Japan and Cult

Sten-Kristian Saluveer (Niijanaa) sten at niijanaa.net
Thu Feb 18 17:04:30 EST 2010

and greetings from Tallinn, Estonia. I think it is worth mentioning  
that I'm currently developing a similar research project as Nathan's  
as a part of my graduation thesis in in the Department of Asian  
Studies and Tallinn University and hopefully during a year of guest  
researcher work at Waseda this autumn.

Just as a quick background note, the idea for my research project came  
out my 9 years programming experience of Asian films, particularly  
Japanese films for the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival  
(www.poff.ee) - a relatively acknowledged art house film festival  
taking place each December with around 250 feature films in the main  
At some point I realized that the festival audience, and to be honest  
some of the members of the programming team, had developed an almost  
subconscious perception of "Japanese cinema" -  almost resembling  
genre having an odd or twisted plot, exaggerated sexuality and  
violence, combined with notions of traditional elements of Japanese  
culture (samurais, geishas etc).

At the same time and interesting dynamic that is part of the "Japanese  
film genre" is the absence of a midpoint between two extremes - for  
the audience a  film can be "a little Japanese" (having just an odd  
plot) or "exaggeratedly Japanese" (take any of old Miike films for  
example), but a relatively ordinary Japanese cinema is considered  
somehow "too Japanese" and hence not suitable or understandable for  
the audience and hence is excluded from program.

I experienced the previously described last year when Air Doll was  
generously accepted by both the programmers and the audience selling  
out all screenings, but Fish Story was rejected ,because it was "too  
ordinarily Japanese" hence not suitable for the  festival (with the  
argument that nobody will understand it except hard core fans of  
Japanese culture).

Now in relation to the discussion and based on the previous one  
shouldn't definitely underestimate the power of the programming/ 
festival distribution of Japanese genre cinema and I have a gut  
feeling (and there's definitely room for some fan group studies) that  
Western fans perceptions on Japan are influenced not only by proper  
films of mainstream/arthouse cinema, but also a great extent by genre  
flicks such as Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police.

So that's the backstory for my research idea. However, in difference  
to Nathan's project and based on the success story of Machine Girl I'm  
particularly interested in how international co-production and  
financing of Japanese (genre) films influences what gets produced and  
what is  depicted in the actual co-productions.  According to my  
knowledge Machine Girl was co-financed by a US production company  
(sorry can't remember the name at the very late hour) and hence I'd  
like to investigate to which degree the co-production and financing  
influenced what and how was presented in the film.

Particularly I feel that the film is full of and of course partially  
playing on the Western stereotypes and cliches of Japanese culture  
(taking the kawaii schoolgirl and mixing it up with a ninja yakuza  
family:) which combined with the gore makes it particularly appealing  
for the Western "exotic" hungry audience. My hypothesis is that  
perhaps behind the massive reliance on cultural cliches might be co- 
production interests with the aim of making the film deliberately  
"cult" for Western markets to satisfy its' need for the exotic that  
the distribution system has created itself.
  Oliver Dew tackles this process where violence and sexuality (of  
Asian/Japanese films) gets associated with art house and cult in quite  
a good article on Tartan ('Asia Extreme': Japanese cinema and British  
hype) which I'm sure many are familiar with and which could be  
applicable to the case of Machine Girl as well.

For me the whole process got particularly interesting with Nikkatsu  
and Sushi Typhoon (Jasper got it first to spell it out) where it seems  
that Japanese producers are now g a sort of reverse orientalism as a  
goal to create a new success formula. So if Machine Girl was a  
successful cult accident then it's interesting to see what would come  
out the the formula's replication and what kinds of creative and  
business strategies will be applied in maintaining the hype.

Of course another overlapping issue really is the role and position of  
the researcher as it is easy to claim the presence of orientalism from  
Western perspective, but that might not be true at all from the  
perspective of Japanese industry.  To tackle this I'm hoping to base a  
substantial part of the work on actual interviews with affiliated  
people during my year at Waseda.

