Ono Seiko and Aaron Gerow onogerow at
Sat Jan 23 08:17:51 EST 1999

Alex wrote,

>My present research is on Oriental
>musicals with particular emphasis on Japanese productions of the 1950's
>and 1960's. I've just accepted this unenviable offer, and hope to find
>some productions from the period that reflect the aesthetics of the
>classical American "song and dance" musical of the day, but oriental...
>I guess my first contribution to this list therefore has to be a
>question: Are there any? 

Ah, you've touched on a subject very close to my heart: Japanese 
musicals.  Someday, I'll write about it.....

But yes, there are tons of Japanese musicals--depending on how you define 
them.  If you define them strictly as films which depict a world in which 
characters can burst out in song a dance without a moment's notice, where 
songs and dance carry an important narrative burden (or, conversely, have 
the power to completely stop the narrative), etc., then there are not 
that many.  The majority of Japanese films with songs and dance are 
either films in the Asakusa review tradition (the prewar Enoken films are 
the best example) or the kayo eiga (Hibari's films in the 50s, Crazy 
Cats, Funaki Kazuo, Saigo Teruhiko, the Group Sounds films in the 1960s, 
Momoe-chan in the 1970s, etc.), where songs enter into the film but are 
by no means central to the spectacle or narrative (though they do add a 
lot to the entertainment).

A few brave souls have tried to produce more full-blown musicals in the 
American style, the best two examples being the prewar _Oshidori 
utagassen_ (Makino Masahiro, 1939) and the postwar _Kimi mo shusse ga 
dekiru_ (Sugawa Eizo, 1964).  The "Tanuki Goten" films (with many 
editions, several filmed by Kimura Keigo) are also good examples.  While 
the first film and the "Tanuki Goten" films are "oriental" in being 
period pieces, I don't see why you should confine yourself to such 
restrictions.  _Kimi mo shusse ga dekiru_ is a full blown, modern 
"American" musical making fun of both Japan and America.  The work of 
Makino, Sugawa, and Kimura is especially worth focusing on given how 
central music was to their cinema.  Saito Koichi was also the best of the 
kaiyo eiga directors in the 1960s (_Chiisana sunakku_, etc.).

Not much has been written about the genre, even in Japanese.  Until 
recently, many of the films were also ignored for release on video or LD. 
 But _Kimi_ finally came out on LD a few years ago, SHV put out _Chiisana 
sunakku_, there's a box set of "Tanuki Goten" films, and almost 
everything Hibari did (it seems) is out on video.  None with subtitles, 
of course.

Good luck.  I envy you having the time to write about this!

Aaron Gerow

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