Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era through Hiroshima

Abé Mark Nornes
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Japanese Documentary Film
    Book Description:

    Among Asian countries—where until recently documentary filmmaking was largely the domain of governments—Japan was exceptional for the vigor of its film industry. And yet, Japanese documentary remains largely unstudied outside of Japan. The first English-language study of the subject, this book provides an enlightening look at the first fifty years of documentary film theory and practice in Japan.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9421-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Note on Japanese Words and Names
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    I came to write about Japanese documentary through a somewhat unusual route. Most historians dig into a segment of history with some sense of where they are and what they will find. They come to their subjects as scholars writing works of history. My approach has been far more roundabout. My introduction to the subject came when I was asked to coprogram, with Fukushima Yukio, a retrospective called “Nichi-Bei Eigasen” (Japan/America film wars) for the 1991 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival. This event examined American and Japanese World War II–era documentaries covering the same themes or subject matter. We...

  6. 1 A Prehistory of the Japanese Documentary
    (pp. 1-18)

    The title of this chapter implies the existence of a period of formation preceding the emergence of the Japanese documentary proper—perhaps an age of a “protodocumentary.” In fact, the chapter title is something of a hedge. As far as I am concerned, the first films made in Japan were all documentary, thus the hedge is not a hesitation as much as an indication of the problems of naming. The reader may feel uncomfortable with the casual use of the termdocumentaryhere, preferring to reserve it for certain kinds of films with more ambitious (or perhaps “lofty”) intent. However,...

  7. 2 The Innovation of Prokino
    (pp. 19-47)

    The proletarian film movement’s originary moment came in 1927, when a May Day parade was photographed on 9.5mm film by the Trunk Theater.¹ The theater troupe’s film unit amounted to a single member, a young film enthusiast by the name of Sasa Genjū.

    To understand the proletarian film movement, we must detour through the larger political backdrop, for each ideological battle within the left sent repercussions through the whole of the proletarian culture movement. The 1910s and 1920s marked a growing politicization of the working classes in Japan; farmers had older precedents for organizing politically in the Freedom and People’s...

  8. 3 A Hardening of Style
    (pp. 48-92)

    In the early 1930s, the style of nonfiction filmmaking in Japan gradually took shape, assuming a conventionalized form that is recognizable in documentaries to this day. Stylistic conventions of postwar films, such as the heavy use of silent-style intertitles, can be traced back to the long transition to sound film. Other continuities over the decades include theoretical, practical, and political issues, from the ethics of reenactment to questions of subjectivity. These early developments in the documentary film form interacted with interventions by the government as it redefined its relationship to the film industry.

    In the 1930s, government participation tipped the...

  9. 4 Stylish Charms: When Hard Style Becomes Hard Reality
    (pp. 93-120)

    I have argued that in the situation of intensifying domination, Japanese film style became highly conventionalized, and that its varying displays of a unified polity hide the fractiousness of reality and the less-than-total grip of the dominant. At the same time, we must recognize that this difference is most easily recognized in social arenas, where the gulf between the powerful and the powerless is far more extreme. Japan offers a relatively ambiguous situation and thus poses a challenge to the historian. Indeed, although it is rather easy to describe the hard film style of the public discourse, this does not...

  10. 5 The Last Stand of Theory
    (pp. 121-147)

    If the Iwo Jima flag raising represents the final stages of the war for many Americans, the comparable image in Japan might be a shot fromNippon News No. 177.This was a record of the October 1943 ceremony held to send off young students to the battlefields. That year’s Student Mobilization Order made possible the conscription of liberal arts students to refresh depleted troops as Japan began losing the war; science majors and students in training to be in teachers were exempted. There were ceremonies all over Japan, but the newsreel cameras (nearly twenty of them) focused on the...

  11. 6 Kamei Fumio: Editing under Pressure
    (pp. 148-182)

    The two epigraphs above represent radically different readings of the same director’s work. Nearly all of Kamei Fumio’s films from the war era have this strange quality. They certainly look like all the flag-waving propaganda documentaries of the day, but at the same time they leave the spectator with a distinctly different aftertaste. Furthermore, while they share the creative qualities of films likeSnow CountryandVillages without Doctors,Kamei takes the innovations of such films a step further. In his own country he is appropriately considered the central figure in the history of Japanese documentary. HisFighting Soldiersregularly...

  12. 7 After Apocalypse: Obliteration of the Nation
    (pp. 183-219)

    On 14 August 1945, Japanese in every part of Asia were told to assemble for an important radio broadcast the following day. At the appointed time, they gathered to listen and heard something they never would have expected: the emperor’s own voice. His language was thick with old, obscure expressions, but everyone understood enough to realize the war was over. This scene—replayed over and over in biographies, autobiographies, essays, history books, documentaries, and fiction films—represented the sudden obliteration of the nation all Japanese had devoted their lives to building and protecting. This traumatic moment also marked the instant...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 220-224)

    Those familiar with the history of American and European documentary will undoubtedly recognize both similarities and differences between that history and the history of nonfiction cinema in Japan. The similarities may be attributable to the few Western documentaries and newsreels that achieved distribution in Japan or were screened for the industry at Tokyo embassies. This seems especially likely, considering that, with the exception of Kamei, none of the important Japanese documentary filmmakers or theorists is known to have traveled outside of Asia. Probably more important were all the translations of foreign texts by thinkers as diverse as Vertov, Pudovkin, Eisenstein,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 225-248)
  15. Index
    (pp. 249-258)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)