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A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise…

A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective… (edition 2012)

by Donald Richie (Author)

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1592118,673 (3.95)11
In this book, Donald Richie offers an insider's look at the achievements of Japanese filmmakers. He begins in the late 1800 when the incipient industry took its inspiration from the traditional stories of Kabuki and Noh theater, and finishes with the latest award-winning dramas showcased at Cannes. In between, Richie explores the roots and uniqueness of Japan's contribution to world cinema, illuminates the careers of Japan's rising stars and celebrated directors, and offers a fascinating view of the strategies and politics of the movie studios themselves. A selective guide in Part Two provides capsule reviews of the major Japanese films available in VHS and DVD formats, as well as those televised on standard and cable channels.… (more)
Title:A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos
Authors:Donald Richie (Author)
Info:Kodansha International (2012), Edition: Revised, Updated, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos by Donald Richie



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3.5 stars. A volume of less than 300 pages will have to be brief to survey a hundred year history of Japanese cinema. Richie accomplishes that. He also tosses about few tensions. The insular nature of much of Japanese history is perhaps reflected in its celluloid. Cinema assumed the role of theatre in Japan, a platform for maintaining traditions even as the arrival of modernity left such precarious. A golden set of directors honed their crafter in the 1920s and 30s. Then the military madness assumed control of all cultural matters. After the war, the US Occupation dictated that cinema should promote morale and forgiveness. It should eschew representations of feudalism and a bellicose society. Unfortunately for such project, the directors ready to explore that agenda were all Marxists. Back to the drawing board, Uncle Sam. Ozu, Kurosawa, Kobayashi and Mizogushi made astonishing films. This creates all sort of oppositions amongst such-- much like an either Truffaut or Godard. This sort of behavior is common among middle aged white men. It was also common when one of those white men was much younger. Which side are you on?

Richie details how television ruined it all and how the subsequent decades have left the audiences of not just Japan but the entire first world suitable for only a stylized nihilism. Richie is against a sole privileging of The Cool. I enjoyed the book and saturated such with viewing a host of films recorded from TCM as well as an early viewing of the opening sequences of both Rashomon and Kwaidan. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Six-word review: Painstaking contextualized explication of Japanese movies.

Extended review:

However little I may comprehend of Japanese cinema, it's a great deal more than it was two and a half months ago, which is when I started reading Donald Richie's book A Hundred Years of Japanese Film.

This was a very slow read for me, a few pages at a time, because that's about all I could take in at once. Some slight past exposure to the Japanese language was not enough to enable me to hold in mind a dense concentration of Japanese personal and place names, film titles (although all of them are translated), and theatre- and film-related terminology (despite an excellent glossary and a thorough index), most of which were new to me. I often felt overwhelmed by the foreignness of it, as well as having difficulty retaining enough information to follow detailed analytical comparisons among directors, genres, and movements.

Not surprisingly, this is often the way I feel when watching Japanese movies.

I persist in watching them, though, much as I persisted in reading this book, because even though I will never "get" the culture or its reflection in films, I know I will benefit from an enhanced appreciation. Being a lifelong-learner type, I regard this effort as part of my ongoing education and expect it to be rewarded in some small measure by being able to see things in both Japanese and Western films that I have missed before.

Luckily, I have apparently chosen an expert as my guide. In his foreword to the 2012 edition, Paul Schrader writes: "Whatever we in the West know about Japanese film, and how we know it, we most likely owe to Donald Richie."

Richie's survey of a century of Japanese filmmaking sets a social, cultural, political, economic, and historic context for the work of Kurosawa, Ozu, and a host of less familiar directors, showing their influence on one another, the reciprocal effects of exposure to Western cinema, pervasive themes that are characteristically Japanese (for example, the individual in conflict with a highly structured traditional society), and especially Japan's involvement and defeat in World War II. His explicatory commentary on numerous specific films elucidates the narrative and aesthetic traditions to which they belong--even when they are rejecting them--as well as their degree of fidelity to the social milieu and the directors' widely varying visions of it.

It has been gratifying to me to find the mystifying and seemingly impenetrable elements of Japanese film gradually becoming less so as I have worked my way through this book, lengthening my Netflix queue with an assortment of titles found in Richie's selective guide to DVDs and videos in the back of the book. Having some background on the Edo period and conventions of samurai movies explains a lot. So does knowing that some directors frame shots in a certain way, choose certain camera angles, use color or water in characteristic patterns, employ certain traditional stage techniques, and sometimes even include images just because they are pretty and not because they necessarily mean anything. A Japanese treatment of a Shakespearean drama offers one kind of cultural perspective; a bloodthirsty tale of gang warfare that is billed as an action comedy offers another.

I've decided that I will have gone far enough with this exercise when I can make, or understand, or at least recognize one true generalization about Japanese film. This may never be possible, but it is at least a definable goal.

In the meantime, I am enjoying a lot of variety in my movie-viewing experience. ( )
4 vote Meredy | Aug 13, 2013 |
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