Workshop Concluding Thoughts

Abe' Mark Nornes amnornes
Fri Apr 9 14:26:30 EDT 1999

                                     __Kinema Club Workshop__
Japanese Cinema Studies in the Rear View Mirror: Re-Viewing the Discipline

***Some continuing/concluding thoughts from Yoshimoto and Nornes***

The workshop met last week to consider the past, present and future of
"Japanese cinema studies." At the end of the weekend, a number of
participants asked us to post come concluding remarks. After a week of
off-line discussion, we offer this summary along with a set of possible
points of action. Needless to say, we can only make gestures to the
contours of the complicated discussion that took place. We hope that
participants can post their own responses and conclusions, and extend that
discussion to the wider audience.


It seems evident that there _was_ an academic field called
"Japanese Film Studies" starting from around the era of 
auteurism, and it was held together through the exercise of various film
methodologies that found use value in films from Japan. This "use value"
was something 
people like Stephen Heath were quite self-conscious about in their work,
but it is
something you can trace back to the writings of Donald Richie and Joseph
Anderson whose writings were prominant for advancing certain critical and
theoretical agendas within film studies. While there is a heterogeneous
advance of debates over several decades, we can identify a period in which
Japanese cinema signified more than just the cinema of Japan---the era of
Richie's "Kurosawa," Bordwell/Thompson's "Ozu," Heath's "Oshima," Burch's
"golden age of Japanese cinema." Put simply, film studies deployed
"Japanese film" to consolidate itself into an institutionalized field of


This field of "Japanese film studies" has disappeared. Of course, many
of these scholars are still quite productive, however, the identity
coalescing around that earlier field is gone. Some may feel an
impulsive nostalgia for some "golden age of Japanese film studies," but at
the workshop it was evident few people had given it much thought at all.
One reason is probably that, ironically enough, despite the "disappearance
of the field" there are more people researching and teaching Japanese
film than ever before. While there seems to be a generalized lack of
interest in Japanese film at SCS functions, there is a pronounced shift to
lit, anthro, history, etc. that produces conferences, conference panels,
research programs, articles and books. Anyone on the job market has noticed
that the position announcements mentioning Japanese film are coming from
various area studies and language & literature departments.

At the workshop, participants noted a "sense of crisis," an expression we
have not used. Rather, we think it is important that in the midst of this
change, we proceed first with a sure sense of our own history. We can't
really talk about the field of Japanese cinema studies, various disciplines
which claim their stake in this field, and institutional sites where
knowledge on Japanese cinema is produced, disseminated, and consumed,
without discussing the specific history and current state of the field
and other concrete aspects of knowledge production (names of scholars,
representative or canonical works, etc.). As an important corollary, it
seems the participants at the table talked as if they knew what film
studies, Japanese literary studies or area studies are....terms that are
less than obvious to us. Further, participants working in Asia remind us that 
the new connections between Japan-based scholars and those in other
institutional contexts mean that there is a politics of critical _and_
institutional interaction that requires attention.

Exploring these questions is the first step in harnessing the energies that
are creating today's flux. We note that while a surge in Japanese moving
image media pedagogy is occuring in undergraduate teaching, it is unclear that
the same thing is happening at the graduate level. More importantly, it is 
not clear that the new contact with this media is having any lasting effects 
on these various disciplines. For example, as long as anime is studied as
just another
example of the exotic cultural text called "Japan," the fundamental
structure and values of the discipline using it will remain basically
unchanged. Exactly what "use value" does Japanese "film" now have for 
area studies, literature, and other segments of the academy?

Furthermore, with an eye to the disappearance of the field, we
also need to (1) reintroduce Japanese cinema into Film Studies or (2) radically
transform Film Studies into something else. In a certain sense, the latter
is already in process, but as of today no serious attempt has been made to
articulate Japanese cinema studies with the uncertain conditions of Film
Studies itself. If there is some "crisis" in Japanese cinema studies, it is
inseparable from the "crisis" of Film Studies itself. The decisive
difference is that while Japanese cinema studies is just a sub-field and as
a result extremely vulnerable to the institutional sea change, Film Studies
as a firmly established discipline can afford to ignore its own predicament
by turning itself into a more conservative discipline.

What we need is interesting research agendas, issues, questions which go
beyond the boundaries of Japanese cinema studies. If Film Studies "used"
Japanese cinema for its disciplinary formation and expansion, is it
possible for us, scholars of Japanese cinema, to "use" Film Studies and
area studies for our agendas?


The workshop described this situation, asking people to consider its
implications for
        ---pedagogical issues at both graduate and undergraduate levels
        ---job hiring and the conceptualization of positions
        ---the institutional demands on undergraduate teaching to support film
                teaching (often large lecture courses or language teaching)
vs. film
                being exploited to fill seats
        ---peer review and tenure
       ---how work in film and other visual cultures will interact
                methodogically and theoretically with the fields that are 
                integrating it institutionally
        ---the academic book market and its review process
        ---the stunning paucity of Japanese film publications in American
                libraries, and the lack of access to them in Japanese archives 
                and libraries
        ---the impact of writing and film&video distribution on canon and
        ---the growing communication between American and Japanese scholars

        ***how do we intervene, direct and channel the change?

It was pointed out by one guest that the workshop participants share an
object, but not a methodology or epistemic common ground. This is certainly
an effect of trends toward interdisciplinarity in the American academy and
the legitimization of popular culture as an object for area studies.
However, a field that shares an object and not a discipline is fated to
fail at the institutional level, because the institution relies on peer
review which will ignore arguments that the object itself (its beauty or
social agency) justifies its place in the academy. The guest pointed to the
example of another field which suffered so many retirements and failed
tenures that it has no senior professors; the consequence is that
competitive research universities with graduate programs an find no one to
hire and the schools are not producing new students, and so the field has
in some way self-destructed in the institutional sense.


