Japanese Cinema Survey (Thematical)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Author: Abé Mark Nornes
Author email address: amnornes@umich.edu
Institution: University of Michigan

Goals of the Course:

  1. To survey the history of the Japanese moving image, from its beginnings in one-shot actualities to the proliferation of video-based media.
  2. To interrogate the relationship of history and photographic representation.
  3. To conceptualize “nation,” “nationalism” and “national cinema” in a country whose psychic and political borders have been surprisingly fluid in the past 100 years.
  4. To study the interaction between national and international dimensions of texts, auteurs and movements.
  5. To compare the development of Japanese cinema to other national contexts.


  • Participation 10%
  • 6-page paper on Kurosawa Akira 15%
  • 6-page paper on Ozu Yasujirô 20%
  • Midterm 15%
  • Term Paper on a single film 20%
  • Final 20%

Required Texts:

  • Anderson, Joseph and Donald Richie. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1959). Expanded version: (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).
  • Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History, ed. by Arthur Nolletti, Jr. and David Desser (Bloomington: Indiana, 1992).
  • Tokyo Story, ed. David Desser (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
  • Reader (available at Accucopy)


  • Sept 8: Introduction
  • Sept 10: 100 years in a nutshell
    • Read: R/A 402-403, 405; Iwamoto Kenji, “Cinema: A Short History of Japanese Cinema” (Reader).
    • Screening: Ballad of Narayama (Imamura Shôhei)
  • Sept 15: Godzilla
    • Read: Jerome Shapiro, “When a God Awakes” (Reader).
  • Sept 17: Kurosawa
    • Read: R/A 376-380, 402-403, 405; “Kurosawa: A Retrospective” (Reader).
    • Screening: Sanji Goto (Thomas Kurihara), Rashômon (Kurosawa Akira)
  • Sept 22: Study of National Cinemas I: Pure Cinema Movement
    • Read: Stephen Crofts, “Concepts of National Cinema” (Reader).
  • Sept 24: Study of National Cinemas II: The Discipline of the Discipline
    • Read: Susan Hayward, “Defining the ‘National’ of a Country’s Cinematographic Production” (Reader); Darrell Davis, “Ozu’s Mother” (TS).
    • Screening: Tokyo Story (Ozu Yasujirô)
  • Sept 29: Imamura Shôhei
  • Oct 1: Ôshima and the Avant-garde
    • Read: Max Tessier (RJC); Ôshima Nagisa (RJC); Maureen Turim, The Films of Ôshima Nagisa (Reader).
    • Screening: Night and Fog in Japan (Ôshima Nagisa)
  • Oct 6: Music in Japanese Film
    • Read: Ifukube Akira Interviews (users.pdnt.com/~kaiju/grpcomp.htm).
  • Oct 8: Movement I: New Wave (Kurosawa paper due)
    • Read: R/A 451-456, 457-477.
    • Screening: Ai (Iimura Takahiko), Double Suicide (Shinoda Masahiro)
  • Oct 13: Movement II: Tendency Film/Amateur Film/Prokino
    • Read: R/A 64-71; Aaron Gerow interview with Prokino members.
  • Oct 15: Talkies and the War 1931-1945
    • Read: R/A 72-158; Iwamoto Kenji (RJC).
    • Screening: Dawn of Freedom (Abe Yutaka and Geraldo de Leon)
  • Oct 20: Occupation (Japanese Cinema as American Cinema) & The 1950s (“Golden Age”?)
    • Read: R/A 159-296.
  • Oct 22: Midterm
    • Screening: Ugetsu (Mizoguchi Kenji)
  • Oct 27: Mizoguchi
    • Read: Luc Moullet, André Bazin, Jacques Rivette: “Exchanges about Kurosawa and Mizoguchi,” from Cahiers du Cinéma; Alexandre Astruc, “What is Mise-en-scène?” (Reader); Donald Kirihara, Mizoguchi (Reader).
  • Oct 29: Radical documentary
    • Read: Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki (Doc Box #8); Interview with Tamura Masaki (Doc Box #8); Interview with Matsumoto Toshio (Doc Box #9); all three are in Documentary Box (an online journal at www.city.yamagata.yamagata.jp/yidff/box/en/index.html#contents)
    • Screening: Children Who Draw (Hani Susumu) & Sanrizuka: Summer (Ogawa Shinsuke)
  • Nov 3: Burch I
    • Read: Noel Burch. To the Distant Observer, 61-86.
  • Nov 5: Burch II
    • Read: Burch 89-99; R/A 385-391, 448-451; Bordwell (RJC).
    • Screening: Sumo shorts, Russo-Japanese War Actualities, Great Kanto Earthquake, Shibukawa Bangoro(Futagawa Buntarô)
  • Nov 10: Silent Cinema
    • Read: R/A 21-71; Komatsu Hiroshi (RJC); Joseph Anderson (RJC).
  • Nov 12: A Short History of Japanese Film Criticism
    • Read: Start reading for Nov. 17 paper
    • Screening: I Was Born, But… (Ozu Yasujirô, with benshi performance)
  • Nov 17: Ozu Yasujiro (Ozu paper due: later papers NOT accepted)
    • Read: R/A 359-363; Kathe Geist (RJC); Donald Richie (RJC); Donald Richie, “A Definition of the Japanese Film”; Donald Richie, “Viewing Japanese Film: Some Considerations; Kristen Thompson and David Bordwell, “Space and Narrative in the Films of Ozu”; Hasumi Shigehiko, “Sunny Skies” (TS).
  • Nov 19: The Yakuza Film
    • Read: Keiko McDonald (RJC).
    • Screening: Gonin (Ishii Teruo)
  • Nov 24: Jidai-geki
    • Read: Lisa Spaulding (RJC); Desser, “Toward a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film” (RJC).
    • Nov 26: Thanksgiving Break
  • Dec 1: Censorship and the Nikkatsu Roman Porno
    • Read: Ian Buruma, Behind the Mask (Reader)
  • Dec 3: Anime (Term Papers Due)
    • Read: Ueno Toshiya, “Japanimation and Techno Orientalism,” (in Documentary Box 9.
    • Screening: Broken Down Film (Tezuka Osamu), Jumping (Tezuka Osamu), Ghost in the Shell (Oshii Mamoru)
  • Dec 8: Kitano Takeshi
    • Read: San Francisco Bay Guardian, March 18, 1998 by Chuck Stephens, AP Newswire, interview by Eric Talmadge, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1998, by Kevin Thomas.
  • Dec 10: National Cinema in the Age of Transnationalism
    • Read: Brian Currid, “Finally, I Reach to Africa” (Reader).
    • Screening: Fireworks (Kitano Takeshi)

