Japan and Cult

Bruce Baird baird at asianlan.umass.edu
Mon Feb 15 18:39:38 EST 2010

There is something to keep in mind when thinking about Japanese films  
and their status as cult films abroad.  The most successful Japanese  
films (in at least the United States market) have been those of the  
Pokemon franchise with the first Pokemon film holding on to the top  
spot in the states for 9 days and grossing 85 million.



On Feb 15, 2010, at 5:58 PM, Nathen Clerici wrote:

> That's a good question, although one that I was hoping to cheat on  
> by avoiding it.  Cult is a category that cannot be separated from  
> viewing practices and fan reception.  This makes a definition of  
> 'cult' very slippery, and often contradictory.  The traditional  
> idea of cult movies is the Rocky Horror Picture Show phenomenon, or  
> midnight movies, but of course home viewing (VHS, DVD) and the  
> Internet lend themselves to fan appropriation of films, and the  
> means to communicate.  I generally look at the introduction to the  
> Cult Film Reader (2008, Mendik and Mathijs) as a good starting  
> point for a definition of cult, but really there is no consensus  
> agreement on what exactly 'cult' means.  It can be 'trash' cinema,  
> aesthetically excessive, socially transgressive, subcultural, so  
> bad it's good, and so on, but it often comes back to viewer  
> reception.  I think that cult film is defined by its meta qualities  
> more than something intrinsic to the film itself-- but, I don't  
> want to ignore the content of the film itself.  Finding this  
> balance is one reason definitions are so slippery.
> You make a good point that film scholars are nothing but fans-- I  
> think that this listserv is a fine example of a cult following,  
> though more dispersed because the topic (Japan) is much broader  
> than that of a single auteur or movie.  I wonder how different the  
> viewing practices are for film scholars and hardcore fans of  
> Japanese film and anime... I'd guess there's a lot of overlap.
> With Japanese film outside Japan, I tend to think that the  
> overwhelming majority of them are cult.  Shall We Dance? and  
> Miyazaki Hayao's films are perhaps exceptions, but even the stuff  
> you'll see playing art houses or film festivals is still cult.  On  
> the other end of the spectrum are fan lists or books like Macias'  
> Japanese Cult Film, which makes a point to represent the lowbrow or  
> edgy genres.
> Nathen
> On 2010-02-15, at 2:06 PM, Mark Nornes wrote:
>> I guess this depends on how you define cult cinema? I mean, from a  
>> certain perspective film scholars are nothing but fans!
>> So what's your def?
>> m
>> _________________________________
>> A. M. Nornes
>> Chair
>> Department of Screen Arts and Cultures
>> University of Michigan
>> 202 South Thayer St., Suite 6111
>> Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608
>> Phone: 734-647-2094
>> FAX: 734-647-0157
>> On Feb 15, 2010, at 5:03 PM, Nathen Clerici wrote:
>>> 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.
>>> Thanks,
>>> Nathen Clerici
>>> University of British Columbia
>>> PhD Program
>>> Asian Studies

Bruce Baird
Assistant Professor
Asian Languages and Literatures
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Butô, Japanese Theater, Intellectual History

717 Herter Hall
161 Presidents Drive
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003-9312
Phone: 413-577-4992
Fax: 413-545-4975
baird at asianlan.umass.edu

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