Manga and Japanese cinema

Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow onogerow at
Sun Nov 23 07:08:37 EST 1997

Hello everyone,

Traffic has been slow as of late, I'm sure mostly because of midterms, 
Thanksgiving, and other business matters.  But one bit of news has been 
making me think about the relation of Japanese cinema and manga recently 
and I wonder if anyone else has thought about the topic.

Chuo Koronsha has recently put out a new series of manga called "The 
Films of Akira Kurosawa."  They have selected a number of Kurosawa 
classics and have asked major manga artists to draw a manga adaptation.  
The first one, _Shichinin no samurai_ (The Seven Samurai), just came out 
and was drawn by Sato Takao of _Gorugo 13_ (Golgo 13) fame.

It is well known how much influence cinema had on Japanese manga, 
especially gekiga and its forms of spatial construction and narration 
(the use of close-ups, analytical "editing", etc.).  Tezuka himself 
stressed this.  When certain manga became popular, the developing 
affinity between the two made it easy to adopt them to the screen as live 
action (not just anime--that took longer).  The earliest examples (the 
late 1950s) were probably the kids hero manga like _Akado Suzunosuke_, 
usually brought to the screen after first being adapted to radio or TV 
(_Gekko kamen_ is an odd example: it started on TV before moving to manga 
and then film).

As cinema began to fade in popularity, manga, along with TV, almost 
seemed to take over the role of providing narrative image entertainment 
in Japanese culture.  Cinema turned into the parasitical side of this 
relationship, coming to depend more and more on manga for story ideas.  
It seemed like nearly half the films made in the 1980s were adaptations 
of some manga or another.  This was not always bad--there were many good 
films made from manga--but it was also becoming clear that manga was 
developing story telling forms unique to its medium that were not easily 
adaptable to film.  Many films just ended up looking like weak 
"realizations" of stories already inherently abstract.

This influence was also true, of course, of TV.  Many drama are still 
based on manga and I tend to think that the current trend for putting the 
words spoken by people on variety shows on screen (sometimes with ironic 
commentary from a "third person" narrator) is also partially influenced 
by manga.

The situation is fluid.  Some film critic colleagues are arguing that one 
reason 1990s Japanese film is on an upturn is because the film world has 
finally begun to emerge out from under the shadow of manga.  True, many 
films are still being adapted from manga (from this year, _Happy People_, 
_Cat's Eye_, etc.), but most of the good work is now coming from original 
screenplays or from novels.  

But the Chuo Koronsha series reminds me that manga is still one of the 
dominant forces in contemporary Japanese image culture.  I don't recall a 
time when a "classic" film has ever been adapted to manga years after the 
fact.  One wonders at their motives.  Is this simply a tribute to 
Kurosawa, or is there an underlying sense that no one these days would 
approach Kurosawa's work other than through manga?  Are we now entering 
an era, just like the one where the argument was made that the popular 
medium of film was necessary to introduce great drama or literature to 
the masses, where it is now manga that is necessary to keep alive a 
slowly petrifying cinema, now a classical, not popular art?

I'd like to hear if anyone else has been thinking about the relationship 
of manga and film in Japan.

Aaron Gerow
Yokohama National University
KineJapan list owner
For list commands: send "information kinejapan" to 
listserver at
Kinema Club:

More information about the KineJapan mailing list