The word “screening” is a double entendre. On the one hand, it refers to the fact that we will be examining Japanese modernity through the visual medium of film. But more importantly, we will be screening (problematizing/criticizing) the more orthodox understanding of Japanese modernity as simple Westernization or a top-to-bottom national formation. The underlying assumption of this class is that modernity is never a clear-cut, singular narrative; it is always pluralistic and contradictory. The course will offer students a thorough overview of Japanese cinematic history, beginning with silent films in 1920s Japan and ending with the critique of modernity that culminated in 1960s amd 1970s postwar cinema. Although the course will include seminal works of Japanese cinema, the main focus will be on Kyoto and its role in cinematic history. After the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed Toyo, most major studios moved to Kyoto, and Kyoto saw a vibrant era of cinematic production. The city became the center of the jidaigeki (period pieces) genre, and filmmakers such as Mizoguchi Kenji and Kurosawa Akira shot numerous films in Kyoto. This class will examine how Kyoto became captured as the “traditional” space in contrast to the “modern” space of Tokyo in these films, what these representations of the city signify and reveal about the modernization process.
- Teacher: Miri Nakamura