Japan and Cult

Melek Ortabasi mso1 at sfu.ca
Tue Feb 16 14:19:38 EST 2010

Hi Nathen (and others),

Greetings from across town - I'm at SFU. 

A fascinating thread. The "cult" issue seems central to your research project  I don't think you can avoid it! The variety of definitions for the term are verging on the mind-boggling. I don't envy you! But OK. Here they are, at least as I gather from the responses. And I collect them here because the idea of cult in its transnational context is what interests me particularly. 

-while there is a perception of the term as a genre label (Rocky Horror etc.), this doesn't work so well when we look transnationally, or at least it loses its stability
-transnational distribution then also plays a big role in how a film is perceived, which may (will!) vary according to where it is viewed (though certainly as Berndt points out, an "avant-garde" German film director would be regarded that way anywhere, including in Germany)
-the passion with which the film is followed seems to be an indicator of cult status (as Nathen puts it, how many fans do you need to form a cult?!). To me, this raises the issue of fandom: how it is motivated, and since we're talking about transnationalism, whether the product consumed is perceived as culturally "Other" or not.

These three ideas lead me to another set of questions that I'll offer here to reframe the issue. I freely admit my viewpoint on fandom and cult-ness is woefully underinformed - have not read much theory specific to these issues. However, I do know something about translation theory and cross-cultural flow of ideas, and I wonder if this area, which seems to be in the background of the three "definitions" outlined above, might not be of help, viz.:

-to what extent is the idea of "cult cinema" global?
-speaking of canonization (as Robyn points out), to what extent does cult=canon? Seems to me to be in a paradoxical position, as a sort of anti-canon canon in some ways. And this perception is very specific to time and place, and is determined by whether something goes popular or stays small at home and/or "abroad."
-to what extent is the idea of cult dependent on the lack of transparency of the product to its audience? To many viewers abroad, isn't the appeal of Japanese film (and I include some anime here too) the fact that something is being missed in translation? (and here I refer you to Markus' excellent book on the subject). In this case, even something like "Shall We Dance," which was the original to the J-Lo "translation," will be perceived as "cult," i.e. culturally Other. In fact, to foreign audiences it may well appear to be a translation, which it is of course when viewed in a non-Japanese context (if that makes any sense).

I may well have muddied the waters, but thanks for the thought-provoking debate and hopefully the comments are of some use! And good luck on your project.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bernd Standhaft" <berndstandhaft at gmx.de>
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 8:10:26 AM GMT -08:00 US/Canada Pacific
Subject: Re: Japan and Cult


Nathen Clerici wrote,

> I can relate to your experiences with the gap between the Japanese
> films we watch in university courses and what people "really" watch.
> That we notice it, or are frustrated by it, is probably a relatively
> recent development-- maybe in the last 20 years or so?

I don't think that this "problem" is a recent one and I don't think that it
is specific in the context of the Japanese Film Industry. There always was a
gap between Popular Cinema and Art Cinema and only in certain times and
circumstances that gap was not as wide as it is at the moment. One such
periode may be the French New Wave. Being from Germany I can assure you that
no one outside of Film Studies or Cinephilia will know about such directors
as Lang, Murnau, Pabst, Lubitsch or Wenders, Herzog, Fassbinder,
Schloendorff, Kluge or Ade, Hochhaeussler, Grisebach, Petzold, Schmid,
Schanelec, Kohler, Weingaertner. Someone in Japan studying German Film will
normaly know much more about the German Film than most of Germany's
citizens. I think the same applies for America.


Melek Ortabasi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
World Literature Program
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Simon Fraser University
Unit 250-13450
102 Ave., Surrey, BC
Phone: 778-782-8660

"Learning has always been fun in the sense of exciting, invigorating, stimulating and entertaining, but it has never offered to be effortless." -- Margery Fisher, _Matters of Fact_

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