: 12/1/98
      • Readings: Stephen Crofts. “Authorship and Hollywood”
  • Week 15: Kitano Takeshi Memory and Autobiography
    • Thursday: 12/3/98
      • Readings: Timothy Corrigan. Extract from A Cinema Without Walls
      • Film: Kid’s Return (1996)
    • Tuesday: 12/8/98
    • Readings: Victor Perkins. “Film Authorship: The Premature Burial”
    • Student Research: Articles on Kitano and Kid’s Return
  • Week 16: Kitano Takeshi The Return of the Author
    • Thursday: 12/10/98 [Assignment #3 due]
    • Readings: Review of readings on Mizoguchi, Oshima, and Kitano
    • Film: Review of Films by  BY Mizoguchi, Oshima and Kitano
  • Week 17: Finals Week
    • 12/14 12/18/98