Japanese governmental agencies/film

Mark Nornes amnornes
Sun Sep 7 13:49:04 EDT 2008

I would like to echo Aaron and Alex's comments about the NFC. Although  
it can be a frustrating place, one must cut them some slack. One  
reason is that they are clearly running a massive project on a shoe  
string...?no, a thread of a budget. It's amazing that they are as  
active and visible as they are, what with ongoing collecting and  
preservation, a world-class retrospective series, revolving  
exhibitions, consulting and communication with international and  
domestic colleagues, symposia, reprint series (like the recently  
announced Kinema shuho), not to mention the individual scholarly  
research of the core staff (who regularly publish their work in a wide  
variety of fora). I think it's fair to say that this is all possible  
thanks to great personal sacrifice. These guys work like kigyo senshi!  
They toil day and night. It's ridiculous.

So one reason people are frustrated is that they simply don't have the  
resources or time to accommodate researchers the way they honestly  
want to. But another reason is the public interface. I sense that that  
their official context inflects their interpersonal relationships.  
It's likely the staff doesn't even realize this. And I should  
emphasize that they're not all like this. But too many of the NFC  
staff members are kind of like an archival version of the wolf man? 
frigidly bureaucratic at work, yet personable and even fun when the  
moon comes out. The FIAF and Domitor/Pordenone crowds have also  
noticed this; they are friends and colleagues when they meet at  
conferences, Pordenone or at FIAF but those that attempt to work at or  
with the NFC reportedly discover the bureaucratic side to one degree  
or another. The place has such a different feel from any other archive  
in the world.

Now Alex makes another very good point:

On Sep 5, 2008, at 7:03 AM, Alex Zahlten wrote:
> The NFC's original raison d'etre was preserving film, and I don't  
> even believe (anyone who knows for sure can weigh in) that promoting  
> film culture i.e. screenings was in their original charter. So a bit  
> bizarrely, as I understand it, it was originally conceived as an  
> institution for the preserving of films, which weren't necessarily  
> planned to be shown. The whole structure of the institution today is  
> still shaped by this.

Though probably true, I'm not sure it's that bizarre a charter. The  
situation was truly perilous when they started out. There was a lot of  
work to do just to bring some safe stability to the celluloid archive.  
This, along with the miniscule budget, helps explain why their paper  
collection is smaller than you'd think, why there's no extensive  
collection of individual filmmaker libraries.

I've been working fairly closely with NFC staff of various levels of  
seniority since 1990. This was when the Yamagata Film Festival  
proposed a WWII 50th anniversary retrospective that would pair the  
collections of the US and Japan national archives. As it happens, this  
was also the moment when the NFC was thinking that they should  
collaborate with public events, opening their collection to film  
festivals and other domestic institutions. Their point man for the  
project was Saiki-san, and the archive was under Oba-san. They were  
clearly concerned that this would open up a flood of requests that  
they couldn't possible manage, inevitably disappointing people despite  
their excellent intentions. However, things seem to have worked out  
very, very well. Look around at film events across Japan, and you'll  
see screenings of NFC prints. They have really enriched local film  
culture in the post-cinematheque age-of-home-video. Indeed, the NFC  
was fantastic, incredibly generous and cooperative in the planning of  
the Tokyo Kinema Club. I sing their praises and am eternally grateful  
for their help in programming over the years.

That said, this discussion thread here is symptomatic of a very  
unfortunate situation. In this respect, I disagree with Aaron that we  
should avoid NFC-bashing altogether. So let us have some sledge-hammer  
fun. The discussion here reveals that the NFC?an institution run by  
scholars!?really needs to work on their interface with scholars. It is  
true that it is far easier to see films from their collection than in  
the past. In this sense, they are basically an "open", fully  
accessible archive. Shell out and they'll show.

