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Week 14 Japanese Cinema.docx

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York University
FILM 1701
Michael Zryd

Week 14: Japanese Cinema Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) (Mizoguchi) 1. Cultural issues of understanding and interpretation -tradition of North American film criticism of Japanese film which interprets Japanese film through Western concerns, usually positing a quality of “Japaneseness” or positing a dichotomy: West vs East Occidental vs Oriental e.g., Noel Burch (To the Distant Observer), finds in Japan a parallel with modernist Brechtian aesthetics of negation and declares Japanese cinema “avant-garde” using a European model of avant-garde art. -like all critical categories, these terms are only useful insofar as they illuminate and do not obscure the meanings of a film or a culture. -what is interesting in reading interviews with Japanese directors, and in reading about Japanese film history, is how many internal divisions there, just as there are in North America. Mizoguchi calls himself a “Kyoto” director as he feels based there, and not a “Tokyo” director. Different studios in Japan, as in Hollywood, produced different kinds of film. Japanese film studios were highly hierarchical in a way that benefited directors much more than in Hollywood, which was producer-controlled. -Do NOT look for a broad category of cultural Japaneseness (just as we were wary about making pronouncements about the “german soul” with German Expressionism) -Rather, examine specific aesthetic traditions of art making, performance, belief and value systems AS THEY APPLY to the film in question. E.g., Benshi: lecturer in Japanese silent cinema who was used into the 1940s. Static Culture vs dynamic culture -Japan has been described as static, e.g., David Cook, basing this observation on the assumption that Japan was in isolation before 1945. Japan, isolated from the West, would have a purity that could ground a “Japaneseness”. This is not true, although Cook is correct in treating the end of WWII as a violent and decisive break in Japanese culture -Japan in
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