Japanese Film Noir and Ishii Teruo

Roger Macy macyroger at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Feb 25 07:12:47 EST 2009

Dear Yuki,
I have in front of me a 2008 book called Japón en Negro - Japanese Film Noir, edited by Roberto Cueto, published by the Festival Internacional de Cine de Donastia-San Sebastian, from whom it can be obtained.

I did offer to review it for a couple of sites, but they always preferred other books, and I'm not sure I blame them, as it really doesn't much address 'the appropriation of noir aesthetics' (which, of course, it should have centred on).  It even has 60 indexed references to ISHII Teruo, of which half I can assume are in Spanish and half repeated in English, as it has parallel texts.

Having picked it up again, I hope list-members will indulge my describing the book in more detail for a select, audience (Yuki!).

The San Sebastian festival (to abbreviate the name) runs at least two major retrospectives each year.  Each retrospective gets a book published but one has more lavish treatment than the other. When San Sebastian did their retrospective on Naruse in 1998, they produced a magnificent book.  Two outstanding Japanese critics were engaged for a general introduction, a filmography was commissioned and a clutch of interesting writers in the film world contributed their subjective experiences around Naruse.  All this was presented in side-by-side English and Spanish texts arranged around a beautifully constructed banquet of stills.  A book of similar production values has been published this year, but it is on another 2008 retrospective, on Mario Monicelli.

It seems ungrateful to carp on such a point - what other festival produces three substantial film books a year, besides their full catalogue ?  And what anglo-saxon publisher would translate all their output into Spanish - or any other language.  But a reviewer should distinguish his material to the exclusion of any misunderstanding.

Japón en Negro is no make-weight, at some 1.3kg, and comprises chapters by 14 contributors, half of them Spanish and half Japanese.  The Spanish texts are together at the front with the illustrations and the English translations are at the back in smaller text.  I have read the English text but, it must be said with difficulty.  This is partly for production reasons: the English text is about the size of newsprint, but no newspaper would expect their readers (1) to follow a line of small print right across a wide page, (2) print on glossy paper or (3) double-justify without hyphenation.  Counter-intuitive it may be, but it is well researched how the consistency of word-spacing affects readability of roman-alphabet texts, and it is indefensible in this age to cause readers of books to have to ponder why they are suddenly unable to read.

But, alas, the causes of the struggle to read the English text are not wholly in the technical production of the book.  The printing of the chapter-titles at the top of each page would not only have helped the reader, it would have helped some of the writers to stay focused.  Several essays show signs of hurried assembly and a dearth of editing.  Some of the writers who appear in the book have published much more coherently in English elsewhere, so the translation is suspect. Tellingly, the translation credits are not linked to any particular text, and only two of the five translators could possibly be native English speakers.  In other cases the chapters are random chains of titles of films the author has watched, linked by unorganised and uncritical text, so it is not just a problem of translation.

Although the film index alone covers 21 three-column pages, there is no consistency as to which language will be the main entry.  And despite the spread, some films in the retrospective are not mentioned in the book at all.

I found Sadao Yamane's essay on Toei's 'Woman of Battle' (the actress, Junko Fuji, and those that followed) readable and interesting, although, when Yamane repeats his assertion that in Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, the fluttering of the Hinomaru (the Japanese national flag) 'isn't a depiction of defiance or rebellion against the nation state', I think he protests too much.  Not even when it is followed by a similarly-shot, blood-stained sheet ?  Just not a very well developed rebellion, methinks. Shigehiko Hasumi's essay on 893 Gang, as the one crime film set in Kyoto - ironically, from the capital of crime-film production - also marshals material in an interesting and focussed manner.  Eduard Terrades Vicens piece on 'Sexploitation on the Film Noir' is worth sticking with (the Spanish text makes clearer that it is revised from a piece in CinéAsia magazine) but Beatriz Martínez's metaphors morphed as rapidly as a ghost from a bad horror movie.  Kaizo Hayashi (whose Most Terrible Time in My Life was showing in the retrospective, and who holds a detective' licence in Japan) produced a highly readable and interesting piece on Japanese fictional detectives.   It is strong on factual content (although I think a 1959 Metropolitan was a British car made by Austin for the American market).  Makoto Shinozaki at least stays focussed, although his extremely detailed description of the plot of Kaoyaku, not a film in the retrospective, is a level of detail too far, when there was so much other material demanding attention.  If you want to drop the names of some poisonous women, Toshihiro Motomura has seen more than a few.

