[Report] Symposium on Media Histories / Media Theories and East Asia

3 April, 2013 Mark ROBERTS

On February 7th and 8th, I attended the Media Histories / Media Theories & East Asia symposium at U. C. Berkeley.


This was an occasion for established and emerging scholars to discuss cross-cultural developments in media theory and culture, with an emphasis on East Asian film and visual arts. The symposium coincided with "Chronicles of Inferno: Japan's Art Theater Guild," a retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive.

Conference topics included: the relation between urban space and the arts in cultural politics; reading the problems of film audience and reception; the important (and neglected) role of East Asian film and media theory and critical writings; East Asian arts movements in transnational perspective; film and visual art as a mediator of cultural/political history; avant-garde artist networks, commercial culture, and architectural transformation.

The plenary speakers were Miryam Sas (U.C. Berkeley), Roland Domenig (Meiji Gakuin University), Fujihata Masaki (Tokyo University of the Arts), Hirasawa Go (Meiji Gakuin University), Ikegami Hiroko (Kobe University), Uno Kuniichi (Rikkyo University), and Yoshimi Shun'ya (University of Tokyo).

I participated on a panel entitled "Rethinking the 60s and 70s: Soundscapes, Landscapes, and Media Politics" with co-panelists Julian Ross (U. of Leeds), Junko Yamazaki (U. of Chicago), and Mariko Schimmel (Grinnell College). My presentation focused on the genre of so-called "borderless action" films [mukokuseki eiga] produced by Nikkatsu studios in the Showa 30s. By looking more closely at the Wataridori series, I attempted to sketch out the origin of the notion of mukokuseki as a critical term for visual culture. Subsequently, this has become a key concept in the analysis of how Japanese cultural products have circulated internationally. At its origin, though, I suggested that the term names a process of transposition and incorporation of the genre of the Western. My interest was in how this transposition of the visual codes of the Western was combined with an abstracted hero and critique of organized power specific to postwar Japan.

Overall, the symposium was an excellent event, with many interesting presentations and film screenings.

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