inq: What's a Zen movie?

Abe-Nornes amnornes
Sun Nov 16 00:55:23 EST 1997

To be honest, I have been waiting for this issue to come up ever since we
gathered under the KineJapan banner!

Many thanks to Joss for his very informative post. It's length was very welcome.

Every time I teach Asian cinema, there are students who want to write
papers on "Zen films." I always drill them on what they think this apparent
_genre_ is. The logic is inevitably the same: Zen underlies Japanese
culture, setting it apart from other nations/Film must been seen as a
product of Japanese culture, setting it apart from other national
cinemas/If we look hard enough, we'll find Zen in all Japanese film/...but
certain directors like Ozu produce a _stronger_ Zen aesthetic.

This is usually the logic underlying attempts in film studies to link Zen
and Japanese cinema, an approach that has largely disappeared in recent
years. For good examples, see the Schrader book, bits and pieces of Richie,
or Stephen Prince's article "Zen and Selfhood" (in the database). Some of
these writers are Kinema Clubbers; perhaps they could reflect on these

David, I seem to remember that an early version of your Eros+Massacre
chapter on Ogawa and Tsuchimoto makes connections to Zen, but this gets
dropped in the book version. What happened between these two publications?

Also, Joss writes:

>The monastic lifestyle provides the
>perfect example of Buddhist practice, and so I am inclined to think that
>if we are really to get a sense of what Zen is, then we must understand
>what is going on in the monastery.  

Yes, but perhaps more important for this discussion is the function of Zen
in popular culture; this is basically what we are dealing with when it
comes to the cinema question. This helps us sidestep questions which you
begin to raise on "authentic" traditions. A better approach is to think of
practice, its appearance in popular culture being one important form that
may have absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in the monasteries. 

That's for the question of film production. As for Western criticism, Joss'
discussion on Suzuki is certainly the basic background for understanding
"Why Zen?", as opposed to one or another of the mish mash of religions from
the Japanese mix. 


PS: Here are the articles I mentioned, entries coming from a quick trip to
the new Kinema Club database. 

Author : Schrader, Paul
       Journal : Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer
       Imprint : (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972)

Title : Zen and Selfhood: Patterns of Eastern Thought inKurosawa's Films
       Author : Prince, Stephen
       Journal : Post Script
       Imprint : 7.2 (Winter 1988): 4-17

Title : Zen and the Art of Documentary
       Author : Desser, David
       Journal : East-WestJournal
       Imprint : 1.2 (1987): 45-59

[you can see some of the work needed on the database entries, missing
spaces and punctuation...annotations....]

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