I hope that any of the ideas spelled out made some sense and apologies  
for some spelling and clarity mistakes.
Having just spent a week in Berlin watching new Japanese films has  
been quite exhausting.
With best wishes,

PS. I recommend seeing Wakamatsu's new feature "Caterpillar". Though  
it has some limitations (of being shot only in 12 days) I think the  
leads do an excellent job of the portrayal of the ridiculousness of war.

Sten-Kristian Saluveer

Tallinn Black Nights FF Program Consultant
Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy FF (HÕFF) Director
sten.saluveer at poff.ee
Office: +3726314640
GSM: +3725165242
Skype: stenskype

On Feb 18, 2010, at 3:56 PM, Jasper Sharp wrote:

> This is of particular relevance to this discussion: Nikkatsu have  
> just started up a new label called Sushi Typhoon which seems to be  
> explicitly targeting this Western market previously tapped by the  
> likes of Tokyo Gore Police et al, with a series of films by  
> directors including Yoshihiro Nishimura, director of the  
> aforementioned film. There seems to be a ready made festival  
> audience for this type of film, especially in North America.
> There's more details on this label here: http://www.screendaily.com/festivals/afm/japans-nikkatsu-to-unleash-sushi-typhoon/5007653.article
> There's something interesting worth mentioning here, which is that  
> the studios themselves are intentionally trying to create 'cult'  
> films, which for me goes against the implied definition of a cult  
> film, i.e. one that finds its own audience.
> Comparisons/distinctions might be drawn with Tartan's attempt at  
> creating a cult around their 'Asian Extreme' label, and Ring- 
> producer Tak Ichise's attempts at producing films also with his main  
> eye on the Western market.
> As an aside, one can probably say that the word 'cult' was first  
> really applied to Japanese cinema with Thomas Weisser's magazine  
> Asian Cult Cinema, first published under the title Asian Trash  
> Cinema - this celebrated the more vernacular productions that  
> Western critics had hitherto pretty much ignored before the 1990s.
> When we kicked off Midnight Eye, our slogan was "Japanese Cult  
> Cinema", which was quickly ditched as we realised it was too  
> limiting and didn't really seem appropriate to a lot of the films by  
> the likes of Shinji Aoyama and Naomi Kawase which we were covering  
> at the beginning, nor older titles by directors such as Teinosuke  
> Kinugasa and Keisuke Kinoshita. I think we changed it after about  
> six months to "the latest and best in Japanese cinema".
> Also, it might be worth checking up the archives of the old Mobius  
> Home Video discussion forum (http://www.mhvf.net/), which was,  
> around 1999-2000, one of the main websites discussing Asian cinema,  
> in seperate forums to those of Sci-fi/Horror, Eurocult, Exploitation  
> etc. You'll get an idea of the type of films that were falling under  
> discussion.
> Hope this helps,
> Jasper
> Midnight Eye: The Latest and Best in Japanese Cinema
> www.midnighteye.com
> More details about me on http://jaspersharp.com/
> > Date: Thu, 18 Feb 2010 03:22:20 +0100
> > From: berndstandhaft at gmx.de
> > To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
> > Subject: Re: Japan and Cult
> >
> > Hi,
> >
> > Mark Mays wrote:
> >
> > > Interesting. I think the notion speaks to how Japanese films  
> make it to
> > > the West (the US in my case) and how they play to certain  
> expectations/
> > > notions of Japanese cinema especially in the 18 to 34 demographic.
> >
> > I think an interesting example of transnational film marketing can  
> be experienced in the way some film producers in Japan tried to hop  
> on the wave of Japanese Cult Cinema in the West and produce films  
> with an international Cult Film Market in mind. I think of Machine  
> Girl, Tokyo Gore Police, Chanbara Beauty, Samurai Princess, Vampire  
> Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl... . Maybe the success of these films can  
> explain why a film of the type of Hausu can appeal to certain  
> audiences even more than 30 years after the original release in  
> Japan and become Cult.
> >
> >
> > Greetings
> > Bernd
> >
> Do you want a Hotmail account? Sign-up now - Free

Sten-Kristian Saluveer (Niijanaa)
Creative Director

Niijanaa Audiovisual Communications
Call: +372 51 65 242
Write: Sten at niijanaa.net
Skype: stenskype

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