Japanese governmental agencies/film culture promotional policies

Aaron Gerow aaron.gerow at yale.edu
Fri Sep 5 09:03:58 EDT 2008

Great to see the discussion proceeding. It looks like the boiling  
over of some serious frustrations!

First, with regard to Mark's post, I do want to stress, as I think I  
did before, that one of my main points is that film promotion has NOT  
thought about film research much at all. In fact, much of the  
policies are detrimental to film research, and perhaps for a reason  
(e.g., the construction of consumers, not real readers). I've written  
about this repeatedly in my Eiga geijutsu best ten commentaries or in  
my Midnight Eye piece. (I'll have to do some digging to find my posts  
on the Committee on Film Promotion.)

Second, I think we should hold back a little on bashing the NFC. For  
a research guide Markus and I are working on, I went to the NFC this  
summer to specifically talk to them about their rules for usage. One  
thing that is clear is that they are very conscious of their bad  
reputation and want to change it. As one curator said, "This will be  
a 'Film Center that you can use' not a 'Film Center that you can't  
use.'" And things have gotten better. It is easier to request  
screenings. I did for my class this summer and it cost about $100 to  
show 2 hours worth of pristine archive prints of rare films for my  
students in a theater. Note that this is a reduced rate for academic  
institutions. (The NFC is thus one place that does promote research  
financially by reducing or, sometimes in the case of stills,  
eliminating fees for academic researchers.) Certainly it is not like  
the Library of Congress, where you can see films for free by yourself  
on a Steenbeck, but it is getting better. They do have films to watch  
on video and viewing booths by the way (although for some reason they  
still charge you the same as a film screening). One thing I like  
about the new Film Center is the Kodomo eigakan, which is a set of  
screenings they do during school vacations for kids. Great films,  
often with benshi and live music, for next to nothing. I take my son  
and his friends whenever I can. It is precisely these kind of events  
that are necessary to build up interest and appreciation of not new  
things like Ponyo, but of the whole history of cinema. There is still  
room for improvement, particularly the need to change the NFC charter  
to make it a research institution, not just a film preservation one,  
but the NFC is trying.

Third, I agree with Alex that we should not paint the Japanese film  
industry in one color. My posts were too short to note the  
differences, but there are many smaller companies that are  
cooperative. And even amongst the majors, there are differences. One  
thing that I had to be reminded of when I did a lot of interviews in  
the industry last year was that these companies are made up of  
individuals, some of whom are great film fans who do their best for  
the movies. The head of the services division at the Toho Studios,  
for instance, is a classmate of Kurosawa Kiyoshi and thus a Rikkyo/ 
Hasumi film product; another fellow in the Toei marketing division is  
a deshi of Sakamoto Junji who worked on many of his films. Even the  
president of Toho is a nice guy (he always writes me back personally  
by e-mail). It is important to combine an institutional critique with  
an awareness of difference and even occasional individual  
"resistance" within these institutions.

Finally, about the Asahi editorial. Boring! This could have been  
written 20 years ago. And it probably was. It says nothing new. And  
actually it is somewhat off the mark, because if there is one thing  
that the government has been promoting, it is the building up of film  
production programs at university. Those have greatly increased in  
the last decade. The problem, which the Asahi is too ignorant to  
point out, is that this is never tied to film education in general:  
the education of the general populace--or even of college students-- 
about film history and culture. Again, the same old vision focused  
only on creating contents, not on how they are read, preserved, used  
and discussed.

Aaron Gerow
Assistant Professor
Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University
53 Wall Street, Room 316
PO Box 208363
New Haven, CT 06520-8363
Phone: 1-203-432-7082
Fax: 1-203-432-6764
e-mail: aaron.gerow at yale.edu
site: www.aarongerow.com

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