SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture

Japanese Cinema: a Critical Survey

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

This module examines Japanese Cinema from 1952 to the present. We look at the transnational nature of post-war Japanese Cinema; focusing on the films of Kurosawa Akira, the Tartan Video “Asia Extreme” label and Studio Ghibli. The analysis centres on the dynamic that operates between the cultural specificity of the Japanese aesthetic and the increasingly transnational nature of the film industry in the latter half of the twentieth century. In the 1960s with the decline in domestic box office takings, the major Japanese film companies sought distribution markets outside Japan. Therefore, this course, although centred on questions of the aesthetic in relation to contemporary Japanese Cinema , is framed within the wider understanding that industrial factors influence content – hence this course is concerned with the transcultural nature of the Japanese aesthetic in a transnational economy of production. On a broader level, it is also concerned with the appropriation of the Japanese aesthetic by international audiences through, for example, the nurturing of a fan-(boy) cult following around Tartan Video’s “Asia Extreme” imprint in the 1990s.


There are no pre-requisites for this course.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to: 

  • understand the interconnectedness of the cinematic aesthetic and the film industry in the age of global finance - changes in industrial structures produce textual effects;
  • understand the fluid nature of' art house' auteur cinema as a concept defined primarily by marketing agencies (in the contemporary industry), but historically by critics and audiences in the 1950s and 1960s;
  • analyse critically (not just narrate or describe) a body of film texts from the contexts of their production and reception;
  • engage critically with existing theoretical paradigms and pursue their own particular research interests;
  • to identify key research agendas in the study of Cinema in the age of globalisation;
  • to critically analyse key concepts of cinema: genre, national cinema, narrative cinema using the Japanese context as a model;
  • to express and defend positions about cinema both orally and in writing;
  • to develop their own particular research interests independently.


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with two hours classroom contact per week comprising of a one hour lecture and a one hour seminar.  Students are expected to watch any film screenings in their own time.

Scope and syllabus

The syllabus is structured to develop a critical awareness of post-war Japanese cinema as part of an international network of financial organisations and not just an isolated aesthetic phenomenon. Furthermore, it seeks  to develop an understanding of the dynamics of the international 'art house' cinema circuit and its relation to issues of 'taste' and 'cultural capital' while incorporating a discussion of the audiences and issues of 'identity politics' and their relationship to marketing strategies.

Method of assessment

An essay of 1500 words to be submitted on day 1, after reading week, term 1 (35%); an essay of 3500 words to be submitted on day 1, term 2 (65%).

Suggested reading

  • Richie, Donald A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
  • Standish, Isolde A New History of Japanese Cinema: a Century of Narrative Film
  • Standish, Isolde Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema: Towards a Political Reading of the Tragic Hero
  • Phillips, Alastair & Julian Stringer (eds) Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts
  • Cazdyn, Eric The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan
  • Washburn, Dennis & Carole Cavanaugh (eds) Word and Image in Japanese Cinema
  • Nye, Joseph S. Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics
  • Watanabe, Yasushi and David L. McConnell (eds) Soft Power Superpowers: Cultural and National Assets of Japan and the United States
  • Davis, Darrell William and Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh East Asian Screen Industries
  • Katzenstein, Peter J. And Takashi Shiraishi (eds) Network Power: Japan and Asia
  • Kwok Wah Lau, Jenny (ed) Multiple Modernities: Cinema and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia
  • Iwabuchi, Koichi Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism
    _____  (ed) Feeling Asian Modernities
  • Martinez, D.P (ed) The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Culture
  • Goodwin, James Akira Kurosawa and Intertexual Cinema
  • Galbraith, Stuart The Emperor and the Wolf: the Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune
  • Prince, Stephen The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
  • Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema
  • McRoy, Jay (ed) Japanese Horror Cinema
  • Redmond, Sean (ed) Liquid Metal: the Science Fiction Film Reader
  • Shin, Chi-Yun & Julian Stringer New Korean Cinema
  • Napier, Susan J. Anime: From Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Bolton, Christopher & Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., Takayuki Tatsumi (eds) Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime
  • Brown, Steven Cinema Anime: Critical Engagements with Japanese Animation
  • Darzen, Patrick Anime Explosion: The What? Why? And Wow! Of Japanese Animation
  • Poitras, Gilles The Anime Companion: What’s Japanese in Japanese Animation?
  • Cavallaro, Dani The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki
  • MacWilliams, Mark W. (ed) Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime
  • Ciecko, Anne Tereska (ed) Contemporary Asian Cinema: Popular Culture in a Global Frame
  • Gerow, Aaron Kitano Takeshi
  • Ezra, Elizabeth & Terry Rowden (eds) Transnational Cinema: the Film Reader
  • Hjort, Mette & Scott MacKenzie (eds) Cinema and Nation
  • Miller, Toby & Nitin Govil, John McMurria, Richard Maxwell, Ting Wang Global Hollywood 2
  • Acland, Charles. R Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture
  • Goldsmith, Ben & Tom O’Regan The Film Studio: Film Production in the Global Economy
  • Austin, Thomas Hollywood, Hype and Audiences: Selling and Watching Popular Film in the 1990s
  • Abercrombie, Nicholas & Brian Longhurst Audiences
  • MacWilliams, Mark (ed.) Japanese Visual Culture: explorations in the world of manga and anime
  • Davis, Darrell William and Emilie Yeuh-Yu Yeh East Asian Screen Industries
  • Hunt, Leon and Wing-Fai Leung (eds.) East Asian Cinemas
  • McRoy, Jay Nightmare Japan: contemporary Japanese horror cinema


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules