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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Japanese Post-War Film Genres and the Avant-Garde

Course Code:
15PJKH008
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

In this course we examine the dynamic that exists between studio based productions and the avant-garde film movement of the 1960s and their legacies in contemporary Japanese Cinema. Genre is used as a methodological structure for the study and analysis of popular cultural texts. Popular films are produced in a studio system, which is primarily concerned with profit. Genre, as a methodological tool, allows us to examine the nexus where repetition of genre characteristics interact with elements of novelty that keep the genre fresh and responsive to contemporary viewing audiences, while it also functions as a bench-mark against which Japan’s avant-garde filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s defined and distinguished their work. Two themes are considered during the course, ‘The Avant-garde, Sex and the Politic of Porn’ and bringing the course into the contemporary era ‘Genre and Gender’. Key filmmakers’ productions considered include Ōshima Nagisa, Fukasaku Kinji, Teshigahara Hiroshi and Beat (Kitano) Takeshi.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

Upon completion of the course students will have gained an understanding of genre as a significant methodological structure for the study and analysis of popular cultural texts. Popular films are produced in a studio system, which is primarily concerned with profit. Genre as a methodological tool allows us to examine the nexus where repetition of genre characteristics interact with elements of novelty that keep the genre fresh and responsive to contemporary viewing audiences. Genre is also explored as a bench-mark against which Japan’s avant-garde filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s defined and distinguished their work.

Scope and syllabus

Weeks 1-5: The Avant-garde, Sex and the 1960s: the Politics of Porn. Just as in Europe, Japan underwent a period of radicalisation in the 1960s. In the world of Japanese cinema a new generation of directors were coming to the fore at this time. A generation that sought through the intellectualisation of cinema to challenge, what many of them perceived to be a corrupt society that had learnt nothing from the experiences of World War II. One of the strategies they employed was to politicise ‘sex’. At this time the film industry also faced the challenge of television and the prospect of declining audiences. Studios such as Nikkatsu made a deliberate policy decision to attract audiences by exploiting ‘sex’ in films through the creation of the roman porno genre.

Weeks 6-10: Genre and Gender. In the latter five weeks we shall explore the relationship between genre and gender. In particular, we shall focus on the nagare-mono/yakuza genre, popular in the 1960s and 1970s and analyse their legacy as manifest in, for example, the films of Beat (Kitano) Takeshi and Miike Takashi. In these examples, images of ‘masculinity’ will be deconstructed to reveal the reasons for their popularity. The theoretical framework will be broadened in these weeks to include an introduction to psychoanalysis as an appropriate tool for understanding the relationship between the spectator, the image and pleasure. In this way students will analyse how images of masculinity in films from these genres offered men meanings that could help them understand the contradictions between the reality of their everyday experiences and the ideological construction of masculinity.

Method of assessment

100% Coursework.

Suggested reading

  • Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction.
  • Buruma, Ian. A Japanese Mirror.
  • Desser, David Eros Plus Massacre.
  • Dower, John Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Aftermath of World War II.
  • Grant, Barry Keith. (ed.,) Film Genre Reader.
  • Foucault, Michel ‘A Preface to Transgression’ in Language Counter-memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (ed) Donald F. Bouchard, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, New York 1993 (photocopy to be distributed in class)Mishima, Y. On Hagakure: The Samurai Ethic in Modern Japan.
  • Morris, Ivan. The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan.
  • Neale, Stephen. Genre.
  • Oshima, Nagisa Cinema, Censorship and the State.
  • Sakaguchi, Ango ‘Discourse on Decadence’ Review of Japanese Culture and Society Vol 1 No 1 October 1986.
  • Satô, Tadao. Currents in Japanese Cinema.
  • Silver, Alain. The Samurai Film. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press.
  • Standish, Isolde, A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Cinema.
  • Standish, Isolde. Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema: Towards a Political Reading of the Tragic Hero.
  • Tessier, Max ‘Oshima Nagisa or the Battered Energy of Desire’ in Desser, David and Arthur Nolletti (eds) Reframing Japanese Cinema (photocopy to be distributed in class).
  • Turim, Maureen ‘The Erotic in Asian Cinema’ in Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography and Power (eds) Pamela Church.
  • Gibson and Roma Gibson, BFI Publishing: London 1993.
  • The Films of Nagisa Oshima.