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Blogged: National cinemas (plus Yoshimoto)

At the Scopophilia part of his personal blog, Kikuchiyo, a globetrotting English teacher in Japan, has raised the question “what is national cinema” and what is it especially in the Japanese context. (He also mentions a Barenaked Ladies song that references Kurosawa, and which I was totally unaware of.)

The issue about the concept of “Japanese cinema” reminded me of Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto‘s book Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, which I finished earlier this year even if I haven’t posted my book review on the site yet.

Until I get around to typing down all of my thoughts about it, let me just mention that it is truly an excellent book — perhaps even the best that I have read on Kurosawa — and one that any of you should really consider getting. Yoshimoto, who clearly knows what he is writing about, puts Kurosawa’s films into a fresh and interesting context, while at the same time forwarding some interesting views about the concept of “Japanese cinema” as a whole. In addition to that, it also includes some really interesting interpretations of a number of Kurosawa’s films, the chapter on Stray Dog possibly being my personal favourite.


Discussion

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Klaus

yep, Yoshimotos analysis of the Kurosawa movies rules! 🙂

I have to take it up again some time, so far I could only read selected parts of it.

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Jeremy Quintanilla

Am not entirely sure what he is getting at, is he implying that the only difference in Japanese films compared to other countries is the language?
I believe I understand what he is getting at, that all countries tackled same issues within their film. This should be obvious, regardless of what country people are from that are still people, and suffer the same feeling and issues as anyone else. I would agree in some part the only national unifier is the language.

I think he is worried to the fact that people generalize Japanese films as only about Samurai or Yakuza. Well its true. Much like people generalize French films being only about love. Such generalization is going to occur, from people with limit film knowledge, its hardly a issue, more just culture ignorance.

I will however say that indeed one can tell apart one country’s films from another’s. Topic matter aside, there are many differences in cinematic approach, and overall approach on movie production. When some knowledge of film and a from viewing a large selection of films from other countries, its is easy to determine a French from a Italian or a English from a American, etc,etc. The older films are easier defined, modern films however have indeed joined into one, but there are some differences in style that still remain.
The use of “National Cinema” maybe wrongly used but there is a national style, much like all natures of art, each country has certain elements that define that country from another.

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Kikuchiyo

I agree that various elements of style are preserved across the output of a particular country. And I take the point about French films being equally stereotyped in terms of Rohmer, Trauffaut, or just a notion that French films are about relationships between men and women. As you say, it`s not really a critical problem, more cultural ignorance. However, on both the popular and scholarly front, I have the sense that commentary on Japanese cultural output is less objective compared to that of other countries.

Somewhere recently, here), I was reminded of the increased awareness of American cinema overseas compared to the fairly narrow view Americans themselves have of it. The same probably goes for Japan, in that Kurosawa, whom international consensus concedes to be a master of the rules of film, is much less known and respected in Japan. Another huge mirror of Japan to the world is the vast amount of anime. And for a smaller crowd, the “arthouse” films of Kitano Takeshi etc., whose reputation seems to be built to some degree on “coolness” (I mean trendiness, but temperature-wise would be accurate as well).

This is just to say that Kurosawa probably has as much or more connection to Ford, Tarkovsky, or maybe Kusturica, than he has to Japanese sources, and that his critical success has to do with absorbing and adding to the international language which is cinema. Whereas the international appeal of the modern genres is more based on packaging Japanese film as having particular conventions. You don`t have hordes of people coming to know French film deeply because they were pulled in by the appeal of cute cartoon characters or horror movies. I must admit that I`ve seen hundreds of Japanese films, and the only one I`ve ever disliked was “Adrenaline Drive” (probably a bad day), but that`s because I love movies across the board and have a continuing interest in Japan.

Another good question is whether Ozu represents a crystalization of Japanese film style or a break from it. Conventional wisdom suggests the former, while actual examination of Japanese film suggests the latter.

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Jeremy Quintanilla

I now understand your point of view and agree with what you say. Thanks for further elaborating.

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