The recent surge in studies of Japanese film theory can be seen as an aspect of efforts to counter Eurocentrism in film studies and the aversion to theory in Japan studies. It could also help scholars think through the problem of utilizing theory in East Asian studies. Yet even if knowing the film theory of an era can help us understand the context of the films of that era, it should not simply serve as a sort of local informant for the foreign theorist. Just as there are problems in only rooting Japanese film theory in an age-old traditional aesthetics, there are issues in valuing that theory only to the degree it resembles Euro-American theory. That can lead to forms of theoretical ventriloquism or projected translations that only reinforce the geopolitics of theory centered in Europe. This can be a particular problem with Japanese film theory because it was caught between Japan’s imperial aspirations and Japan being subject to Euro-American neo-colonial influences. This “theory complex” can teach us much about the geopolitics of theory. Exploring Japanese film theory as a “minor film theory” may eventually even help “provincialize theory.”
Film theory, Japan studies, film studies, Eurocentrism, translation, Japanese cinema.
(Aaron Gerow is Professor of East Asian cinema and culture at Yale University. His books include Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895–1925 (2010); Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies (co-authored with Markus Nornes, 2009 [updated Japanese version 2016]); A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan (2008); and Kitano Takeshi (2007). His co-edited anthology Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory – An Anthology (in Japanese) appeared in 2018.)
Theorizing the Theory Complex in Japanese Film Studies.
In: Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema 11,2 (2019), pp. 103-108.
[Special Section: New Approaches to Japanese Cinema]
Aoyama, Shinji. 2015. “Nouvelle Vague Manifesto; or, How I Became a Disciple of Philippe Garrel.” LOLA 6. http://www.lolajournal.com/6/manifesto.html.
Baek, Moonim. 2015. Im Hwa ŭi yŏnghwa = Im Hwa’s cinema. Seoul: Somyŏng Ch’ulp’an.
Burch, Noël. 1978. To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Calichman, Richard, ed. 2008. Overcoming Modernity: Cultural Identity in Wartime Japan. New York: Columbia University Press.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 2007. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Cook, Ryan. 2010. “An Impaired Eye: Hasumi Shigehiko on Cinema and Stupidity.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 22: 130–143.
Dussel, Enrique. 2009. “A New Age in the History of Philosophy: The World Dialogue between Philosophical Traditions.” Philosophy & Social Criticism 35 (5): 499–516. doi: 10.1177/0191453709103424.
Duus, Peter, and Kenji Hasegawa. 2011. Rediscovering America: Japanese Perspectives on the American Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Fan, Victor. 2015. Cinema Approaching Reality: Locating Chinese Film Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Furuhata, Yuriko. 2013. Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.
Gerow, Aaron. 2010a. Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gerow, Aaron, ed. 2010b. “Decentering Theory: Reconsidering the History of Japanese Film Theory.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 22.
Gerow, Aaron. 2010c. “Introduction: The Theory Complex.” Review of Japanese Culture and Society 22: 1–13.
Gerow, Aaron. 2010d. “A Retrospective on Japanese Retrospectives.” Undercurrent 6. http://fipresci.hegenauer.co.uk/undercurrent/issue_0609/gerow_retro.htm.
Gerow, Aaron. 2018. “Ozu to Asia via Hasumi.” In Rediscovering Ozu: A Master and His Influence, edited by Jinhee Choi, 45–58. New York: Oxford University Press.
Gerow, Aaron. Forthcoming. “Colonial Era Film Theory, Spectatorship, and the Problem of Internalization.” In Theorizing Colonial Cinemas: Reframing Production, Circulation, and Consumption of Film in Asia, edited by Nayoung Aimee Kwon, Moonim Baek, and Takushi Odagiri.
Hillenbrand, Margaret. 2007. Literature, Modernity and the Practice of Resistance. Leiden: Brill.
Jacobowitz, Seth, ed. 2008. The Edogawa Ranpo Reader. Fukuoka: Kurodahan Press.
Katz, Cindi. 1996. “Towards Minor Theory.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 14: 487–499. doi: 10.1068/d140487.
Kawashima, Ken C., Fabian Schäfer, and Robert Stolz, eds. 2013. Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader. Cornell: Cornell University Press.
Kitagawa, Fuyuhiko. 1940. Sanbun eigaron. Tokyo: Sakuhinsha.
LaMarre, Thomas. 2005. Shadows on the Screen: Tanizaki Jun’ichirō on Cinema and ‘Oriental’ Aesthetics. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan.
Liu, Lydia. 1996. “Translingual Practice: The Discourse of Individualism between China and the West.” In Narratives of Agency: Self-Making in China, India, and Japan, edited by Wimal Dissanayake, 1–34. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Matsumoto, Toshio. 2012. “A Theory of Avant-Garde Documentary.” Cinema Journal 51 (4): 148–154. doi: 10.1353/cj.2012.0099.
Nornes, Markus. 2002. “The Postwar Documentary Trace: Groping in the Dark.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 10 (1): 39–78. doi: 10.1215/10679847-10-1-39.
Nornes, Markus. 2003. Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era through Hiroshima. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rodowick, David. 2007. “An Elegy for Theory.” October 122: 91–109. doi: 10.1162/octo.2007.122.1.91
Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
Sakai, Naoki. 1997. Translation and Subjectivity: On Japan and Cultural Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sas, Miryam. 2011. Experimental Arts in Postwar Japan: Moments of Encounter, Engagement, and Imagined Return. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center.
Standish, Isolde. 2011. Politics, Porn and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. New York: Continuum.
Sugiyama, Heiichi. 1941. Eiga hyōronshū. Kyoto: Daiichi Geibunsha.
Yamamoto, Naoki. 2012. “Realities That Matter: The Development of Realist Film Theory and Practice in Japan, 1895–1945.” PhD diss., Yale University.
Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro. 2000. Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Durham: Duke University Press.