Japan and Cult

Mark%20Mays tetsuwan at comcast.net
Tue Feb 16 18:20:05 EST 2010

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've been watching with some amusement the way Obayashi's HAUSU is taking off here, I think I've mentioned it on list before; how some guys working w/ Janus went out of their own pocket to produce an art house tour for the film (anyone not familiar with the director or the film can find stuff on youtube) after it played on IFC last year. 

Some critic/film student type friends of mine went nuts over the movie and went searching for his other films, only to be disappointed (especially the auteurists) that they were not all like HAUSU (though I argued that they were very much like HAUSU, just not in the way they wanted them to be). So HAUSU is viewed as this completely unusual experience one can't have with anything else. 

So we have these expectations of "Wacky Japan" and gruesome Japanese horror movies and schoolgirl obsessions all rolled into one (and lampooned) in HAUSU. The film really fulfilled these expectations for some viewers, so much so that it prompted the behaviors I've mentioned (scouring the Net for other Obayashi films, raving to anyone who would listen). So you could say that HAUSU is a prime example of Japanese film being received as "cult." 

I think with the horror boom it was a little different. We had RING and later AUDITION which prompted a similar response but people found there was a backlog of horror movies to latch onto. Unlike HAUSU, the sense that this work was some kind of singularity wasn't there. So people still describe those two "horror" flicks as "cult" but I'd argue they are not. That separates RING from ROCKY HORROR; the latter being this one of a kind experience that prompts a kind of rabid obsession. 

I'd say that most Japanese films that make there way into US theaters are decidedly not "cult" even though they develop a cult-like following (then again I can't think of many recent films that have what we would call a "following"). I'm thinking even of Dare mo shiranai, yet we could barely bribe people into the theater to see it. Besides, as a drama, it lacks that sense of singularity that makes cult film cult. 

Seems like a really high bar and an unfortunate set of expectations for the reception of Japanese films in the West. Even with some well done drama, gatekeepers and taste makers are kind of "blah" about them even while acknowledging good work. 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Nathen Clerici" <nclerici at interchange.ubc.ca> 
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu 
Sent: Monday, February 15, 2010 4:03:45 PM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central 
Subject: Japan and Cult 

Hello all, 

My name is Nathen Clerici, and this is my first post. I am really enjoying all the threads on this list. 

I am starting a research project that will examine how Japanese film travels and the channels by which it comes to be seen outside Japan. I want to frame the problem by looking at how different forms of distribution and exhibition (e.g. art house cinema, university courses, Internet fan sites, etc.) affect how a particular movie is received. Within this framework, I am interested in the idea of cult. It seems that Japanese cinema is often classified as cult cinema, but I am not sure that it could be received any other way. Even if we consider a particular Japanese film to be highbrow art, it is most likely still confined to a small-but-adoring audience of cinephiles-- or Japanophiles. Perhaps J-Horror is an exception? 

I am curious, KineJapaners, do you think Japanese films seen outside Japan are cult cinema? 

I realize the cultural context changes, but I also think that the modes of viewing (e.g. web-based, fan subs, art house) exert a strong influence. In addition, this is most likely not a question just for Japanese film, but for all film that crosses national/linguistic borders. 


Nathen Clerici 
University of British Columbia 
PhD Program 
Asian Studies 
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