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The Thesis

Well it is the start of week seven and two weeks until I turn my thesis draft into the advisors. I am a signficant way through the project, but I have quite a bit of writing left to go. The struggle has been the middle section, which is a giant literature review of available materials. While I had the larger framework for that section written down, it has taken time to piece it all together and provide an analysis for each piece. In turn each of those pieces has to relate to my overall argument.

This paper is not really a paradigm shift in the field as much as the next step in the chain of academic study going on about my topic, centering around Japanese New Wave Cinema. If it were nearly ten years earlier I might have a more groundbreaking topic, but as is often the case after discovering my topic and doing a significant amount of research, forming questions and a framework for the paper; I found a professor who has made his career looking at nearly the same time period and people. As he has been doing this for much longer, is much more established and has been a part of the circle who meets the right people and displays extraordinary skill in the field his book will be published. When that book is published in a year or so it will be foolish to attempt an entire dissertation which merely provides a different take on the same people and concepts.

This isn’t a very significant problem at the moment. As a formulate my question for the dissertation work, however, I must be mindful of the developments of the field and paper presented at conferences which indicate new research being done. This seems like a rather duh comment, but with the importance of staking your own claim in the academic sphere it will be important to explore material that is not as charted as others.

Anyway, two more weeks to go and I am going to have to push. I look forward to working through the rest of this material and having it ready to present to my advisors.

Until next time, Cheers!

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Categories: Film Studies, Life

‘Best of’ Lists

Recently I have felt like I am in a phase of transition. It has a been a period of reflection on my part regarding the actual knowledge I have built up as an aspiring cinema and media scholar. This can be attributed to two things; applying to PhD schools and those gosh darn ‘best of’ lists.

I have always thought of myself as a movie buff and early on I made it a point to watch recommended films, blockbusters and any movie that might add to my collective film knowledge. Over the past several years I realize there are a vast amount of films that I have never come close to watching or even think about seeing.

While applying to PhD programs I have been taking ‘breaks’ by watching films from a seemingly endless list of ‘best of’ or ‘100 greatest lists.’ By and large I have seen the films that comprise the American Film Institutes’s (AFI) 100 series, however, within that group there are inevitably a handful from each I have not seen. In fact the comedy list from a few years ago is comprised with a majority of film from the 30’s and 40’s which I have never seen. Also, the combined Sight & Sound Best 10 polls over the past sixty years add another 20 films. Listing these films would be mundane, but anyone familiar with even a basic knowledge of cinema history will have seen or heard of these pictures.

I am pleased to report that I have made significant progress on these various lists and am increasingly encouraged by how wonderful cinema can be. Interesting enough many of these lists ignore Japanese and Asian cinema sans the absolute most well-known films or directors. Granted the AFI lists are composed only with US and some co-opted UK films (Third Man cough cough).

Anywho, since I have been making headway on these film lists I thought I would start posting comments. Not a review or critical analysis just a light sketch of impressions or things which stood out. In the past week I have seen quite a few so I will try to start posting them soon. Tonight, coincidentally is a Jack Nicholson double feature, Easy Rider (1969) and Chinatown (1974). In high school I purchased a VHS of Chinatown and have a vague recollection of seeing the film, but I feel it warrants another viewing. For instance I can only recall Nicholson’s nose being cut by a seedy character and the uber famous closing line of the film. Also, I only remember that line from a Simpsons reference where Moe tells homer, “Forget it Homer, it’s chiro-town,” in reference to an underhanded chiropractor ring that had been running through Springfield. (UPDATE: I totally forgot that the ‘seedy character’ is in fact director, Roman Polanski, a very ‘duh’ moment of recollection on my part)

To wrap up the goal of watching all these films is to provide this aspiring media scholar with a proper foundation in the most revered or well-known cinema which I have ignored up to this point. Hopefully this will result in less, “Oh I have heard of that and I need to see it” or the classic “I saw it a long time ago (see: NEVER), but I have forgotten large portions.” Most of all I do not want to be told a film is so ‘Godard’, ‘Fellini’ or ‘Melville’ again and doubt my own knowledge of film or question if they are just full of shit (when in doubt I go with the latter).

So this is the goal, lets see where the road takes us…

Until next time, Cheers!

Eros + Massacre

Today I am heading to the National Film Center of Japan, a ten minute walk from Tokyo Station, to see the Yoshida Kiju(Yoshishige) masterpiece Eros + Massacre. The film will start at 12:30 which will be followed with a talk by the director. I am very excited as I have never met or seen a talk by director Yoshida. My advisor, Daisuke Miyao, translated his book Ozu Yasujiro no han-eiga (Ozu Yasujiro’s anti-film) which tackled a lot of issues Yoshida had with Ozu’s work. The film being screened today is considered by some as a nail in the coffin of the loosely defined Japanese New Wave, of which I am writing about currently. I am very excited and will include an update when I return. Cheers!
This is a link to the schedule for today’s screening:
UPDATE:
The screening was a real treat. The film center did a restoration on the film, showcasing a brand new print. At the end of the screening and talk one of the film center employees mentioned that they are still looking for an original print (full 226 mins.) that may exist in Paris. It has not been found yet, but their belief is that it is out there. Yoshida Kiju (Yoshishige)’s talk was very enjoyable. He joked if anyone could understand the ‘dream’ (i.e. craziness) of what they had just seen. He went on to describe in detail his vision for the film of presenting a dream on the screen. I believe he has touched on this idea before, but it was no less interesting hearing it from the man himself. He was quite soft spoken and slight in stature, but his words were direct and very passionate. One of my favorite moments was his description of parting with Shochiku following his six film where they edited the final scene. In essence he told them to screw off and for him was the break of being a person who made films versus filmmaker. Also, as a surprise treat his wife, actress Okada Mariko, made a brief trip to the stage describing the difficulty of the shoot and how they had to wait to receive word if they could even screen the film in Japan. Afterwards I lined up like so many others to receive an autograph. Okada was very kind and I thank her politely for the autograph. Also, after Yoshida signed my program he looked up, flashed a smile and shook my hand. Over coming a bit of nerves I even slipped out that I enjoyed seeing the new print of the film. He smiled again and thanked me. After that I was down the stairs and heading home in the pouring rain. All in all it was a great experience and a new memory to share here and with future classrooms when I screen Yoshida’s films.

Wakao Ayako Film Retrospective

This month at the Jinbocho Theater, close to Meiji University, a retrospective of films starring Wakao Ayako is taking place. It is titled, “Mitsumeteitai! Wakao Ayako” (Gotta see it! Wakao Ayako). Twenty films will be screened three or four times throughout the month and many are hard to find or unavailable for home viewing. The films range from her early days as an idol-star in the fifties to her place as a more serious leading actress in the sixties. Tickets are 1200 yen or 1000 yen for students. This is a rare opportunity to see one of the great film stars of Japan at various points in her career.

Film Retrospective Poster

This is a link to the retrospective page:

http://www.shogakukan.co.jp/jinbocho-theater/program/index.html

This is a downloadable pdf of the schedule:

http://www.shogakukan.co.jp/jinbocho-theater/images/program/wakao_sche.pdf

Since I am so close to the theater I plan on going to most of the screenings. Anyone in the area who plans on attending I would enjoy meeting up with. Until next time, Cheers!

Time to get to work

2010/06/03 1 comment

Well it has been around a month since my last update. In that time I have been able to see old friends, be humbled in seminar and puzzle out my goals for the coming year. While that last part is an on-going process I have been feeling a bit restless in the academic area. Yes, Yes I have been going to classes and working hard to improve my language skills, but still feel overwhelmed by the fact that with each character I learn ten more come with it. This is an old complaint, but a valid one. In the face of such frustration I inevitably buckle down and get the work done.

In reality I have been procrastinating by watching films. For the most part (sad to admit) they have been mindless blockbusters or the weekly DVD release list, (cough cough) Daybreakers, Edge of Darkness, Yes Man. Last night, however, I watched Godard’s, Breathless. After a few more viewing I will be able to articulate the joy I felt watching the film, but more than anything I was excited to write about film again. So for the moment I will indulge in larger academic pursuits while avoiding more immediate obligations. Win Win!

As an master’s student I have been focusing on the work of director Masumura Yasuzo who was a contract director for Daiei Studios from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. While working on this project I realized that my interest began with an actress who worked with Masumura in over twenty of his fifty-four films, Wakao Ayako.

I plead guilty to initially being struck by Wakao’s beauty. This was quickly overshadowed by the skill she brought to a variety of roles. In each successive film I watched Wakao seemed to effortlessly morph into whatever character she portrayed. While I have seen a smattering of the 160 or so films she made during her career I have yet to see some of her most lauded performances such as A Wife Confesses (1961), Women are Born Twice (1961) or Seisaku no Tsuma (1963).

A Wife Confesses (1961)

I became even more interested when I began to look at her filmography. Wakao enters the film industry in the early nineteen fifties playing mostly secondary characters. In the latter half of the decade she is given major supporting roles in films by Mizoguchi (Street of Shame ’56) and Ozu (Ukigusa ’59). Then, in 1957, she starred for the first time in a Masumura film, Aozora Musume, which began a relationship that would last throughout the 1960’s. What is unique about Wakao Ayako’s career is that the peak of her success as an actress and as a face for the industry is contained within the 1960’s. Throughout the decade she was awarded best actress by film review and fan magazine Kinema Junpo three times. In addition she was on the cover of countless fan magazines and was one of the few actresses in 1960 that Donald Richie and Joseph Anderson felt compelled to include in the extremely over-cited The Japanese Film: Art and Industry.

At this point my interest started to grow out of pure fandom and into the shards of a topic for study. Quick searches revealed that even with the success of her career, multiple awards, and popularity from fans there was little to no information available outside of simple lists. To date there is only one book (that I am aware of) that looks at her work. Fortunately this book is not a simple biography or review of her films, but an attempt at serious analysis by two known scholars of film in Japan; Saito Ayako and the often published Yomota Inuhiko. I was fortunate, through the graces of my advisor, to make a copy of this book which was published in 2003 and has since gone out of print. For the past two months I have hunted through book stores looking for this title. Then, last week during a break from class I happened by one of the many used book stores in Ocha no Mizu and there it was.

Without any money on hand I had a minor freak-out plotting the next two hours of my life that would involve getting said monies and purchasing said book. Racing home against the mass of umbrella holding commuters on a typical rainy day back to my apartment I got my cash card, found an ATM (which is not as easy as it sounds in this country), got monies, returned to Ocha no mizu, bought book and ran up to the graduate study area of Meiji before settling in. As my deep breathing subsided I opened the book to discover it was not a used copy. It was in-fact a brand new second printing, which was made April 20, 2010.  Could it have been some mystical working in the cosmos that the publisher’s knew a fanatic Wakao Ayako fan had arrived? My massive ego will only take half the credit for this one. The more probable explanation is the recent publicity Wakao has been making on screen and stage.

One would be her appearance in the Softbank “father” ads which promote a new family plan for phones. The father is a cute white dog with various actors rounding out the family. Within the last six months Wakao Ayako has been revealed as the mother or grandmother in the family.

I enjoy the second one a bit more, because there is some humor with Jiro, the dog, hogging the picture frame

In addition her image has been used on Softbank billboards around Tokyo which was very cool to see during stops along my train route. In addition to the commercials Wakao recently appeared in a special two hour drama “Kekkon (Marriage)” which aired in November of last year; http://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/kekkon/index.html Finally, there was the second run of a play she performed in two years ago featuring many of the actors in the drama special.

As luck would have it the play ran during the week after my arrival. With repeated confirmation of my school schedule, the schedule for the play, monies and ticket availability I found myself in the second row stage right on opening night!! The experience was a dream come true and I almost let out an audible gasp when she appeared on stage. Fortunately her appearance was on my side of the theater so in the first instance that she appeared on stage I was within ten feet of her. For the remainder of the play I sat in awe as I witnessed first hand Wakao practice her craft live in what is touted as her final stage performance. It was a precious experience that I know I will cherish more and more as the years go by. (Also, I am quite happy to live in a cliché of sentiment about that night).

The play is titled hanabanashiki ichizoku (which might be translated as ‘The Glorious Family’. There are of course other ways to interpret it.)

While I am still working out how to frame my study of her work, the recent exposure combined with my personal interest has provided a renewed passion for the project. In a basic sense I think Wakao Ayako’s work and career is a way of entry to analyzing a variety of elements within the film industry of Japan throughout the 1960’s. A study that will range from bio and film analysis  to production, marketing and fan culture during a very specific period in Japan’s film industry. This is at least the direction I want to head. My interest in the industry and marketing aspects of Wakao Ayako and her work are two-fold. First, I want to move beyond a simple star study or biographical approach. Second, I am opposed to the idea that films studies remain outside the realm of industry or marketing to create the notion that film is a pure ‘text’. While I have used that term in the past I would argue that a more expansive and encompassing approach should be pursued. It will open up avenues for film study not available in other disciplines without diminishing the notion of film’s artistic importance. Cut and dry: the money matters in film studies.

While I have a lot to develop I am encouraged by this work and I think there are some exciting things to be written in the future. Until next time, cheers!