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Cinema in Japan


Daisuke Miyao movie street in Tokyo
Image: A street in Asakusa Park, Tokyo, lined with movie theatres, around 1930.

In one of our original overview articles, Daisuke Miyao traces the development of cinema in Japan in the early 20th century, highlighting how Japanese film-making grew out of kabuki theater traditions.

Image from Throne of Blood
Image: Throne of Blood, (aka Kumonosu Jo), Toshiro Mifune, 1957 (Photo courtesy Everett Collection/Mary Evans)

The 1930s, 1940s and 1950s saw the flourishing of talents of the great directors Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse and Akira Kurosawa. In the opening chapter of Classical Japanese Cinema Revisited, Catherine Russell considers the industrial, cultural and aesthetic features of classical Japanese cinema, its relationship to Hollywood and to Japanese national identity. In a similar vein, Robert N. Watson’s study of Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s epic adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the BFI Film Classics series, considers how the film highlights “analogies between British and Japanese medieval history, and between Shakespeare as an epitome of high western civilisation and Noh drama as an epitome of high Japanese civilisation.”

Image from Akira
Image: Akira (Photo courtesy BANDAI VISUAL/AKIRA COMMITTEE CO LTD/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans)

Hit by the rise of television and home video, theatrical cinema in Japan declined in the second half of the 20th century. But the late 1990s onwards has seen a resurgence of a lively national cinema with directors such as Kitano Takeshi and Hirokazu Kore-eda releasing films that are both critically and commercially successful, and the popularity of genres such as the yakuza (gangster) film, horror, and anime. In this chapter from Contemporary Asian Cinema, Darrell William Davis provides an overview of the Japanese cinematic landscape, and Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell’s BFI Film Classic considers one of the most memorable examples of anime: 1998’s post-apocalyptic cyberpunk feature Akira.



In Memoriam


Peter Wollen 1938-2019


Front cover of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema by Peter Wollen

Peter Wollen’s writing was hugely influential for the development of film studies. While working at the British Film Institute, Wollen wrote the seminal film theory text, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, introducing ideas from semiotics and post-structuralism to the analysis of film. First published in 1969, Signs and Meaning was published in a new edition in 2013, with a foreword by D.N. Rodowick in which Rodowick considers the importance of the book in its various editions in changing the way we understand film as an art form.

In this chapter, Wollen considers the auteur theory developed by critics at the Cahiers du cinéma in relation to the films of directors including Howard Hawks and John Ford.

Wollen was to return to the auteur theory in his masterly analysis of Gene Kelly’s role as co-director, choreographer and performer of the eponymous dance sequence in Singin’ in the Rain, the subject of Wollen’s contribution to the BFI Film Classics series.


Thomas Elsaesser 1943-2019


Front cover of European Cinema and Contemporary Philosophy

The film philosopher and historian Thomas Elsaesser played a key part in the development of the academic study of film. Elsaesser was based for much of his career in the UK, at the University of East Anglia, and latterly at the University of Amsterdam. Like Wollen, Elsaesser engaged with both classical Hollywood and European cinema, and with questions of film authorship. In his study of the 1925 science fiction classic Metropolis, Elsaesser situates the film as an example of ‘UFA style’ – its technical complexity and attention to detail not attributable solely to the vision of director Fritz Lang, but the result of a collaboration “between set designers, cameramen, art directors and countless other, highly skilled specialists” employed by the film studio, UFA.

In his contribution to Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays, Elsaesser explores what he terms the ‘dandyism’ of Hitchcock’s unique persona, a quality that also informed his filmmaking style. Elsaesser suggests that Hitchcock’s life and art alike represent “a determined protest, the triumph of artifice over accident, a kind of daily victory over chance, in the name of a spirituality dedicating itself to making life imitate art.”

In a contemporary globalised cinema landscape, is the concept of the director-as-author still valid? In this chapter from his Limina Award-winning book European Cinema and Contintental Philosophy, Elsaesser outlines some of the defining features and industrial forces shaping 21st century authorship.


Agnes Varda
Image: Agnès Varda at work on Cléo de 5 à 7 (Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Agnès Varda 1928-2019

“I had a world. I don't think I had a career. I made films.”

