Research on Japanese Cinema

By Tomohisa Inano
Fall 2000


I. General Remarks

II. On-line Resources
    A. Databases of films
    B. Databases of reference materials

III. Print materials
    A. Dictionaries
    B. Japanese film history
    C. Bibliographies

I. General Remarks

Although Japanese films began to attract interest outside of Japan in the late 1990s, after several Japanese filmmakers received awards in prominent film festivals, Japanese film studies is not yet a well-organized academic field. Thus, it is not easy to find useful reference materials on Japanese film. Nowadays, other fields in the humanities and social sciences often use films as resources, so it is becoming increasingly necessary to develop a comprehensive bibliography on Japanese film. This section introduces some basic reference materials on Japanese film. Although some of them are not particularly scholarly, the following items should provide a useful starting point for Japanese film studies.


A) Databases of films

Japanese Movie Database

This is the best Japanese film database, including 34,000 film titles and 55,000 biographical names, and covering the period of one century from 1899 to 1999. It lists every kind of film and information, and can be accessed using various categories, such as year of publication, title, director, scriptwriter, the original author, actor, and other keywords. The results of a search display title of film and names of people involved according to categories entered in the box on the top of first page. Most entries include the categories mentioned above. As Yomota Inuhiko's recent study on Japanese actresses shows, film studies that used to focus on directors have begun to refer to other factors relevant to films. Thus, the comprehensive information in this database should be important for film studies in the future.

In addition, this database should be useful not only for film studies but also for other disciplines as well. For example, if you want to know about film versions of Akutagawa Ryûnosuke's stories, you can put his name in the box. The result of the search will show all titles of film versions of his works. Similarly, if you are interested in the popular resistance against the building of Narita International Airport in Sanrizuka, you can enter "Sanrizuka," and the search results will show all film titles including "Sanrizuka."  The list of reference materials in this database also includes an excellent bibliography on Japanese movies.

Akira Kurosawa Database

This is a database on one of the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers, Kurosawa Akira. Both English and Japanese versions are available. This database includes the following six sextions:
    1) Filmography. Each of entries in this section displays a short explanation on a film in addition to basic information about the films: running time, year of release, production company, script writer, director of photography, production designer, music, cast, and award (if any);
    2) Biography. This also discusses Kurosawa's TV works;
    3) Popular ranking of Kurosawa's works (of limited value since only users of this site were polled);
    4) Scripts list. Kurosawa was also a talented scriptwriter. A study of motion pictures based on his scripts is important to a thorough understanding of Kurosawa's work;
    5) Graphic gallery. This section displays posters of Kurosawa's masterpieces, still shots, snaps, and scenes from the film;
    6) Bibliography list of video tapes and leather disks, and reference books on Kurosawa that are currently available.

B) Databases of reference materials

Kinema Club

Kinema Club was originally designed in order to resolve "the dearth of written materials [on Japanese film] outside of Japan." In the early 1990's, Japanese film scholars in the United States formed an informal group to share information. In 1995, they decided to make their information available online and named themselves after a famous Taisho period movie theater, Kinema Club. The homepage of Kinema Club is composed of following six sections:
    1) Kinema Club. This section displays a short history and introduction to the Kinema Club;
    2) Kine Japan. Kinema Club is also a discussion group. If you subscribe to it from this section, you can join in their discussion online;
    3) Criticism. in this section, you can access full text of criticisms and reviews of recent Japanese movies by Aaron Gerow in Daily Yomiuri, an English-language newspaper in Japan. Some of these are texts in Japanese;
    4) Research. this section includes databases of articles on Japanese film in western languages, tables of contents for major periodicals, and basic reference books. However, some of the tables of contents are not accessible and the section on basic reference books is still under construction;
    5) Teaching. the first part in this section introduces syllabi of Japanese film class in University of Michigan, University of Hong Kong, and University Iowa. These syllabi suggest effective methods for analyzing Japanese film, and displays useful reference books. The second part of this section is summary and commentary on Noel Burch's To the Distant Observer. The third part introduces Kine Club's project for subtitling Japanese films. The forth part is exploration of the unique techniques in the work of one of the most celebrated Japanese filmmakers, Ozu Yasujirô's unique technique in his films;
    6) Search. This section shows how to access the following items: prints of Japanese film available in the United States, new books, used books, videotapes and DVD's of Japanese film, and scripts.

University of Iowa Libraries East Asian Collection Japanese Film Journal Table of Contents

This is a database for journals about Japanese film in the University of Iowa Libraries East Asian collection. You can search contents of following the journals and magazines: Eigagaku, Eiga geijutsu, Eigagaku kenkyû (former title: Kikan Eizô #1-20), Iconics, and Kinema Junpô. Among these, Eigagaku, Eigagaku kenkyû, and Iconics include scholarly essays in English. If you peruse the contents, you can find many useful articles.


