[UTCP Juventus] Mark ROBERTS

21 August, 2011 Mark ROBERTS, UTCP Juventus

During summer vacation, young researchers at UTCP introduce themselves in the UTCP Juventus series. Today, Mark Roberts introduces his research interests and current project.

This is a brief update on my research concerning postwar Japanese cinema. For this project, I have been studying socially-conscious films produced by the major studios during the Shôwa 30s (1955-1964), and the changes in the ways in which directors of the period sought to represent Japanese society. Last year, I reported in more detail on this research project.

Some of the larger questions orienting my inquiry have been: how should we theorize the Japanese cinema of this period? How should we understand the postwar film industry, and the mediations between industry and cultural product? Examining the works of a few representative directors, I have also been looking at the cinematic devices and narrative strategies that were employed to engage audiences with social questions. And finally, I am interested in how we might situate the cinema of the Shôwa 30s within the broader discursive space of Japanese modernity.

Since my Juventus report last year, I have been pursuing some of these questions along more narrowly defined axes of inquiry, developing, testing, and refining my hypotheses through closer study of film and industry history, and an examination of some film criticism published in the many journals that were active in the period (e.g. Eiga Hyôron, Eiga Hihyô). These investigations are part of my longer-term (three year) project for a book on the postwar Japanese cinema.

The first of these axes of inquiry has concerned the function of narrative strategies in cinema, viz., how and to what extent they may be used to elicit or construct a critical viewpoint for the audience. In particular, I have been interested the narrative strategies that found expression in the surge of film comedies and satires which appeared during the Shôwa 30s. A number of these films offer new and idiosyncratic forms of social criticism, which may be contrasted with more "serious" works of social realism, such as social-consciousness films [shakai-ha eiga]. To historically contextualize this, I spent two months looking at a series of articles concerning satire that appeared in film magazines between the prewar period and the early 1960s. From this, a critical narrative has emerged concerning the estimation and functions of film satire.

A second line of inquiry has concerned the structure of the film industry and its role in determining the content of studio films. The postwar Japanese cinema was distinct from the American and European cinemas in that it emphasized high-volume series production, and it was controlled by a cartel of six large studios. Since no significant anti-trust legislation had been enacted by either SCAP or the post-Occupation government, the major studios remained vertically integrated and exercised top-down control over the selection and creation of generic and thematic content. In part, the rise of independent directors in the 1960s was a reaction against this system. I have been looking at the industry history and its relationship with the types of films that were produced under it. At stake in this inquiry are questions about cinema as an image of the nation, and theories about authorial agency and their role in discussing the Japanese cinema.

In June, I gave a research presentation at UTCP, looking at some of the received ideas about modernist film in postwar Japan, and how they have been interpreted through the lens of political modernism in Western film studies. As a way to illuminate this approach, and I explored some ideas concerning the concepts of theatricality and satire, and their applicability to a number of Japanese films produced in this period. What interests me is how we have defined these concepts, and how they have allowed us to read the films traditionally associated with the "critical cinema" of the Shôchiku New Wave.

During the winter months, I invited two speakers to present at UTCP on current research in the field of Japanese film studies: Michael Raine, and Patrick Noonan. Finally, I have been involved in two reading groups, discussing texts in the fields of East Asian intellectual history and Japanese film studies by Barshay, Kersten, Tansman, Gerow, Wada-Marciano, Tanabe, Kovács, and others.

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