Basic Bibliography for Japanese Cinema:

  • Anderson, Joseph and Donald Richie. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1959). Expanded version: (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982).
  • Barrett, Gergory. Archetypes of the Japanese Cinema: The Sociological and Religious Significance of the Principle Heros and Heroines. (London: Associated University Press, 1989).
  • Bock, Audie. Japanese Film Directors (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1980).
  • Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).
  • Burch, Nöel. To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).
  • Buruma, Ian. Behind the Mask (New York: Meridian, 1984).
  • Davis, Darrell William. Picturing Japaneseness: Monumental Style, National Identity, Japanese Film (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
  • Desser, David. Eros Plus Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988).
  • Desser, David and Arthur Nolletti, Jr., ed. Reframing Japanese Cinema (Bloomington: Indiana, 1992).
  • Hirano Kyoko. Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema under the American Occupation, 1945-1952. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992).
  • Kasza, Gregory J. The State and the Mass Media in Japan 1918-1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
  • Kirihara, Donald. Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).
  • McDonald, Keiko. Cinema East: A Critical Study of Major Japanese Films (Rutherford, New Jersey: Farleigh Dickenson University Press, 1983).
  • Mellon, Joan. Voices from the Japanese Cinema (New York: Liveright, 1975).
  • Mellon, Joan. Waves at Genji’s Door: Japan Through Its Cinema. (New York: Pantheon, 1976).
  • Nornes, Abé Mark and Fukushima Yukio, ed. The Japan/America Film Wars: WWII Propaganda and Its Cultural Contexts (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1994).
  • Oshima Nagisa. Cinema, Censorship, and the State (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992).
  • Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).
  • Richie, Donald. Japanese Cinema: Film Style and National Character (New York: Anchor, 1971).
  • Richie, Donald. A Lateral View (Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1992).
  • Richie, Donald. Ozu (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).
  • Satô Tadao. Currents in Japanese Cinema, trans. Gregory Barrett from Nihon eiga no shisôshi (Tokyo: Sanichi Shobo, 1974), (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982).
  • Schrader, Paul. Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972).
  • Turim, Maureen. The Films of Oshima Nagisa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).