Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema

Theorizing the Theory Complex in Japanese Film Studies

by Aaron Gerow (2019)

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.)


Gerow, Aaron
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]


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