A few things became evident in the course of discussion.
        ---People coming out of film studies may be forced to think about
                such problems before those working in fields that are "just
                arriving" to the topic
        ---People on (competitive) tenure tracks may feel higher stakes in
                the issue
        ---Since no one has given all these problems previous thought, and
                since it's always difficult to describe something from your
lived world
                in such immediate transformation, workshop participants were
                constantly groping for common ground on which to speak to
each other (this
                in itself is somewhat troubling when it comes to peer
review issues)


In conclusion: We are, in a certain sense, "euphoric." We face
multiple possibilities and that's good. We don't mourn the passing of that old
field and its sense of institutional comfort. And despite the fact that it
has left us groping to comprehend the consequences for our lives as
teachers, intellectuals and as intellectual workers, we sense something
very interesting on the horizon in a decade or so. The senior scholars who
have already done a lot of research on Japanese film will be publishing the
best work of their careers. Many newly arriving people will have published
books and secured tenure. We will have read and engaged each other's work.
It will not configure itself in a discipline, but we will have a much easier 
time talking to each other.


Some practical first steps. 

Since our institutional situation is complicated and will play 
itself out over many years of teaching, writing
and publication---not to mention reviews of one sort or another---the
workshop ended by raising some concrete possibilities for increased
interaction and collaboration that will help direct the current
transformations we are beginning to identify.

At the same time, we assert these "practical" projects need to be
integrated into a more meta-critical discussion and debate. It is 
necessary for us to engage ourselves with the institutional 
formation and disciplinary politics squarely while working on
multiple, concrete fronts.

Here they are in no particular order:

        *** COMMUNICATION: We need to meet as a group more often, bring
                more people to the table, and keep the discussion going. It
is crucial
                for us to talk face-to-face. Thus, there is a real need for more
                workshops, symposiums, conferences, and the like. For those of 
                us at schools with budgets for guest lecturers, we should
                appropriating these mechanisms to invite each other to give 
                lunch-time seminars and the like. Another route is to
organize panels 
                for conference. In addition to this, while writing and
publishing as 
                much good work as we can, we should read each other's works and 
                offer constructive comments. KineJapan is one forum for
this, but 
                so is individual discussion and comment and criticism of
                Finally, we should think about a conference in Japan.

        *** KINEMA CLUB and KINEJAPAN: Most of the energy has shifted from
                Kinema Club to KineJapan, and quite understandably.  However, a
                recently installed log system has revealed that Kinema Club 
                is being used far more than we imagined. It is getting well
                2,000 hits a week! A graph of the monthly usage from the site's 
                inception to the present reveals a uniformly steady growth
to the
                present. At the moment, Aaron Gerow's reviews and the database 
                are receiving the most use, however, we could certainly imagine 
                many other ways to use both Kinema Club and KineJapan. They are 
                conceived to be flexible, collaborative, and non-territorial. 
                (This is an invitation to innovation.) As we consider the other 
                items in this list, keep in mind how Kinema Club and KineJapan 
                can facilitate these projects and agendas.

        *** SUBTITLING: Our canon---such as it is---is incredibly narrow,
                and the distribution systems for film and video mitigate 
                against expansion. We need to take the situtation into our 
                own hands and subtitle films. Films over 50 years old are 
                public domain and could be distributed openly and commercially, 
                and newer films would have to be done on a more informal 
                basis. This can be done on the anime fan model or
                Anime fan subbers produce subtitled video tapes using PCs
                and make free dubs for anyone that sends them blank tapes 
                and a stamped return envelope; they stop this activity any 
                time a commercial distributor picks up a film (although there 
                is a question about whether this creates a chilling effect for
                distributors). This route could also use Kinema Club's original 
                model: to have access to any of the tapes, one would have to 
                contribute a new translation of a worthy film. 

                The professional route would create tapes or DVDs that
                could be inserted into the commercial system. Our collective 
                effort would defray the expense of translation and print 
                aquisition for distributors (at least for public domain films). 
                A tape of subtitled _clips_ for pedagogical purposes would 
                also be useful, as would tapes of silent films with benshi 
                soundtracks in English and/or subbed Japanese.

        *** TRANSLATION OF THEORY AND CRITICISM: Ironically, despite 
                the increased communication between scholars within and 
                without Japan, there is a dearth of translations. A volume 
                of key essays from Japanese criticism and theory would 
                open up many pedagogical possibilities. It would stimulate 
                new research agendas by calling attention to a rich aspect 
                of Japanese film relatively untouched until recently. And it 
                would certainly provoke new attention from Film Studies 
                in general, which has a notoriously Euro-centric conception 
                of the history of film theory.

        *** ENCYCLOPEDIA: Routledge has just released an encyclopedia of
                Chinese film, and is interested in producing one for Japanese 
                film. Considering the kinds of "encyclopedias" that have 
                already been published, this could be an opportunity to revise 
                the canon. It would also be an opportunity to think through 
                the "encyclopedia" itself, critique and experiment with its 
                form. However, there are considerable practical and theoretical 
                issues to hash out first. Are there enough dedicated and
                collaborators to produce several hundred short (but excellent, 
                critical) entries?

There must be other projects people can think of. We invite anyone
reading this to start a thread on KineJapan. Such collaborative projects,
including our march into the future, will start

                right there.

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