Probably the most valuable section of the book is the 'Bio-filmographic Dictionary'.  Perhaps the information on many of the directors can be found elsewhere, but the short notes on actors and, in particular, screenwriters and adapted authors of Japanese crime fiction, are a resource not otherwise available in any western language.

Although the editor was wise not to devote another hundred pages of the literature to the barren question as to what constitutes Film Noir, the book could have had more coherence if it looked more at the thematic concerns of crime films in Japan, compared to those elsewhere.

I should conclude by noting that there is no Contents listing for the English-language texts, which I set out below :-

Shades of Black - A Brief Introduction to Japanese Crime Films          Robert CUETO                      267

Representations of the Dark World in Japanese Silent Films                 Hiroshi KOMATSU               271

Japanese Crime Films in the 1940s and 1950s                                       Kyoko HIRANO                     283

The Yakuza Knight: Ninkyo Eiga, 1963-1973                                           Antonio José Navarro           297

Noir Nippon Eiga? Notes on some Auteur Thrillers of the 60s               Antonio WEINRICHTER       306

The Development of Toei's "Women of Battle"                                         Sadao YAMANE                   312

Why did Kioto Fail to Become a "Crime City"?: from The 893 Gang by Sadao Nakajima to Battles Without Honour and 

Humanity by Kinji Fukasaku                                                                       Shigehiko HASUMI               321

Jitsoroku Fiction: The Roaring Seventies                                                  Ignacio HUIDOBRO              329

Sexploitation in the Japanese Film Noir: Pornography, Violence 

and B Movies                                                                                                Eduard Terrades VICENS   342

The Best Years of Our Lives

(Or how new Japanese film noir changed us forever)                               Beatriz MARTÍNEZ               359

Japanese Detective Films                                                                           Kaizo HAYASHI                    379

Vengeance is Mine: Police Detective Films Since Kaoyaku                  Makato SHINOZAKI              388

The Poisonous Women of Meiji, Taisho and Showa:

Do not Touch Me, I am Dangerous                                                             Toshihiro MOTOMURA        402

Glossary                                                                                                         Daniel AGUILAR                   414


So, you're still there, Yuki, this may well NOT be the answer to your needs, but at least I've marked out some rocks to navigate around.


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Yuki Nakayama 
  To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu 
  Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 2:37 AM
  Subject: Japanese Film Noir and Ishii Teruo

  Hello my name is Yuki. I am a 4th year undergraduate film major at University of California, Berkeley. I am currently working on my Honor's Thesis on Japanese Film Noir with supervision from Miryam Sas. My thesis is going to focus mainly on Ishii Teruo's Line series and few of his other films which utilize noir aesthetics. I will be using Ishii's films as a representative to explore the utilization of Noir aesthetics/themes/narratives to think about the genre "Japanese Film Noir".

  I have been having trouble finding sources that discuss japanese fim noir, the japanese appropriation of noir aesthetics, or Teruo Ishii extensively. I have been using specific films to do my searches, but if anyone knows any books/articles (in either japanese or english) that talk about it, it would be greatly appreciated. If anyone has any comments too feel free to email me about it. 

  Thank you for your time,

  Yuki Nakayama
  University of California, Berkeley
  (yuki.nakayama at gmail.com) 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.yale.edu/pipermail/kinejapan/attachments/20090225/09cbd88e/attachment.html 

More information about the KineJapan mailing list