    - Agnès Varda, 2009

Agnès Varda was not only a pioneering film-maker in her own right, but a key figure in the French New Wave movement, characterised by its realist style, influenced by Italian neorealism and Hollywood, its subject matter of intrigue and crime and its questioning of bourgeois social norms. Hilary Neroni’s study of Varda’s classic Cléo de 5 à 7 situates Varda as part of the French New Wave and as an avowedly feminist film maker.

In an article for the French film journal Positif, Varda herself looks back on forty years of film-making since the release of her first feature La Pointe Courte (1955) and her artistic debt to the great director Luis Buñuel. As Kate Ince describes in her book The Body and the Screen, Varda’s documentary Les plages d’Agnès (2008) mixes autobiographical narration with installation art and filmic and photographic montage in an evocative journey through her life and film-making career.


Film Festivals: more than a prized platform


Poster of Venice Film Festival
Image: Poster for the First Venice Film Festival, 1932 (De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images)

Behind the screens at the global festival

Film festivals have changed hugely since the first festival, Venice, opened in August 1932 with a screening of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The biggest, such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Sundance, and Toronto, function variously as global film marketplaces, the chance for a ‘first look’ at new releases before they make it to theaters, and for audience engagement beyond the screen, with personal appearances by film-makers and stars. In the film journal Projections, Gus Van Sant recalls a memorable encounter with Derek Jarman at the Berlin Film Festival and, in The Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint, Chris Jones provides a how-to guide to launching your film on a global stage.

Image from Glasgow Film Festival
Image: A poster advertising the 14th Glasgow Film Festival, 2018 (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/WireImage/Getty Images)

Making the modern festival

The 21st century has witnessed an ever-increasing multiplicity of festivals: local and regional, genre or identity based, even digital festivals. Film festivals can provide an opportunity for audiences to engage with films in a very different way to a standard cinematic experience – explored by Lesley-Ann Dickson in her case study of programming and exhibition practices at the Glasgow Film Festival, and Rosana Vivar in her research with fan communities at the San Sebastian Horror and Fantasy Film Festival. Geli Madelmi surveys the emergence of online festival platforms that enable the viewer to program their own personal film festival from amongst thousands of new releases.


20 YEARS ON: Remembering the work of Stanley Kubrick


Production image of Barry Lyndon
Image: Barry Lyndon [BR 1975] Ryan O'Neal, Marisa Berenson WARNER BROS/Ronald Grant Archive/Mary Evans

An award-winning ‘cinema of failure’?

Stanley Kubrick's impact on cinema goes far beyond the fourteen films he directed though, each meticulously-executed artwork, from his early non-fiction short The Day of the Fight (1953) to his late masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut (1999), is testament to his holistic, perfectionist approach to film-making. In one of our new overview articles, Maria Pramagiorre dubs Kubrick’s oeuvre ‘a cinema of failure’: his anti-heroes, despite inhabiting hyper-masculine milieus, embodying a troubled masculinity beset by anxiety and weakness.


Behind the scenes image of 2001: A Space Odyssey
Image: John Alcott adjusts the camera position while Stanley Kubrick (1928 - 1999) finds his shot on the set of '2001: A Space Odyssey'. (Photo by Keith Hamshere/Getty Images)

Shedding light and convention: Kubrick's 'Total Cinema'

In his study of Kubrick’s ‘Total Cinema’, Philip Kuberski describes how the director, who in his early career had worked as a photographer, used both natural and artificial light ‘as a means of illumination’, to create visual effect and impart meaning. In addition to their formal innovations, Kubrick’s films reached beyond the conventions of genre. In ‘The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick’, Norman Kagan explores how Kubrick consistently tested genre boundaries, whether in the science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or the claustrophobic horror The Shining (1980). Discussing Barry Lyndon (1975), Kubrick’s foray into period drama, Ryan Gilbey argues that, by avoiding “the fusty clichés of tour-guide film-making”, Kubrick achieves an emotional authenticity that allows contemporary audiences to connect with its 18th century characters.