SOAS University of London

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

Japanese Post-War Film Genres and the Avant-Garde

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

The module follows two lines of enquiry giving students the opportunity to analyze Japanese post-war film genres and their relationship to the avant-garde film movement emerging from the 1960s and 1970s.

Class contact time of two hours per week is comprised of one hour lecture and one hour seminar-based discussion. No prior knowledge of the Japanese language is necessary. 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 recommended films for private viewing is provided.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

This course aims to give students an understanding of the dynamic that exists between genre-codes based studio productions and the postwar avant-garde film movement and their legacies in contemporary Japanese Cinema. Upon completion of the module, students will have gained an understanding of genre and cinematic modernity as significant methodological structures for the analysis of avant-garde and 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 the focus on avant-garde allows us to interrogate how filmmakers challenged genre conventions to create a truly subversive cinema.


This module will be taught over 10 weeks comprising of a 2-hour lecture/seminar.

Scope and syllabus

In the world of Japanese cinema, a new generation of directors was coming to the fore in the 1960s as Japan underwent a period of radicalisation. 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. Among of the strategies they employed were to challenge previously established estereotypes, genre and gender codes, to propose a new representation of youth and to politicise ‘sex’.

Two themes are considered during the course, ‘The Avant-garde, Youth and Sex’ and bringing the course into the contemporary era ‘Genre and Gender’. Key filmmakers’ productions considered include Masamura Yasuzō, Hani Susumu, Ōshima Nagisa, Shinoda Masahiro, Imamura Shōhei, Wakamatsu Kōji and Adachi Masao. 

Method of assessment

A critical commentary of 1,000 words of a film to be submitted by the first day after the reading week for term 2 (30%); an essay of 3,000 words to be submitted by the first day of term 3 (70%).

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.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules