Japanese Cinema Survey (Chronological)

Abé Mark Nornes
Author email address: 
University of Michigan

Goals of the Course:

I. To survey the history of the Japanese moving image, from its beginnings in one-shot actualities to the proliferation of video-based media.

II. To interrogate the relationship of history and photographic representation.

III. To conceptualize “nation,” “nationalism” and “national cinema” in a country whose psychic and political borders have been surprisingly fluid in the past 100 years.

IV. To study the interaction between national and international dimensions of texts, auteurs and movements.

V. To compare the development of Japanese cinema to other national contexts.


Participation 15%

6-page paper on Ozu Yasujirô 20%

Midterm 20%

Term Paper 25%

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).



Jan 8: Introduction

Jan 13: 100 years in a nutshell

Read: R/A 402-403, 405; Komatsu Hiroshi (RJC)

Jan 14: Screening: Rashomon (Kurosawa Akira)

Jan 15: Early Cinema

Read: R/A 21-34, 444-448; Joseph Anderson (RJC).

Jan 20: MLK Day

Jan 21: Screening: Sumo shorts, Russo-Japanese War Actualities, Shibukawa Bangoro(Futagawa Buntarô)

Jan 22: Burch I

Read: Noel Burch. To the Distant Observer, 61-86.

Jan 27: Burch II

Read: R/A 385-391, 448-451; Burch 89-99.

Jan 28: Screening: Sanji Goto (Thomas Kurihara), Orochi (Bando Tsumasaburo)

Jan 29: Study of National Cinemas & the Pure Cinema Movement

Read: R/A Spaulding (RJC); Susan Hayward, “Defining the ‘National’ of a Country’s Cinematographic Production.”

Feb 3: Tendency Film, Amateur Film and Proletarian Film Movement

Read: R/A 64-71; Aaron Gerow interview with Prokino members: http:// www.city.yamagata.yamagata.jp/yidff/ff/box/box5/en/b5-2.html

Feb 4: Screening: I Was Born, But… (Ozu Yasujirô)

Feb 5: Prewar Avant-Garde

Read: R/A 54-57; David Bordwell (RJC).

Feb 10: Ozu Yasujiro (Ozu paper due)

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.”

Feb 11: Screening: Page of Madness (Kinugasa Teinosuke)

Feb 12: Talkies and the War in China 1931-1941

Read: R/A 72-125.

Feb 17: War in the Pacific 1941-1945

Read: R/A 126-158; Ueno Toshiya, “The Other and the Machine.”

Feb 18: Screening: Fighting Soldiers (Kamei Fumio)

Feb 19: Occupation–Japanese Cinema as American Cinema

Read: R/A 159-222.

Feb 24: Midterm

Feb 25: Screening: The Princess Yang (Mizoguchi Kenji)

Feb 26: The 1950s (“Golden Age”?)

Read: R/A 223-258.



Mar 10: A Short History of Japanese Film Criticism

Read: David Desser, “Toward a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film” (RJC).

Mar 11: Screening: High and Low (Kurosawa Akira)

Mar 12: Kurosawa

Read: R/A 291-323, 376-380.

Mar 17: Mizoguchi

Read: R/A 351-354; Luc Moullet, André Bazin, Jacques Rivette: “Exchanges about Kurosawa and Mizoguchi,” from Cahiers du Cinéma; Alexandre Astruc, “What is Mise-en-scène?”

Mar 18: Screening: Violence at Noon (Ôshima Nagisa)

Mar 19: New Wave

Read: R/A 451-456, 457-477.

Mar 24: Oshima

Read: Max Tessier (RJC); Oshima Nagisa (RJC).

Mar 25: Screening: Nanami: Inferno of First Love (Hani Susumu)

Mar 26: Hani

Read: James Blue, Hani Susumu Interview; Gordon Hitchens, “Nanami: First Love.”

Mar 31: Radical documentary

Read: Interview with Tsuchimoto Noriaki: http://www.city.yamagata.yamagata.jp/yidff/ff/box/box8/en/b8-2.html

Apr 1: Screening: Minamata (Tsuchimoto Noriaki)

Apr 2: Post-war Avant-Garde

Read: Nishijima Norio, “A History of Experimental Film in Japan”; Kawanaka Nobuhiro, “A Private Film History.”

Apr 7: Imamura

Read: Audie Bock, “Imamura Shôhei” (from Japanese Film Directors)

Apr 8: Screening: Vengeance is Mine (Imamura Shôhei)

Apr 9: Nikkatsu Roman Porno

Read: Ian Buruma, Behind the Mask, excerpts.

Apr 14: The Dilemma of Independence


Apr 15: Screening: To Sleep as to Dream (Hayashi Kaizô)

Apr 16: Transnationalism’s Challenge to National Cinema

Read: TBA

Apr 21: Anime

Read: Annalee Newitz, “Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm.”

Apr 22: Screening: Broken Down Film (Tezuka Osamu), Jumping (Tezuka Osamu), Patlabor 2 (Oshii Mamoru)