Classic Japanese Film: Tradition and Transition (10 Weeks)
W 2019


Samurais, courtesans, actors, ghosts!  The 1950s-1960s saw the rise of great Japanese filmmakers who made some of cinema's crowning achievements: Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi and Mikio Naruse.  When Kurosawa’s Rashomon (starring Toshiro Mifune) was released in 1950, it marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage. These artists questioned power, hierarchy, and the glorification of war by using Japan’s historical past, sometimes employing the supernatural as well as kabuki and noh theater.  These films look at the meaning and continuance of traditional Japanese culture in a post-war world, and the family's role in that world. Many of the films deal with the situation of women past and present in  male-dominated hierarchical society.

We’ll cover theme, historical background, cultural context, and, foremost, how the art of film—narrative, mise-en-scene, cinematography, music, sound, editing, acting--expresses each director’s vision.  We begin and end the course with ghostly film tales.   All but one of the films are different from the ones covered in Japan’s Golden Age of Film given in Winter 2016.

This course requires computer literacy and working with DVDs. 

Weekly Topics

Week 1      Ugetsu  Kenji MIzoguchi (1952) 

 Week 2     Ikiru  (1952)  Akira Kurosawa

 Week 3    Gate of Hell  Tienosuke Kinugasa  (1953)

 Week 4    Equinox Flower (1958)  Yasujiro Ozu 

 Week 5    The Life of Oharu  (1952)  Kenji Mizoguchi 

 Week 6     When a Woman Ascends the Stairs  (1960)  Mikio Naruse

 Week 7     Sanjuro  (1962 ) Akira Kurosawa  

 Week 8     Samurai Rebellion  (1964) Masaki Kobayashi   

 Week 9     The End of Summer  (1961) Yashujiro Ozu

 Week 10   Kwaidan  (1964)  Masaki Kobayashi                               


There is no core book available for this SDG.  Everyone will be given a handbook of information and articles relating to the material of the course.  Books to consult:  


Anderson, Joseph L. and Richie, Donald. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. Princeton University Press, 1983.

Buehrer, Beverly Bare,  Japanese Films: A Filmography and Commentary, 1921-1989, McFarland, 1990.

Galloway, Patrick. Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves: The Samurai Film Handbook. Stone Bridge Press, 2005.

Jacoby, Alexander. A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors: From the Silent Era to the Present Day. Stone Bridge Press, 2008.

Nolletti, Arthur Jr., and David Desser. Reframing Japanese CInema, Indiana University Press, 1992

Richie, Donald. A Hundred Years of Japanese Film. Kodansha, 2012.

Richie, Donald. A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics. Stone Bridge Press, 2007. (This slim book introduces readers to basic concepts of Japanese aesthetics.)

Richie, Donald. Japanese Cinema: Film Style and National Character. Press, 2006. Doubleday & Company, Inc.,1971.

Russell, Catherine. Classical Japanese Cinema Revisited, Continuum, 2011.

Silver, Alain. The Samurai Film. The Overlook Press, 2006.

Standish, Isolde. A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Film. Continuum, 2005.  

Thornton, S. A. The Japanese Period Film: A Critical Analysis, McFarland, 2008. 

Individual Directors:

Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. Princeton University Press, 1988.

Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Knopf, 1982

Le Fanu, Mark. Mizoguchi and Japan. British Film Institute, 2005.

Prince, Stephen, A Dream of Resistance, The Cinema of Kobayashi Masaki, Rutgers University Press, 2017. 

Prince, Stephen. The Warrior’s Camera: the Cinema of Akira Kurosawa. Princeton University Press, 1999.

Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press, 1992.

Richie, Donald. Ozu: His Life and Films. University of California Press, 1974.

Russell, Catherine. Naruse Mikio: Women and Japanese Modernity. Duke University Press, 2009.

Sato, Tadao. Kenji Mizoguchi and the Art of Japanese Cinema. Berg, 2008.