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Brief History Of Japanese Cinema Film

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3272 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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For the basis of my essay I shall try and delve into how Japanese cinema reflects and challenges the culture of the country, I will also look into several films and analyse them to show what connection they have with the cultural aspect of japan as a nation and also provide a brief history of Japanese cinema. The issues I will look at will involve the Hiroshima bombings and the effects of nuclear warfare as mentioned above and the relevance to Godzilla, as well as the cultural aspects of seven Samurai and how it reflects Japanese mentality in terms of lifestyle and also looking at the huge emphasis that martial arts plays in there cinema which sometimes may form a stereo type for Japanese people. Film makers I will look at will include Akira kurosawa and the creator of Dragon ball Z Akira Toriyama and Maseki Kobayahi. In terms of observations I will focus on mainly the culture which includes clothing/ mentality of the Japanese people and lifestyle. I will also look at the original Japanese film, “The Ringu” which inspired the 2002 film “The Ring” and talk about how it acted as almost a renaissance for Japanese horror films, ultimately finishing with a conclusion on my thoughts about my findings and give my opinion on how culture is reflected.

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Japanese cinema dates back over a hundred years and is the fourth largest in terms of yearly films produced in the world. The arrival of the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph in 1897 marked the true beginning of cinema in Japan. The first moving-picture camera imported into the country was a Gaumont camera that was used on a few instances to film fashionable geishas in the traditional restaurants of Shimbashi, which received the approval of the Japanese audiences. The film made from these shots of the geishas is considered to be the first film made for entertainment in Japan. In 1899, a photographic engineer named Tsunekichi Shibata made what is thought to be the first Japanese cinematographic production, a film of purely theatrical content that showed a kabuki play named Maple Viewing or Momijigari. In 1908, Shōzō Makino, considered the pioneer director of Japanese cinema, started his influential career with Honnōji gassen, produced for Yokota Shōkai. Shōzō then cast Matsunosuke Onoe, a former kabuki actor, to star in his work. Onoe became Japan’s first real film star, appearing in over a thousand films, most of them were shorts, between 1909 and 1926. The pair pioneered the jidaigeki genre. Tokihiko Okada was a popular romantic lead of the same era.

Likewise the he first female Japanese performer to appear in a film professionally was the dancer/actress Tokuko Nagai Takagi, who appeared in four shorts for the American-based Thanhouser Company between 1911 and 1914. In the 1950s which is considered the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Three Japanese films from this decade (Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Tokyo Story) made the list of Sight & Sound’s 2002 Critics and Directors Poll for the best films of all time. This led to a rise in diversity in movie distribution thanks to the increased amount of films produced and popularity of the film studios of Toho, Daiei, Shochiku, Nikkatsu, and Toei.It started with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival Which firmly put Japanese cinema on the map globally. It was also the breakout role for legendary Japanese star Toshiro Mifune The first Japanese film in color was Carmen Comes Home directed by Keisuke Kinoshita and released in 1951. There was also a black-and-white version of this film available. Gate of Hell, a 1953 film by Teinosuke Kinugasa, was the first movie that filmed using the Eastman color film, Gate of Hell was both Daiei’s first color film and the first Japanese color movie to be released outside of Japan internationally, receiving an Oscar in 1954 for Best Costume Design by Sanzo Wada and an Honorary Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Japanese film to achieve that honour.

Also that year of 1954 saw arguably the two of Japan’s most influential films released. The first was the Kurosawa Seven Samurai, about a group of hired samurai who protect a helpless village from a dangerous gang of thieves. The same year, Ishirō Honda released the anti-nuclear horror film Gojira, which was translated in the English as Godzilla. Though it was severely edited for its Western release, Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire new genre in Japanses film known as Kaiju films which were basically monster movies.

The 1980s saw the decline of many of the massive Japanese film studios and their associated cinemas, with major studios Toho responsible for Godzilla and Toei barely managing to be stable in business, Shochiku supported almost solely by the Otoko wa tsurai films, and Nikkatsu declining even further. Because of economic recessions, the number of movie theatres in Japan had been steadily declining ever since the 1960s. The 1990s saw the reversal of this trend and the introduction of the Multiplex in Japan. In the 2000s the number of movies being shown in Japan steadily started to increase, with about 821 films released in 2006. Movies based on Japanese television series were especially popular during this period. Anime films now accounted for 60 percent of Japanese film production. The 1990s and 2000s are considered to be “Japanese Cinema’s Second Golden Age”, due to the immense popularity of anime, both within Japan and overseas. In anime, Hayao Miyazaki directed Spirited Away in 2001, breaking Japanese box office records and winning several awards, followed by Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo in 2004 and 2008. Japanese films have been given several genres within them with

Jidaigeki being historic pieces of work that are set during the Edo period (1603-1868) or earlier. Jidaigeki, which is covers films like seven samurai and the term meaning the sound of swords clashing, Horror films such as Ring

Kaiju films which mentioned above are monster films which were stemmed mainly from the birth of Godzilla. Pink films which are soft core pornographic films. Yakuz, movies about the Yakuza mobsters, Gendaigeki which is the opposite of Jidaigeki are films set in the present day with contemporary themes.

