East Asian Languages and Cultures | Screening Japan's Past
E350 | 1485 | Keirstead


Topic: Films of Japanese History: Not Just Swords and Samurai

>From the earliest filmed verion of the 47 Ronin to Princess Mononoke,
Japanese filmmakers have shown a fascination for historical events.  And
despite constantly carping about the inaccuracy of most historical films,
many historians are secret fans of the genre.  But what happens to history
when it is put on film?  Can filmed history ever measure up to written
history?  Can written history ever captivate us the way a good movie can?
What role do movies play in the formation and dissemination of ideas about
history?

In this course we'll try to come to terms with these questions as we view
and discuss a number of films about Japan and its past.  We'll look at how
different directors have conceptualized the nation and its history
(Kurosawa's epic portrayals of medieval Japan in Kagemush or Seven Samurai,
for instance; or Mizoguchi's rather different vision of the same era in
Sahsno the Bailiff).  We'll consider their attempts to address "difficult"
topics (like World War II and the Occupation, as in Imamura Shohei's Pigs
and Battleships or Oshima's Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence), and we'll read
what historians have written about the same subjects.  We'll compare their
strengths and weaknesses and judge how history changes as it moves from
print to film and back again.

And while we'll see some samurai swashbucklers, the course will try to show
that Japanese history isn't just about swords and samurai.

Requirements: watching movies!  (Also, keeping a viewing journal recording
your responses to the weekly films; two short essays comparing how
filmmakers and historians approach the same topic; and a final project.)