Japanese Cinema in the Digital Age.
Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano. University of Hawaii Press, 2012. $47.00 hardcover. 178 pages.
In Japanese Cinema in the Digital Age, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano assesses the impact of digital technology on filmmaking in Japan over the past two decades. Wada-Marciano contends that Japanese cinema has shifted production practices, "increasing its affinity with other visual media and industries" (16). She cites three central components as the reason for these changes: industry in the post-studio era, technological transformation, and the cultural imagination of the "transnational." As the author states in the introduction, Koichi Iwabuchi's Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism informs the conceptual framework of her argument. In particular, she cites the idea of 'glocalization': that film production, distribution, and consumption are now more tailored to specific markets. In addition, the absence of a studio system has provided a space for filmmakers to return to a more personalized form of production similar to "new wave" movements of the past. Using lighter, more compact production technology combined with easily produced digital formats (DVD, VOD), filmmakers have more control over the creation and diffusion of their works, allowing them to eschew the traditional power dynamics of popular media. In this sense, the author's use of the term 'digital' is liberally applied to refer to content production, editing, and reception technologies.
Over the course of five chapters and a conclusion the author deftly moves through disparate topics including genre specific studies of J-Horror and anime, developments in documentary through digital technology, representations of the transnational, and the cultural imagination of ethnic cinema focusing on the Resident Korean community. Each chapter provides a balance of historical contextualization, industrial, and aesthetic analysis. However, the chapters do not conform to a chronological or linear narrative. In this respect the book's organization mirrors edited volumes on Japanese cinema like Arthur Nolletti and David Desser's Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History (Bloomington, 1992) that emphasize specific topics over a sweeping survey. The book's content is more in line with the style of industry studies like Douglas Gomery's Hollywood Studio System (London, 2005) or Thomas Schatz's Genius of the System (Minnesota, 2010) that emphasize production factors through examples of significant films.
Chapter 1, focusing on J-Horror, pays significant attention to the industrial factors that the author posits as central to the success of films including Ringu (1998), Ju-on (2002), and Marebito (2004). She suggests that the primary role of film studios have shifted from filmmaking to the distribution of films in multimedia formats, such as DVD and cable television. For that reason, an inherent collaboration develops between independent filmmakers, where J-horror thrives, and major studios that possess the means to distribute content on a large scale and in multiple formats. Additionally, the narrative of these films speak to audiences steeped in digital technology by incorporating elements of modularity, such as Ju-on, which resemble the "chapter" format of DVDs, or manipulating digital video and/or closed circuit television within the narrative space of a film like Ringu.
In Chapter 2, the author argues that digital technologies have provided filmmakers an opportunity to create a level of personal documentary not possible in previous generations. The author cites most prominently the works of Koreeda Hirokazu, Kawase Naomi, and Tsuchiya Yutaka, which blur the line between narrative and documentary filmmaking to create immensely personal works. Similar to filmmaker Hara Kazuo's penetration of the private, these films reveal intimate portraits that claim an "authenticity" by reconstructing reality on the smaller scale of everyday life. The author suggests that these personal documentaries are a symptomatic response to long-lasting economic recession, which has brought about an emphasis on depicting local realities. Similarly, through advances of digital technologies and non-linear editing programs, animators such as Oshii Mamoru, Yamamura Koji, and Shinkai Makoto have been able to create films and explore themes on a more intimate level than studio productions such as those of Ghibli Studios. This includes films like Shinkai's Voices of a Distant Star (2002), made on his home computer (a PowerMac G4 400 MHz), or Yamamura's adaptation of Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor, which was made from his small condominium in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo with only his wife, Sanae, as his full time assistant.
The final two chapters more directly engage transnational topics either through narrative or production methods in films including GO (2001), Asako in Ruby Shoes (2004), and Blood and Bones (2004). The author uses these titles as case studies for exploring issues of the transnational, in this case the recent 'cultural' reunion of Japan and South Korea since 1998. She emphasizes the need for scholars to specify their analysis of transnational cinema within 'the particularities of cultural contexts,' which require a political, social, and historical analysis. This is most prominently illustrated by her discussion of The Hotel Venus (2004). The film centers on a group of diasporic travelers who all speak Korean but are not located within a particular region or nation. The author characterizes the film as transnational in its production and narrative content, but notes that it also serves a domestic Japanese audience in portraying a level of cosmopolitanism. The film was preceded by the popular Fuji television series, Chonan Gang (2001-2004), and larger cultural events like the 2002 World Cup held by Japan and South Korea. By combining a discussion of the film's narrative content along with significant cultural events, personal cast histories, and issues of production, the author provides grounded examples of the larger conceptual ideas surrounding transnational cinema she highlights in the introduction.
Wada-Marciano's text provides a template for further investigation based less on cultural analysis than on an industrial approach defined by specific social, political, economic frameworks. As the author states, "a study on the studios is indispensable, rather than simply focusing on auteurs such as Ozu, Kurosawa, and Mizoguchi, in order to understand the vernacular cinematic modes and norms" (132). This assertion seems to derive from the overwhelming absence of studies on Japanese cinema that go beyond aesthetic interpretation, auteur studies, or sweeping chronological histories. In this capacity, Wada-Marciano's text presents an enticing alternative. At the same time, the author's argument would benefit from more specific application or discursive analysis of the Iwabuchi text to tie individual chapters back to the arguments presented in the introduction. At times the book loses focus on this point in favor of assessing the specific context of a film, genre, or topic.
The varied content from chapter to chapter positions this text as a strong supplement to either a survey or special studies course in East Asian cinema or visual culture. Its prose is balanced enough that majors and non-majors alike will find it accessible, but its argument will challenge both groups to question the nature of transnational cinema, the parameters of industrial analysis, and future directions of Japanese cinema. Two areas the author points to especially are the collaboration between television and film studios' adaptation of popular series' and the recent rise in government policy on media "content." Japanese Cinema in the Digital Age provides a refreshing alternative to aesthetic analysis. Its greater emphasis on financial and industrial issues encourages further development of scholarship in these areas.
Patrick A. Terry, The University of Kansas
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|Author:||Terry, Patrick A.|
|Publication:||Film & History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2015|
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