TV discussion

Aaron Gerow gerow
Wed Aug 19 02:01:28 EDT 1998

Dick and Michael have been trying hard to keep the TV discussion alive, 
one which, as I mentioned before, is something KineJapan was inteded for. 
 I'd like to help a bit by commenting on some of their statements.

First, in relation to what Dick Chalfen suggested about how to discuss TV:

>(1)  We must try not to essentialize TV -- while some common threads may
>exist across genres, clearly there are very different kinds of televisual
>programming in place in Japan as elsewhere, serving different sectors of
>the population with alternative needs and expectations.

This relates to the issue of technologicial determinism (i.e., that TV 
the technology determines its form or ideological manifestations and thus 
enforces a universal standard to its appearances) vs. a cultural studies 
model which emphasizes "local" adaptations or appropriations (and thus 
downplays or denies technology's "final" determination).  While I tend to 
side with the latter, I still think it is important to discuss how 
technology itself has been discussed (much discussion of new media 
technology still tends to be technologically determinist, not matter how 
postmodern it pretends to be).  At the same time, I think it is important 
to always question the concept "Japan" we are using when discussing 
"local" appropriations and developments.

>(2)  On another front is the center of interest on the production process,
>on specific programs, on technological innovation, on issues of
>distribution or on relationships of all of the above?

I would like to add the issue of industry structure.  No real good study 
has yet been done in English on the structure of the postwar Japanese 
entertainment industry and how it relates to issues raised by the 
Frankfurt school (the culture industry), postmodernism (the "decline" of 
the "mass" consumer), and late industrial global capitalism.  For 
instance, while U.S. communications regulations discourage companies from 
owning TV stations and newspapers in the same local market (to prevent 
the monopolization of organs of free speech, etc.), there are no such 
restrictions that I know of in Japan.  The result is that most of the TV 
networks have strong corporate relationships with newspapers and other 
media conglomerates (Mainichi, Asahi, Yomiuri, Fuji-Sankei, etc.).  This 
is only one manifestation of a larger structure of horizontal integration 
across the entertainment industry (publishing, music, movies, talent, 
etc.) which makes it one of the more strongly oligopolistic in the world. 
 One must study how this effects not how the industry operates, but also 
how culture is produced, consumed and read.

>(3)  As Aaron suggests, the comparative perspective does have a lot to
>offer -- much depends, of course, on how it is used, e.g. in as
>anti-ethnocentric ways as possible.

I actually was trying to be ambivalent about the comparative perspective, 
pointing out that while it has been used much in the past to good result, 
that has often been at the price of a binarist world view which 
essentializes difference.  In using the comparative perspective, I think 
it is always helpful to multiply the points of comparison: not only 
Japanese TV vs. U.S. TV, but vs Hong Kong TV, Korean TV, Japanese movies, 
Japanese radio, etc.

As for Michael Badzik's comments:

>So why is television worth looking at? Despite what you may have 
>heard, there are quality programs that appear from time to time. 
>Also, the ease and frequency with which actors, writers, and 
>directors move between film and television make it difficult to 
>ignore; the television work done by the director Iwai Shunji, 
>actors Sanada Hiroyuki, Toyokawa Etsushi, and Itami Juuzo, writer 
>Mitani Koki, (to say nothing of Beat Takeshi and a host of others) 
>cannot go unobserved in any significant examination of their 
>careers. And finally, the huge acceptance of television by the 
>Japanese people of itself makes it an important subject, as it 
>has become both a leader and follower of current and future 
>trends and ways of thinking (and television certainly affects 
>ways of thinking).

I definitely agree with Michael on all the above points, but it does 
strike me as unfortuntate that we even have to make such arguments these 
days.  Way back when, people studying film had to argue about cinema's 
artistic value or importance as a cultural industry in order to justify 
their research.  Such justifications not only tended to reify old notions 
of art, they usually rendered cinema important only in so far as it 
affected something else (cinema thus becoming the subordinate term).  But 
isn't cinema (and TV) important in and of itself?  And not just in the 
hermetically sealed notion of cinema art Hasumi propounds, but because 
cinema and the other terms (society, art, economy, etc.) are neither easy 
to distinguish (society is cinema as much as cinema is society) nor 
comfortably set in a hierarchy.  

