SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Japan and Korea

Japanese Transnational Cinema: From Kurosawa to Asia Extreme and Studio Ghibli

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 1

In this module the transnational nature of contemporary Japanese Cinema will be explored through an analysis of the dynamics that operate between the cultural specificity of the Japanese aesthetic, and the transnational nature of the film industry. Since the 1960s and the decline in domestic box office takings, the major Japanese film production companies increasingly sought distribution markets outside Japan. Therefore, this module, 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 nascent fan-(boy) cult following around the Tartan Video Asia Extreme ‘imprint’

Classes are structured around two hour workshop. Where possible a learner centred approach is adopted. Therefore, it is imperative that all students watch the main film and cover the readings each week as these will form the basis for the workshop styled class discussions. Additionally, a list of additional recommended films for private viewing is provided.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objectives of the module are to encourage students:
  • To develop an awareness of contemporary Japanese cinema as part of an international network of financial organisations and not just an isolated aesthetic phenomenon.
  • To develop an understanding of the dynamics of the international ‘art house’ cinema circuit and its relation to issues of ‘taste’ and ‘cultural capital’.
  • To realise that audiences and ‘identity’ are in part manufactured through marketing strategies.
By the end of the module, students will have developed the following:
  • A firm understanding of the interconnectedness of the cinematic aesthetic and the film industry in the age of global finance - changes in industrial structures produce textual effects.
  • An understanding of 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.
  • The conceptual tools and vocabulary with which to analyse critically (not just narrate or describe) a body of film texts from the contexts of their production and reception.
  • To 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.


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week in lectures.

Scope and syllabus

The module is effectively divided into three segments focusing on the export of Kurosawa Akira’s jidaigeki films in the 1960s and their impact on domestic productions and the emergence of the cruel-jidaigeki films, the action and horror films of the Asia Extreme ‘imprint’, and finally, Japanese animation.

Japanese Transnational Cinema replaces the first term MA course, Japanese Cinema: an Historical Survey 1896-1952 (15 PMS H002), which was originally designed for the MA Japanese Area Studies programme. Japanese Transnational Cinema, while still being relevant to Japanese Area Studies and Art students, seeks to extend the discussion to incorporate contemporary trends in the international film industry (such as marketing and distribution) thus giving Area Studies and Art students a point of contextualisation outside domestic production and reception, while providing a specific case study in media flows for students registered on media focussed degrees. As marketing and distribution strategies are often gender specific in the audiences targeted, the course should still have relevance for students on the Gender Studies degree.

Structure and Syllabus: The course is effectively divided into three segments over a ten week teaching term:

Weeks 1 – 3, in these weeks we will examine early attempts by the Japanese film industry to gain international recognition and win ‘cultural capital’ through the international ‘art house’ circuit and at prestigious film festivals. At an aesthetic level, the focus will be on the Toho Studios and the films of Kurosawa Akira and his incorporations of western Hollywood genre techniques into the period drama (jidaigeki).

Weeks 4 – 7, in these weeks we shall focus on the Tartan Video Asia Extreme ‘imprint’ which has effectively established a fan-(boy) cult following in western markets. In the international DVD distribution market, Asia Extreme has industrial links to the Japanese ‘direct to Video market’, the internationalisation of the Korean cinema market in the 1990s, and to a lesser extent Hong Kong cinema. At an aesthetic level films from the horror genre (the Ring cycle) and the cross-over Japanese Korean action/gangster genre will be explored.

Weeks 8 – 10, will look at animation from the early success of Akira, shown at the London ICA in the late-1980s, to the internationalisation of the animation films produced by Studio Ghibli. This discussion will be framed from within the context of the Japanese Government’s policy to promote ‘cool Japan’ as per the white paper Digital Contents Hakushō (2005).

Method of assessment

A 1000 word critical commentary of a film to be submitted by the first day after the reading week of term 1 (30%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted by the first day of term 2.

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.
  • Kwok Wah Lau, Jenny (ed) Multiple Modernities: Cinema and Popular Media in Transcultural East Asia.
  • Iwabuchi, Koichi Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism.
  • Iwabuchi, Koichi, (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.
  • Mes, Tom Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike.
  • 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?
  • 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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules