the eerie silence on KineJapan is maddening!

ReelDrew at ReelDrew at
Thu Mar 17 23:26:02 EDT 2011

I have been a member of KineJapan for the last ten years. I joined  
originally out of a need to obtain translations of the intertitles of Japanese  
silents on VHS in my collection. I am very grateful to those members on  
KineJapan who aided me and made it possible for me to, among other things, write  
an article on Hiroshi Shimizu that is published on Midnight Eye.
Since then, I have regularly received almost daily the messages that have  
been posted here. In all honesty, a large number--perhaps the majority, in  
fact--have been of limited interest to me inasmuch as they tend to deal with 
 contemporary Japanese films. Consistent with my enthusiasm for films in 
other  countries, including my own, produced in earlier decades, it is my 
interest  in the Japanese cinema of the past, especially the films of the 1920s 
and 1930s,  that has been of consuming interest to me. Nevertheless, from 
time to time  issues involving those golden years do come up here.
However, whether or not the topic has been of particular interest to me, I  
have always valued the fact that KineJapan has always been there, an  
extremely valuable resource to be consulted when needed. Never before since  I've 
been here did this group shut down. Certainly, it was very active right  
through the events of 9/11 as were other film discussion groups in which I  
Since the tragic events that began a week ago, though, this place has  
suddenly turned into a ghost town. Aside from a very limited amount of posts  
specifically on the topic of the tsunami, there has been absolutely nothing  
here. No one has even bothered to post how things are going on in Tokyo, 
while  all sorts of wild, apocalyptic rumors circulate unchecked in the US that 
Tokyo  is about to become irradiated, that it may be doomed. I believe a few 
 welcome posts here from knowledgeable people in the Japanese capital might 
help  to clarify the situation and perhaps alleviate some of these fears. 
I have had a consuming obsession with early Japanese cinema for the last 36 
 years. In trying to interest people in the West in this topic and to 
recognize  the value of Japanese films from those years, I have long had to 
confront an  enormous amount of indifference and insensitivity to these 
achievements by too  many in America and elsewhere in the outside world. It has taken 
so long to  bring attention to these films here. Indeed, it was only this 
January that the  premier venue for classic cinema in the United States, 
Turner Classic Movies,  after being on the air for 17 years, finally presented 
three Japanese  silents--Ozu's famous masterpieces, "Tokyo Chorus," "I Was 
Born, But. . .," and  "Passing Fancy." So it is only very recently that this 
neglected period of  Japanese film is just starting to receive some 
recognition here.
Given this obession of mine, I would very much like to know how the  
archives and other collections of Japanese cinema are coping with the current  
crisis in Tokyo. Are they able to function normally in their work of  
preservation considering the power blackouts etc.? If there really should be an  
evacuation of the capital, has there been discussion of removing films and other 
 cultural treasures from Tokyo to Kyoto, a much safer city and which I 
personally  feel should be restored to the position of Japan's capital? 
As to whether now is the proper time to discuss the preservation of culture 
 in view of the terrible loss of life and the continuing threat, I believe 
that,  far from being at odds or incompatible, the preservation of human 
life and  humanity's cultural heritage are inseparable. The heroic people of 
Egypt have  shown all of us the way recently in this area. During a time of 
turmoil in which  a corrupt, discredited dictatorship was attempting to hang 
on to power by  employing ruthless methods against the protestors, 
demonstrators courageously  appeared to form human chains around the Library in 
Alexandria and the Egyptian  Museum in Cairo to protect these treasures of our 
history. I would hope that,  should it ever become necessary, a similar sense 
of cultural responsibility  will be demonstrated in other countries, 
including Japan. The heritage of Japan,  including its film history, is the common 
property not just of one country but  indeed, the legacy of all the people of 
the earth.
In all those non-Western countries that the West chose to lump together as  
"Oriental," for much of the 20th century the four most significant in terms 
of  creating outstanding cinemas in the first half of the last century were 
Japan,  China, India, and Egypt. This preeminence in the new art of film 
was emblematic  of these nations' continuing cultural leadership in the modern 
world. In terms  of documenting and preserving the national film heritage, 
however, Egypt under  the Mubarak regime was scandalous. The Egyptian film 
archive was by far the  worst run in the entire world, mismanaged by members 
of Mubarak's family. So  neglected was the state of the archive that it was 
a common sight to see rats  crawling out of cans of film in the vaults. The 
situation with the Egyptian  archive was thus symptomatic of the larger ills 
afflicting the society under the  corrupt regime that ruled Egypt for 
thirty years. Needless to say, with the  present rebirth of Egypt through 
revolution there is a far greater hope that the  glories of Egyptian cinema from 
its bright beginnings in the silent era to  the achievements of later decades 
will be at last properly preserved.
While the infrastructure of Japan including its archives can hardly compare 
 to its counterparts in Egypt in the Mubarak years, there has nevertheless  
been a steady decline in Japan in the two decades since the economic bubble 
 burst in the early 1990s. Egypt is now trying to recover from a social  
disaster, Japan from a natural one exacerbated, it seems, by a variant of the  
same corruption and cronyism that long afflicted Egypt. I think Japan, like 
 Egypt, will need to transform itself anew, but as with Egypt, that  
transformation must be solidly based on the preservation and dissemination of  
past achievements including a glorious legacy of early cinema.  Consequently, 
in addition to my general concern at the eerie silence that  has suddenly 
taken over KineJapan, as though all its members have been struck  dumb, I would 
in particular like to know how the film archives and other  institutions 
consecrated to cinema history in Japan are faring during the  present crisis.
William M. Drew 
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...

More information about the KineJapan mailing list