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Noël Burch (#110 of 3)

Remediating the Avant-Garde Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

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Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics
Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

In his 1979 book To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema, film theorist Noël Burch said “the very notion of theory is alien to Japan; it is considered a property of Europe and the West.” With clarity and a multitude of supplementary examples to back her up, Yuriko Furuhata systematically dismantles Burch’s Eurocentric, haphazard claims throughout Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics, a remarkably researched and argued case for Japan’s complex theoretical contributions to the field of cinema studies, often by the filmmakers themselves.

However, this feat is all the more impressive, given Furuhata’s multifaceted approach to myth-busting Japan’s deficiencies in providing thoughtful film theory not just through historical evidence (such as interviews and primary texts), but by re-conceptualizing the very nature of Japanese documentary and avant-garde practices over roughly a two decade span to reveal early examples of converging media cultures. Nagisa Oshima, the book’s primary focus, summarized these tendencies himself, proclaiming in a late-’60s interview that “everything can be made into cinema.” The implication for Furuhata, and it seems the correct one, is that cinema “has the capacity to absorb and subsume other media forms.” In the case of Oshima, Furuhata uses his 1967 film Band of Ninja to explain such capacities—what Furuhata calls “remediation”—in which the film calls attention to medium specificity by “heightening the materiality of the original comic-book medium rather than concealing it.” That lack of concealment, or disinterest in concealment, separates Oshima’s work from other mangas of the time and provides a foundation to define “actuality,” which essentially constitutes the limits between cinema, documentary filmmaking, and journalism. Jacques Derrida calls it “artifactuality,” but whatever name one ascribes, the filmmakers discussed here are dedicated to questioning and, perhaps even, dismantling the political power attained through such neat separations.

History As Thriller Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema

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History As Thriller: Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema
History As Thriller: Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema

Film-history texts can often be dull, lack real insight beyond a litany of factual information, and plod along to foregone conclusions, structured as simply a lecture, where content overrides form. Daisuke Miyao’s The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema isn’t only an exception to these rules, but establishes a benchmark for which contemporary film-history research should aim. What separates Miyao from the rest? Numerous qualities, but above all, he’s constructed a historical work that isn’t simply another recasting of Japanese film, replete with a discussion of numerous auteurs and production stories as evidence; rather, Miyao is after the heart of the matter—the very circumstances, through Hollywood and Japanese interaction, which cultivated predominant visual styles, and how these processes of “transnational and cross-cultural negotiation” ultimately yielded certain aesthetic expectations, from producers and viewers alike. Moreover, he achieves this, at least in part, by structuring his scholarship as more of a thriller, than merely the standard (and soporific) fact-upon-fact approach.

Miyao’s begins with a fluid, though rigorous foundation of previous historians and theoreticians, which he appropriates in order to weave together his complex historiographies. Drawing upon the likes of film studies staples such as David Bordwell, Stuart Hall, and Noël Burch, but not simply trotting out their arguments as stand-alone methodologies, Miyao instead juxtaposes and employs them as means to unpack the geographical explanations that are central to linking an aesthetic (and its invention) with a specific time period, particularly on an international scale. Thus, Miriam Hansen’s “vernacular modernism” and Harry Harootunian’s “coeval modernity” are ultimately the kinds of historicizing concepts that compel his line of questioning—especially Haroontunian’s, which Miyao values for its emphasis on “contemporaneity yet the possibility of difference.” Nevertheless, though I have made Miyao’s setup appear to be thoroughly academic (in a theoretical sense), fear not: The bulk of Miyao’s work revolves around historical figures within a system, with recourse to numerous film titles and close-readings. Herein lies Miyao’s keenest eye; rather than having to consistently recall terms and provide extended definitions, the analysis balances the individual and the international. If there were something akin to an academic page-turner, Miyao has produced it here.