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Visions of Japanese Modernity

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

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Visions of Japanese Modernity
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94559-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-39)

    Takada Tamotsu, a reporter for the late-teens Japanese film magazineKatsudō no sekai(Movie World) once gave an account of the first press screening forSei 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...

  6. 1 The Motion Pictures as a Problem
    (pp. 40-65)

    Japan is one case where it is hard to align the history of discourse on film with the arrival of the apparatus from the West. First, long before the cinema’s arrival in Japan, books described in rather sensationalistic terms the marvels of Western knowledge, including such protocinematic devices as the zoetrope.¹ Then, entering the 1890s, Japanese newspapers, which were always interested in news of the latest trends in Western culture and science, began running articles announcing Thomas Edison’s initial work. The film historian and collector Tsukada Yoshinobu painstakingly accumulated over his lifetime most of the newspaper and magazine articles printed...

  7. 2 Gonda Yasunosuke and the Promise of Film Study
    (pp. 66-93)

    Katsudō shashinkai(Moving Picture World), one of the first Japanese film magazines, begun in June 1909 and published by Yoshizawa Shōten, the leading film company at the time, featured in its first issues the results of a survey of prominent writers and painters who were asked their impressions of the motion pictures. While there were those like the novelist Masamune Hakuchō, who confessed to having never seen a movie, most of those surveyed were more or less aware of the phenomenon and responded favorably to the cinema’s ability to present rarely seen images of Western society and customs. Some even...

  8. 3 Studying the Pure Film
    (pp. 94-132)

    Despite his unique approach to the question of cinema as a sociohistoric phenomenon, Gonda Yasunosuke was confined to the discourse of the intellectual field in 1910s Japan because his audience was already discussing the moving pictures in ways that laid the foundation for the Pure Film Movement. Although there are crucial distinctions between Gonda and many of his contemporaries, when he expounded on “the unique art of the moving pictures” (Principles, 347) it was not difficult to consider him, as the historian Chiba Nobuo has, as the first one “to light the signal fire for pure film dramas.”¹ Like many...

  9. 4 The Subject of the Text: Benshi, Authors, and Industry
    (pp. 133-173)

    In histories of the cinema, attitudes toward the benshi diverge. Until recently, histories of Japanese cinema written by Japanese scholars have tended to inherit the Pure Film Movement’s disdain for the practice. Satō Tadao, for instance, describes the phenomenon of the benshi in these terms:

    Movie theaters made the energetic and exaggerated explanation of these benshi the selling point, and the benshi were in fact more popular than actors. Their education level, however, was generally low, and this was especially the trend among benshi for Japanese films. That’s why there were nonsensical explanations that just suavely rattled off flowery words...

  10. 5 Managing the Internal
    (pp. 174-221)

    At the same time that pure film critics were studying ways to cure cinema of the virus of Japanese film, local Japanese police officials were researching how censorship could effectively treat the problems posed by the motion pictures. TheZigomarincident had presented censors with a difficulty: a film that had been censored on the basis of a written summary of its contents, just as any othermisemonowould be censored, proved to be somehow “different” upon viewing. A discourse emerged both inside and outside the police that determined the cinema to be distinct from other sideshow entertainments, such as...

  11. Conclusion: Mixture, Hegemony, and Resistance
    (pp. 222-234)

    The first few decades of cinema in Japan witnessed a certain historical thrust, a conjunction, if not at times a collaboration, between different sectors in Japanese society—intellectual film fans, progressive filmmakers, benshi, censors, and even educators—in what is loosely called the Pure Film Movement, that worked to realize and enforce a certain definition of cinema. This effort took place largely in the field of discourse, broadly speaking, as definitive ways of speaking about cinema, as well as modes of enacting such articulations, were formed and established in the first thirty years after the apparatus’s importation into Japan. These...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-288)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 289-302)
  14. Index
    (pp. 303-323)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 324-324)