SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Cinema, Nation and the Transcultural

Module Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Full Year
Within critical discourse until the late-1980s, ‘national cinema’ has often been defined and posited in terms of the ‘other’ of Hollywood and as such, it has often been located within high/low culture debates that sought to elevate cinema to ‘high culture’ status centred on the ‘art house’ cinema circuit. Alternatively, elementary discourses stemming from notions of ‘cultural imperialism’ have considered the ‘negative’ influences (both cultural and financial) of Hollywood on local production.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

principal objectives of this course are to question these existing paradigms that define ‘national cinema’ in the simplistic terms of geographical production and to offer an alternative methodology for the study of the relationship between cinema, as a product of mass entertainment, and the nation-state. These objectives will be framed within an initial discussion of the context of cinema as a western technological invention that was imported into Asian and African countries, and a consideration of the historicity of the juncture in time when it was invented. Cinema began in the age of Freudian psychoanalysis, the rise of nationalism and the emergence of consumerism (Shohat and Stam 1996), and as Comolli (1986) reminds us, the development of the camera obscura as a ‘machine’ was not neutral but came imbued with certain ideological assumptions that underpinned its development.

This course, forming the core course of the MA Global Cinemas and the Transcultural Degree, is primarily designed to provide a cohesive contextual and theoretical basis for students specialising in one or more of the diverse regional cinema courses on offer within the School. In practical terms, the course will be divided into two discrete segments corresponding to the two academic terms. Term one will take up historical, theoretical and methodological issues relevant to the study of ‘national cinemas’ in general, while the second term will centre on the increasingly transcultural nature of the aesthetic cutting across the cinemas of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. These weeks will be joint-taught with various regional experts drawn primarily from within the School.

Where possible, classes will be ‘learner-centred’ and styled as directed workshops (with some lecture content particularly in the first four weeks). As such, students will be assigned weekly readings and attend formal weekly film viewings. Students will also be directed to additional supporting films for private viewing. 

Scope and syllabus

In the second term the course will focus on two particular themes:

Weeks 1-5: Internationalising film cultures: Art cinema, Third Cinema and Accented Cinema.

Weeks 1-5 will consider the relation between European art cinema and non-Western film cultures. This will also include looking at the aesthetic and institutional frameworks of ‘third cinema’ and ‘accented cinema’ that have often been proposed as alternatives to the ideals of art cinema. We will also consider these frameworks in relation to changes in technologies of production, distribution and exhibition.

Weeks 6-9 Globalisation, Space and Place

Weeks 6-9 will look at the effects of globalisation on the representation of place and space. In general film narratives take place in defined locations. How are these locations represented in film in relation to wider social and cultural transformations? The first two weeks will consider the representation of world cities as privileged sites of global interconnectivity. The subsequent two weeks question the focus on such global cities first, through looking at the difficulties of representing the scale and scope of globalisation and second, in analysing the emergence of alternative spaces (such as slums) outside the juridical norms of global politics.

Week 10 will consist of student presentation based on proposed essay topics

Method of assessment

100% Coursework. Coursework 1 (40%), Coursework 2 (60%). Coursework 2 - work assessment: a short research project which can be submitted in essay form with a multimedia component

Suggested reading

Suggested Supplementary Films for Private Viewing
Italian Neo-Realism and its Legacies:
  • The Roberto Rossellini trilogy: Rome Open City, Paisa, and Germany Year Zero
  • Vittorio De Sica: Bicycle Thieves 1948 and Umberto D 1952
  • Chinese adaptation of Bicycle Thieves – Beijing Bicycle Wang Xiao-shuai
  • India the Satyajit Ray Apu Triology – The World of Apu, Aparajito, and Pather Panchali
  • Mira Nair Salaam Bombay
  • Iran Abbas Kiarostami: Where is the Friend’s House, Ten, and 10 on Ten
Documentary-style Realism:
  • War Games Peter Watkins UK
  • Bus 174 Jose Padilha South America
  • Blind Shaft Li Yang China
  • The Naked Island Shindo Kaneto Japan
  • Real Fiction Kim Ki-duk Korea
  • The Battle for Algiers Gillo Pontecorvo France
  • West Beyrouth Ziad Doueiri
  • JSA – Joint Security Area Park Chan-wook South Korea
  • Shiri Kang Je-gyu South Korea


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules