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Introduction to Japanese Film Industry

Question:

Discuss about the Film Studies for Master of World Cinema.
 

The Japanese film industry is considered to be the fourth largest market in the world after USA, Canada and China. Even though the American films are popular among the audience, but it has been a long time that the Hollywood industry can not dominate the Japanese market. Since a decade, the Japanese films have started earning more box office revenue than the Hollywood films (www.buyusa.gov, 2017). The current super hit movie ‘Frozen’ which was known as ‘Anna and the Snow Queen’ in Japan bears the evidence of the size and appeal of the Japanese film market. This particular film was so popular unexpected that it was considered to be a social phenomenon in the year 2014. This particular essay will center on the emergence of Japanese cinema from the comparative ambiguity to global prominence in the 1950s. The work of master filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu will be taken into account in the course of this essay.

In the book ‘the Oxford history of world cinema’ Nowell-Smith (1997) has talked about cinema as ‘the great unresolved equation between art and industry’. It can be considered as the primary as well as the greatest among all the industrialized art forms which have an impact on the cultural life of all the centuries since the beginning of cinema. In the form of art and technology the cinema has existed for hundred years and within twenty years from 1890s it had spread all over the globe. To begin with the emergence and the journey of cinema, the dominance of Hollywood cannot be overlooked. The dominance of Hollywood on the movie industry has been the subject of various studies as stated by Silver (2007). It is debated that the proper marketing orientation along with the management of effective strategies is the basis for Hollywood’s constant dominance. This paper has identified that the development of strategic marketing management shows the guiding questions required for the analysis of the marketing dominance in the film industry.

Anderson and Richie (1982) have used the monologue of the eminent Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in the foreword of their book. “It is not too much to say, I think, that the Japanese cinema has now come to world- wide attention.” The statement of this notable personality is a reflection of the fact that from the late 80’s the young directors of the Japanese cinemas got backed up for providing the perfect kind of entertainment that was preferred by the audience (Schilling, 2017). In the present millennium, a number of Japanese films are getting nominated in the categories of best foreign language films. Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’ was awarded in 1951. Apart from that he even got the best foreign language film award in the year 1975 for Dersu Uzala (Miyao 2013).    

Dominance of Hollywood on Film Industry

Japanese cinema cannot be analyzed without discussing the contribution of Akira Kurosawa. Right from his childhood he had a passion for cinema and an urge towards artistic creativity. Most of his films portray the dejection that was resulted due to the suicide of his elder brother with whom he shared a strong bond, both being cinema fanatic (National Science and Media Museum blog, 2017). Being slightly younger than the other eminent directors of Japanese cinema, Kurosawa had the experience of working within the Japanese studio system as well as the modern independent production. With the worldwide success of Rashomon he also enjoyed his position as an internationally acclaimed film- maker. Although this film was a turning point in the Japanese film industry after 1951, but his long duration of production and preparation and difficulty in finding sponsors did not let him present the audience with a huge number of films.

There was a common link between the two master film- makers Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. Both of them enjoyed Hollywood movies and Western music and observed the patterns that were useful for them. Ozu had such a deep passion for movies since his childhood that he used to skip school to go to theatre for watching Hollywood movies (Cook 2016). The graph of his career started from a camera assistant to assistant director and then finally landing to direction. His life as a prisoner of war in the Second World War encouraged him to make serious silent films which were judged as masterpiece later on.  Schilling (2017) has mentioned the significance of Japanese films with respect to the work of Yasujiro who had the reputation of making films only understood by the Japanese. Later on, his films were not getting the required momentum because the audience wanted something different. On one hand, he started losing producers and on the other hand, Kurosawa’s Rashomon was at the peak of success. The reason for this was the contrasting genres of these two distinguished film- makers. But, the classics created later on by Ozu with the effect of Second World War started hitting the western movie buffs in the 1960’s with the demonstration of five of his films by the critic Donald Richie in the 1963 Berlin Film Festival. The films created by Ozu are being reviewed, analyzed and celebrated after 50 years of his death.