>1. What are the natural methods of form and expression in 
>television drama? A small screen is quite different from a large 
>one, and a theater is quite different from one's home, and so 
>television drama in Japan very quickly developed a style quite 
>distinct from that of film. One style that did (and still does) 
>influence television is that of the radio drama, which also 
>emanates from a small box in one's home. Both depend on an 
>up-close and immediate style of presentation to keep the 
>listener/viewer from turning away. The movie made to be seen on 
>a large screen in a quiet theater has a larger threshold before 
>distraction, and can thus have more long shots and quiet 
>moments - though this is changing as movies depend more on video 
>and less on theatrical release for revenue.

These are all very important points and should serve as the basis for 
doing a comparison of the two media (while still avoiding technological 
essentialism).  At the same time, however, I think we should also 
emphasize the strong relationships between film and TV.  When talking to 
my media studies colleagues here who usually know litte of film studies, 
unlike their American counterparts (who tend to have a strong background 
in both), I like to argue that TV cannot be studied without a basic 
knowledge of films studies because of the historical connections between 
the two industries.  In early Japanese TV, while a sector of the staff 
was from radio and had no experience in film, the other half were mostly 
film industry dropouts or converts.  That is why, even today, most of the 
editing or scriptwriting styles you see in TV drama have much in common 
with film.  (This is, of course, a generalization: _Love Generation_ and 
Ozu are different, but _Love Generation_ and 1960s Shochiku kayo eiga 
mave more in common than you think.)  Scriptwriting books you pick up 
still are directed at both TV and film writing. 

One difference I would focus on, however, is not in relation to drama, 
but variety.  Variety programming is probably the most important genre on 
TV (in comparison, it has greatly declined in the U.S.).  With 
news/wideshows also being dominant, and with the lack of comedy "dramas" 
like sitcoms, drama is in fact a relatively minor part of TV programming 
(though it is high profile).  Why is variety so central?  How does it 
relate to the modes of production of TV?  To the talent industry (which 
depend on variety)?  How has variety produced a form of entertainment--or 
relationship with representation--which is not really possible in 
contemporary film (since it usually denies the production of a fictional 
diegesis) and how is that related to modes of consumption and the 
structure of the viewing situation?

>2. How do television and film interact with each other? Recently, 
>a large number of movies have been released to theaters that were 
>produced by television production companies. Is this having any 
>kind of a profound effect on the industry? Of course this is not 
>an entirely new trend, as Tora-san, if you remember, actually got 
>his start on television.

We had a small discussion of this on KineJapan in relation to the late 
50s/early 1960s, the time when the TV and film industries were in an 
antagonistic relationship.  One member argued that they were not really 
all that antagonistic and that is certainly a point worth discussing, 
especially in relation to the present day case.

In general, we have yet to map the entertainment industry today.  
Clearly, the industries are closely related, both in terms of money and 
talent.  Unlike in the U.S., where movie stars still look at TV as below 
their status (and thus don't appear in commericals until later in their 
careers--unless they are Japanese CMs!), TV work and commercials are 
indispensible for any media personality in Japan.  Unlike the 1950s, when 
film was the strongest, TV (with the music industry a close second) is 
the center for the production of talent, and thus it is only natural that 
its actors/staff occasionally flow into what is now the secondary 
industry, film.  

Corporate relationships are also important as is the structuring of 
consumption.  Nowadays, the Top 40 music chart is almost entirely 
"decided" by which songs are used as themse songs in TV commericials and 
shows.  What does this say about how culture is produced and consumed?  
Why are TV commericals a major determinant in consumer taste--not just in 
terms of the product, but in terms of talent, music, style, and look?

Any comments on the above?

Aaron Gerow
Yokohama National University
KineJapan list owner
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