Honors | History of Japanese Cinema (EALC)
E203 | 24915 | Tom Keirstead


TuTh 5:45-7:00pm
Tu 7:00-10:00pm

When in the 1950s and early 1960s, Japanese cinema erupted on the
international scene, it seemed to represent something astonishingly
new. Critics and audiences alike praised films such as Rashomon,
Ugetsu, and The Seven Samurai as a distinct departure from the norms
of European and American cinema. Since the middle of the last
century Japanese cinema has been recognized as a unique national
cinema, a highly accomplished, artistically significant body of film
with its own look and feel.

One of our aims in this course will be to examine the elements that
constitute that distinctive look and feel. We’ll examine closely
several works from the “golden age” of Japanese cinema – a period
extending from the 1940s into the 1970s. This era produced some of
the most highly regarded films of all time. One film guide, for
example, recently placed Ozu’s Tokyo Story at the top of its list of
the 1,000 Best Films, while the editors of Sight and Sound names
it “one of the three greatest films of all time.” Placing films from
this golden age within the larger context of prewar Japanese film,
we’ll try to identify what (Western) viewers have found so
compellingly different about Japanese film. What precisely makes a
Japanese film “Japanese”? Is there a “Japanese” way of seeing? A
peculiarly Japanese method of arranging elements on the screen?

Even as we try to understand what might be distinctive about
Japanese films, though, we’ll need to ponder a countervailing
tendency. From Gojira/Godzilla, The Seven Samurai and The
Magnificent Seven, to Ringu and The Ring, Hollywood has been
remaking Japanese films for decades. The seeming ease with which at
least some Japanese films can be converted into American
blockbusters would seem to argue that Japanese cinema isn’t perhaps
so unique after all. To explore this issue, we will devote the last
part of the course to the current renaissance of Japanese
filmmaking. The spectacular global success of Japanese animation
(such as Spirited Away) or horror films (e.g., Ringu and its
sequels) suggest that the simple characterization of Japanese film
as “unique” may not be adequate.

There will be weekly screenings, and students will be asked to keep
a viewing journal and complete several written assignments. No prior
knowledge of Japanese or Japanese culture is required—although a
tolerance for black-and-white films and subtitles is definitely a
plus.