It has been reviewed in Wipo.int (2017) that the infatuation of Japan for cinema dates back to a long time. Even before the cinematograph was developed by the Lumiere Brothers, Japan had started using motion pictures made by magic lanterns. The film industry of Japan just got boosted up with the introduction of cinematograph. In the 1940s, the Japanese film industry was used to the custom of kabuki or classical dance drama, talkies and benshi or narrators and live performances in the cinema. The following year, i.e. 1950s were considered as the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema due to the evolution of prominent film- makers such as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu both of whom tackled the impact of war and the related occupation in a pleasant and remarkable manner. The Japanese cinemas of that period centered on the subject of democracy and women’s liberation and ignored militarism and feudalism. Bakushu (1951) and Tokyo monogatari (1953) were among the few noteworthy films of the golden era.

Contribution of Film Makers like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu

Oshima and Michelson (1992) have mentioned in their writings that with the making of their first colored film a small ban were imposed internally that is not to shoot in the color green. The films in the golden era of 1950s represent the Japanese new wave at the peak and thus, won international awards. They were made on a wide variety with the introduction of new techniques to present the glorious films in wide screen and by big approach methods. The period of 1950s saw both character and realistic films. When the film- makers from other countries have tried to adapt many Japanese film innovations and also the Japanese directors were also paying attention to the international factors with special focus on style, design and technologies. The new and modern technologies included film dollies, make- up, construction of set, lighting equipments and types of physical film for using in the directors’ own films. The reason behind the international recognition of the Japanese films is dependent on the combination of imported design and technologies with the Japanese cinema in the 1950s. The use of the imported innovations helped the Japanese film- makers to compete at a global level with other international directors (Nornes 2007).  

This particular essay has analyzed the rich history of Japan in terms of innovation in film. The prominent film directors of Japan have made important contribution in the n the international film industry in the way films are produced and by enhancing the quality of the films available to the audience. They have put their utmost efforts so that the films can reach to an optimum level for gaining investment required to make and distribute the film to the maximum number of audience. Without any doubt it can be stated that the Japanese movie directors and the film makers have a large contribution to the international recognition of the movies and making a long- lasting effect on cinema world- wide (De Luca 2015).

To summarize the topic of Japanese cinema and its significance it can be said that both in history and in theory they are regarded as important national cinemas all around the globe. While it enjoyed the golden period in the 1950s, it got positioned in a prominent place in the art and cinema movement which allowed the increase in film criticism. The study of Japanese films also emerged in the academic field for emphasizing and analyzing the crucial parts. At present, the Japanese film industry is shining brightly not only in the local but also in the international platform. There were effective debates on the effectiveness of Japanese cinema and the worth of Japanese film studies standing on a global platform. Still there is a need to understand the dominance of Japanese cinema on the world and the challenges that lay in the particular culture. The duet trend of Western and Japanese cinema needs to be countered for testing the persistent cinema culture.

Reference

Anderson, J.L. and Richie, D., 1982. The Japanese film: Art and industry. Princeton University Press.

Cook, D.A., 2016. A history of narrative film. WW Norton & Company.

De Luca, T., 2015. Slow Cinema. Edinburgh University Press.

Miyao, D. ed., 2013. The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Cinema. Oxford University Press.

National Science and Media Museum blog. (2017). Kurosawa: Master of World Cinema. [online] Available at: https://blog.scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk/kurosawa-master-world-cinema/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

Nornes, M., 2007. Cinema babel: translating global cinema. U of Minnesota Press.

Nowell-Smith, G. ed., 1997. The Oxford history of world cinema. Oxford University Press.

Oshima, N. and Michelson, A., 1992. Cinema, censorship, and the state: the writings of Nagisa Oshima, 1956-1978. Mit Press.

Schilling, M. (2017). A quarter century of Japanese films in review | The Japan Times. [online] The Japan Times. Available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2014/09/03/films/quarter-century-japanese-films-review/#.WgmSh2iCzIU [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

Silver, J.D., 2007. Hollywood's dominance of the movie industry: how did it arise and how has it been maintained?(Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology).

Wipo.int. (2017). Japan's innovative contribution to movies. [online] Available at: https://www.wipo.int/about-wipo/en/offices/japan/news/2014/news_0012.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].

www.buyusa.gov. (2017). A study of Japan's film industry. [online] Available at: https://www.buyusa.gov/Japan/build/groups/public/@bg_jp/documents/webcontent/bg_jp_098188.pdf [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

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