Shomingeki are realistic films about common working people and lifestyles.

Anime which is Japanese animation and has become a massive boon in the Japanese film industry accounting for almost as much as 60% of productions and then Mecha Science fiction and Cyberpunk.

Godzilla (1954)

Moving on to the core of my essay the film I picked out and arguably being one of Japanese cinemas most important globally successful and iconic films, Godzilla.Initially appearing in Ishirō Honda’s 1954 monster film Godzilla, ever since then, Godzilla has then gone on to become a international pop culture icon appearing in 28 films produced by Toho Co Ltd. The monster has appeared in other numerous other mediums including video games, novels, comic books, and an American animated television series. A 1998 American remake was produced titled “Godzilla” but received mixed reviews and showed a different version to that of its Japanese roots and a second American version is currently in development at legendary pictures a warner bros that will be directed by Gareth Edwards after they acquired the rights from Toho with it promising to return to his original Japanese roots, with the producers behind it describing Godzilla as “being a force of nature”.

Originally Godzilla was created after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Daigo FukuryÅ« Maru incident still fresh in the minds of the Japanese people, He was portrayed as a monster created by nuclear mutation by the detonations of nuclear warfare and is supposed to be a metaphor for nuclear weapons in general. As the film series expanded and got bigger and bigger, the latter stories took on less serious undertones and began being more mainstream by portraying Godzilla as a hero while other plots still had him as a destructive creature. Baring in mind Godzilla’s nuclear origin, his abilities were stemmed as visual representations of the bombing by having atomic breath and a nuclear aura. By somewhat embodying the kaiju genre he has been viewed as a visual film graphic representation for the United States by giving the Japanese audience a very negative perception of America in general as well as an allegory of nuclear weapons in general. The earlier Godzilla films, especially the original, showed Godzilla as a terrifying monster born of nuclear origin. Godzilla represented the fear that Japan as a nation had about the horrible nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and always counting the possibility of any recurrence. As the series progressed it also changed Godzilla into a less destructive and more heroic character as the films started to become aimed towards younger audiences. Godzilla remains one of the most recognisable fictional heroes in the history of film, and is also the second of only three fictional characters to have won the MTV Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded in 1996. It is clear the cultural reflection Godzilla has with Japan as a nation due to the bombing also portraying America in a negative vein. The idea of the atomic bomb was reflected in the second Godzilla movie. Gigantis, the Fire Monster. In the movie Godzilla fights for Japan against Angilas, who was also mutated by an atomic explosion. In Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, Ghidora starts out as a bat, but turns into a monster after exposure to an atom bomb test. Here it is not the idea of lizards and bats fighting but looking deeper it raises the issue of atomic bomb testing in a farcical manner. However, Godzilla’s status as a symbol for Japan’s collective fears carried on the next 40 years, Godzilla was used to symbolize other concerns as well being not only used to symbolise the atomic bomb but also the cold war. Godzilla also had a way of destroying symbols of the Japanese political establishment, including the national parliament. This can be seen in the 1992 release of Godzilla vs. Mothra. Here, the larva of the giant moth, Mothra, spins a cocoon around the country’s parliament building. Mothra was a comical insect created to do what Japan could never achieve single-handedly: stop a one party government that frustrated the nation. The aspect of women restoring the natural balance is seen again in Godzilla vs. The Thing released in the U.S. as Godzilla vs. Mothra. After a violent storm, an enormous egg is found floating in the ocean. It actually contains Mothra’s offspring. An entrepreneur decides to buy it and make it a tourist attraction by building a glass case around it. Metaphorically this man is Westernized in his hope to control and contain nature rather than live in harmony with it. So, a women reporter, two tiny women who are in a symbiotic and telepathic relationship with Mothra, and Mothra, herself, attempt to rescue the egg. This represents their attempt to restore the natural balance. Unfortunately, Godzilla also threatens the wellbeing of the egg and Mothra dies attempting to defend it. Eventually, though, two larvae hatch from the egg and envelope Godzilla in a chrysalis. He falls back into the water from which he came. Again, it is the women whether of the human or moth species who struggle and sacrifice themselves to resolve the film’s crises in favor of balance and harmony. The constant depiction of an antagonist being a symbolic reference to the western shows that the nation of japan is united to a common threat outside their own walls showing external struggles so basically suggesting that they as a nation they stand together and don’t show the internal struggles again referring back to the bombing. Foreign nations often wonder what the appeal of a giant latex dinosaur could possibly be, but I think the answer is simple, Godzilla is, after all, the overall opposite to the typical Japanese stereotype. Aggressive and monstrous in a country where people tend to be graceful and polite and honourable. He is spontaneous in a place that values the impassive, studied response. He is confrontational where conciliation is considered proper behaviour. He is, in essence, a nuclear bomb in a country that is emphatically opposed to nuclear weapons in effect challenging the countries culture. From looking at the hospital scenes after Godzilla destroys Tokyo, you get an accurate view to what it may have been for the unfortunate survivors of the Hiroshima blast. This was the first and only occasion in a kaiju film, the distress and suffering of innocent citizens is shown, with piles of dead bodies in hospitals that were seen. As Gojira is a hauntingly representation to the bombing of Hiroshima, ‘Gojira no Gyakushu’ made in 1955 was a representation and reminder to the bombing of Nagasaki.

Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai was a 1954 Japanese adventure/drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa, the film is set in 1587 during the warring states period of Japan. The story revolves around a village of farmers that recruits seven master less samurai to fight against bandits who aim to steal the crops after the farms harvest. The film is looked back upon by many critics as one of the greatest and influential films of all time ever made and one of the films aswell as Godzilla which is widely known in the west and was subjected to critical acclaim voted in the list of greatest films of all time. Seven samurai has also inspired the 1960 film Magnificent seven in the west where the Samurai are replaced with gunslingers. The film also reflected Japanese agriculture with the emphasis being on a farm and crops acting almost like a metaphoric currency. It reflected the warrior culture of the nation incredibly well but in somewhat almost creates a stereotype of Japanese people.

Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa was a Japanese film director/producer/screen writer and is considered by many as one of the most influential people in not only Japanese cinema but worldwide. He made his debut in Japanese film in 1936 and made his directorial debut in 1943 with Shansiro sugata.

Kurosawa also left his mark on American cinema by influencing George Lucas’s epic science fiction Star wars from Akira’s own Hidden fortress. If American film in full of action, European film has character, leaving the Japanese film rich in mood and atmosphere as Kurosawa’s work showed. It presented characters in nature, it raised issues like the universal topic in relation to basic humanity. However, how the story is told and the way it is viewed brand its identity to the worldwide stage. Traditional theatre Kabuki. It is a form of traditional

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Maseki Kobayahi

The film ‘Harakiri’ directed by Masaki Kobayahi in (1962) was a film made about throwing thousands of Samurai out of work and into poverty. This film took the form of militaristic power and they pose the same moral conflict in terms of the struggle of the individual against society. Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi came of age in the postwar moment, a time when filmmakers were at the frontline of dissident expression in japan. Drawing upon a rich history of protest in Japanese cinema, which had fallen dormant during the war and occupation years, filmmakers took the opportunity to challenge those institutions that remained wedded to the nation’s feudal past. Out of all the director in Japan Masaki Kobayashi was know to be the most passionate directors of them all and his films were marked by a insolence of tradition and authority, whether feudal or contemporary. Kobayashi found the present time to be no more different to the violation of personal freedoms than they did in the pre-meiji past, under official feudalism, had been. Kobayashi often showed his political disagreement when filming jidai-geki films, In which the historical past becomes a substitute for modern japan. When filming jidai-geki films Kobayashi exposed the historical roots of contemporary injustice. Most Japanese audiences were well schooled in history so this allowed them to connect the critique of the past with abuses in the present. The film Harakiri that was made in 1962 highlighted this.

Japanese theatre, known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate makeup worn by some of its performers, like the Gieshas. This was all present in Kurosawa’s work especially Seven Samurai.

Japanese society in film

Japanese society and its culture is also a core of what cinema in the country portray or want to portray, Tokyo story is a brilliant example. It tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The film contrasts the behaviour of their children, who are too busy to pay them much attention, and their widowed daughter-in-law, who manages to host them properly. It is often regarded as Ozu’s masterpiece. It tells a realistic grounded. It reflected on the culture by showing day to day Japanese family life. Memoirs from a Giesha gives us an inside into the perspective female lifestyle of a Geisha, They are a Japanese entertainer often wearing the historic kimono dress which is almost like a visual representation of a common mans image of a common Japanese woman. It reflected culture of the feminine side and how it showed women were considered not to have any skills and that it was just there looks which could be used for entertainment.

Gieshas are also sometimes referred to as prostitutes’ due to them having the entertainer tag for the fact of not having it label them vulgar and obscene and censorship issues in Japanese cinema. Anime has also been a huge part of recent Japanese cinema, often portraying culture and history.


Concluding my essay I feel that I have given examples of instances where the culture is reflected and where the culture is challenged, Godzilla provided a visual symbolic representation of the mind set of japan during the bombing, along with addressing issues with Japanese parliament as seen in a later instalment of Godzilla and also the countries mentality as united against a common threat in this case being the western. Referring to how I think it challenges the culture in a negative sense is Another issue is the constant depiction of martial arts often in Anime and in live action Japanese cinema, which is commonly exported to western territories due to their action-packed content, and so gives an unrealistic view of Japanese culture and creates a racial stereotype. . From looking at the film ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ and where she is sold shows an example of people trafficking which can create a negative perception of Japanese culture, this in my opinion challenges the culture. From this research and evidence I have found out that the cinema of japan does indeed


10 Essential Japanese Films

http://filmstudiesforfree.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/on-japanese- cinema.html


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