However, their unreasonably high charge for screenings (even for video  
[give me a break!!!]), and especially their refusal to show prints on  
flatbeds or cinescans, put them way off the standards one would expect  
of a FIAF archive.

Read Burch and you know that it wasn't always like this. When Burch  
was writing To the Distant Observer, they were obviously thrilled to  
share their collection with a serious scholar. This seems to have  
changed by the late 1980s, as far as I've been able to ascertain from  
asking around. This is a few years before they made the decision to  
open a public interface through the festival and local theater scene.  
I suspect that the calculous was, and remains, similar?they worry that  
if they dropped their screening price or unlocked their flatbed rooms,  
there would be a flood of 600 KineJapan members along with several  
thousand scholars and grad students from across Japan. The only way to  
manage that would be to decide who would get access and who wouldn't,  
a perilous business that they don't want to get into. Who could blame  

Well, the answer to that concern, obvious to anyone who has worked in  
other FIAF archives, is that other archives in the world seem to be  
managing this problem quite nicely, thank you very much.

I was thinking about this just last month, when I arrived in Cambridge  
and discovered that the Harvard Film Archive had a number of WWII  
documentaries and serials I'd never seen. Knowing I had an ongoing  
research interest in WWII film, they were happy to show them to me on  
a Steenbeck?as long as they had time to schedule the visit and prep  
the prints. This is the international standard and the NFC has no  
excuse for not doing this, especially for projection prints and dupes.

Here is a contrasting example. A few years back, when I was studying  
Japanese translation practice for Cinema Babel, I went in to the NFC  
to discuss what resources they might have. They readily met me and  
told me what they had, which wasn't much. There were only a few items  
in the library that I couldn't find at Waseda, so I spent only a  
couple hours in the NFC library for the entire book. I expected that.  
However, I knew they had at least one print of talkie era, subtitled  
foreign cinema (heard it from a cataloguer). They readily offered to  
set up a screening for me. But face it; these prices are prohibitively  
expensive (presumably by design to keep the hoards from descending).  
Furthermore, I pointed out that I was researching translation  
practice. I needed to be able to stop the film and write down the  
subtitles, to replay sections to study the timing and placement of the  
subtitles. I needed a flatbed . Needless to say, if there were  
intellectual grounds to for using a flatbed, I had them. They flatly  
refused. Not their policy. How many archives in the world would refuse  
such a request?

I thought twice before sending this, before being so openly critical.  
But, sad (incredible?) to say, I've basically given up on them for my  
personal research. I'm not angry or bitter. Just sad (sob, sob).

If this post has a message for the NFC?anyone there reading this??I  
think it is this: the NFC could go a long, LONG way in accommodating  
scholars, in meeting the charter of any serious archive to support  
research, by devoting a couple flatbeds to scholarly study. Start a  
schedule to manage the flow. Even stick them out in Sagamihara to keep  
the riff-raff out if they want. But a flat-bed or two, and discussion  
threads like this would never take place.

Now I'll end this rant with a helpful hint for everyone out there? 
along with a shameless plug.

There is an astounding collection of video tapes and discs at the  
National Diet Library. It's their best-kept secret. Ask for the  
Ongagku-Eizo Shiryoshitsu. Believe it or not they have 66,000 LDs,  
DVDs, and videotapes. 66,000!!!  Beware: their catalog sucks, so  
virtually the only way to find things is by title. And unlike the  
honest-to-god film scholars at the NFC, their staff doesn't know a  
whit about cinema. And there's hardly any porno (damn!). But there are  
several rows of viewing booths that need no reservations, and they  
don't charge a yen.

I discovered this incredibly resource during a recent visit to  
research said "Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies." (By the way,  
no bashing in our NFC entry?guess it's the differing nature of paper  
vs. internet!). In any case?and here's the plug?you'll find 175+ fun- 
filled pages of similarly helpful hints in our book. Due out at the  
end of the year from University of Michigan Center for Japanese  
Studies Publications Program. Watch for it!

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