Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925

Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925

Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925

Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925

Synopsis

Japan has done marvelous things with cinema, giving the world the likes of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. But cinema did not arrive in Japan fully formed at the end of the nineteenth century, nor was it simply adopted into an ages-old culture. Aaron Gerow explores the processes by which film was defined, transformed, and adapted during its first three decades in Japan. He focuses in particular on how one trend in criticism, the Pure Film Movement, changed not only the way films were made, but also how they were conceived. Looking closely at the work of critics, theorists, intellectuals, benshi artists, educators, police, and censors, Gerow finds that this trend established a way of thinking about cinema that would reign in Japan for much of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

A discursive history of Japanese cinema

Takada Tamotsu, a reporter for the late-teens Japanese film magazine Katsudō no sekai (Movie World) once gave an account of the first press screening for Sei no kagayaki (The Glow of Life), Kaeriyama Norimasa’s revolutionary 1918 film often cited as marking a major historical shift in film form in Japan. According to Takada’s recollection, Yamamoto Yoshitarō, business director of the Tennenshoku Katsudō Shashin Kabushiki Kaisha—a leading 1910s film company called Tenkatsu for short—introduced the film with the following words: “The moving picture you are about to view is not a moving picture: It is a film, something which is completely different.” the Japanese word he was using in the first sentence was katsudō shashin, literally “moving photographs,” the accepted Japanese name for the medium since its importation into Japan about twenty years earlier. Yamamoto, however, was attempting to mark a distinction between Sei no kagayaki and previous Japanese cinema by calling the film something different: an eiga, the two ideographs that make up the word signifying “projected pictures.” While this term was used in the nineteenth century to denote the slides in magic lantern shows, it was not applied to the cinema until, the story goes, Kaeriyama himself, in his activities as a film critic, used it to signify those films (mostly American and European) that fulfilled the essence of the motion picture medium. in the linguistic strategy employed by first Kaeriyama and then Yamamoto, katsudō shashin was redefined from designating the entire medium to denoting only those “uncinematic” Japanese works that Kaeriyama’s groundbreaking eiga would relegate to the past, the term eiga itself signifying the kind of motion pictures advocated in Kaeriyama’s cinematic revolution, a . . .

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