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Non-Kurosawa Film Club: what to read?

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    Vili Maunula

    So, now that we have come up with a new schedule for the film club which includes non-Kurosawa films (the full schedule available at the film club page), I was wondering if we could once again put our collective knowledge together and see what books we might recommend each other, knowing what films we are watching.

    Now, for both financial and time-related reasons, I don’t personally intend to buy and read quite as much background material as I do for Kurosawa films, but recommending doesn’t cost anyone anything, and perhaps there are books that might be useful. For instance, considering the number of Ozu films that we will be watching, would Donald Richie’s Ozu: His Life and Films be a good investment? How about books on Mizoguchi such as Mizoguchi and Japan or Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema? I haven’t read these, so I don’t know.

    Of course, general books on Japanese film history might be even more valuable. In fact, I have actually been hoarding a few in these past months.

    I just finished reading Visions of Japanese Modernity, which tackles Japanese cinema roughly from 1895 to 1925, and I’m patiently waiting for the postman to bring me The Imperial Screen, which should be about Japanese cinema in 1931-1945, and Screening Enlightenment, which is about the impact that the U.S. film industry had on Japan in 1945-1952.

    When it comes to even more general reading, I just received Waves at Genji’s Door which I bought based on Ugetsu’s recommendations, plus I have Donald Richie’s Hundred Years of Japanese Films and Keiko McDonald’s Reading a Japanese Film here with me.

    While I’m sure that these books should keep me busy (and I have to actually watch the films as well!), in case you have recommendations, let me know. Unfortunately, from the books that I mentioned, I can only recommend Visions of Japanese Modernity, as I have yet to read any of the others. But as my vacation is soon about to begin, I will hopefully find the time to do some reading!

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    Vili Maunula

    Of course, one should not forget Noël Burch’s To the Distant Observer, which can be downloaded for free from the link provided. Few books on Japanese cinema are more referenced than Burch’s, even if most of those references are there to refute points made by Burch!

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    dylanexpert

    Vili:

    I’ve read The Imperial Screen and it’s an excellent book, probably the definitive book in English on its subject, though admittedly it’s heavy slogging at times. The latter part of the period the book deals with (from about 1937 to the end of the war) was surely one of the weakest periods in post-1920s Japanese film history. However, though the author discovers few masterworks, he finds some very intriguing by-ways and paradoxes in that era’s cinema. Mr. High always reacts to the films on a very undogmatic, human, commonsensical level that is refreshing. (For the record, he concludes, unsurprisingly, that Ozu’s There Was a Father was the greatest film of the Pacific War era.) He proclaims No Regrets For Our Youth “a wishful fantasy” noting that not only Kurosawa and scriptwriter Eijiro Hisaita, but the film’s stars, Setsuko Hara and Susumu Fujita, were intimately involved in the making of national policy films during the war. (The book in general is quite unflattering to AK and, in fact, High mentions Sanshiro Sugata only in passing, despite its status as probably the most interesting directorial debut of the entire war.)

    All in all, High seems more concerned with the dark history of human nature, as it expressed itself in the Japan of that time, than in cinema per se. Yet the book will be equally fascinating to both the student of cinema and the student of history.

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    Ugetsu

    I’m afraid you are well ahead in reading on me, so I can’t make any more recommendations… I’ll be away myself on a break from mid-August so hopefully then I’ll be able to catch up on some reading.

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    Vili Maunula

    You make The Imperial Screen sound very interesting, dylanexpert! I just received it yesterday. Now I only need to choose which of the books I have bought I should start reading next.

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    Vili Maunula

    I just noticed that in addition to having Burch’s To the Distant Observer, University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies also offers two other interesting books as free pdf downloads: David Bordwell’s Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (1988) and Donald Richie’s Japanese Cinema: Film Style and National Character (1971). They aren’t small downloads, but I think definitely worth it.

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