A) Dictionaries

Nihon eiga sakuhin jiten: Senzen hen [Complete Dictionary of Japanese Movies from 1896 to 1945 August].  Nihon eigashi kenkyûukai ed., Kagaku shoin, 1996
Call no: REF PN1993.45 N54 1996

Nihon eiga sakuhin jiten: Sengo hen [Complete Dictionary of Japanese Movies from 1945 August to 1988 December].  Nihon eigashi kenkyûkai ed., Kagaku shoin, 1998
Call no: REF PN 1993 J.3 N542 1998

These are two encyclopedias of Japanese film that list movie titles from 1896 to August, 1945, and from August, 1945 to 1988, in gojûonorder.  Each of the entries basically includes year of publication, director, producer, actor, stuff, scriptwriter, and genre of film, but some entries do not include all of this information.

Nihon eiga jinmei jiten: Dan'yûhen [Illustrated Who's Who of Japanese cinema: actor] Kinema Junpôsha, 1995.
Call no: REF PN 2927 .N552 1997

Nihon eiga jinmei jiten: Joyûhen [Illustrated Who's Who of Japanese cinema: actress]
Kinema Junpôsha, 1996.
Call no: REF PN 2927 .N55 1995

Nihon eiga jinmei jiten: Kantoku hen [Illustrated Who's Who of Japanese cinema: director]
Kinema Junpôsha, 1997.
Call no: REF PN 2927 .N553 1997

This is a three-part biographical dictionary of Japanese film actors, actresses, and directors. Each entry includes name, with reading in hiragana, date of birth and death, birthplace, real name, family information and academic background, information on career, masterpieces, styles of acting or direction, private life, and information on other activities such as writing, and filmography. You can find detailed biographical information on actor, actress, and directors.

In the case of actors and actresses from theatrical genres such as kabuki, nô, kyôgen, modern drama, and revue, the background information covers the relationship between movies and these theatrical genres. In considering the history of Japanese film, it is necessary to explore how these theatrical genres supply actors and actresses to the motion picture industry. In analyzing films, biographical information on directors should be particularly helpful. In the case of directors the encyclopedias mentions how they became directors and who or what kind of movies, experiences, and ideas influenced their styles or themes. Since a director's background is often reflected in his or her films, this information should be helpful to comprehending any given work.

Ato Shiata: ATG Eiga no Zenbô.  Natsu shobô, 1986.

This is a comprehensive list of films distributed by ATG (Art Theater Guild). In the beginning of the 1960's, when the Japanese film industry began to decline, major movie companies became reluctant to produce films with artistic, experimental, social, or political themes. ATG was founded under these circumstances, in order to provide opportunities for independent filmmakers. For instance, from the 1960's to the 1970's, Oshima Nagisa, who could not make films for major companies due to the political nature of his scripts, made most of his films with ATG. In addition, ATG supported budding filmmakers in the 1980's. Since the late 1960's, in order to maintain a stable box office, major companies have not given chances to emerging filmmakers. It has rather been ATG and porn film companies that have provided such opportunities. For example, leading young filmmakers in the 1980's such as Sômai Shinji, Sai Yôichi, and Morita Yoshimitsu produced their films with ATG, which thus played a leading role in the development of Japanese films from the late 1960's to the early 1980's.

This volume lists ATG films and describes them in chronological order. It also has an index that lists titles in gojûon order. Each page is divided into three columns. The first column includes crucial events, popular songs, and vogue words for the year in question. This also contains a short explanation of the historical context of films. The second column includes explanations of each of the works and lists key members of the production crew and the main cast. The third column lists a filmography of directors. If you read through the list, you will find that motion pictures distributed by ATG have often been closely concerned with the contemporary social situation.

Ozu Yasujirô eiga tokuhon: "Tôkyô" soshite "Kazoku"
Firumu Aato Sha, 1993.

This brochure was published for the retrospective of Ozu Yasujirô in 1993, on the 90th anniversary of his birth. The brochure includes: 1) Essays written by Ozu; 2) Essays about Ozu; 3) A list of main actors and actresses in Ozu's film; 4) A lists of his close contemporaries, including Ozu's relations with his contemporary directors, producers, scriptwriters, and writers; 5) A list of his existing thirty-six works from Wakaki hi [Days of Youth] (1929) to Sanma no aji [An Autumn Afternoon or The Taste of Autumn Mackerel] (1962). This section also contains a list of scriptwriters, staff, and main casts, story outlines, and short commentaries on each film, explaining its historical context and relation to other Ozu works and to contemporary stories and films. There is English version of this commentary; 6) Ozu's biographical chronology; 7) A list of the eighteen films by Ozu that have unfortunately been lost, giving the titles, dates, scriptwriters, staffs, and main casts of each lost work. After reading this small brochure, you will realize that Ozu is not just the director of Tokyo Story, bu that in the first half of his career, he often dealt with modernistic themes. This brochure can be a good starting point to grasp his entire image.

B) Japanese film history

Nihon eiga hattatsushi vol. I-IV
Tanaka Jun'ichirô, Chûô Kôron Sha, 1968.
Call no: 778 T15 v1, v2, v4  [Starr is missing vol. 3]

These volumes contain detailed information on Japanese cinema history. Tanaka discusses Japanese film history from three aspects: technological development, history of movie companies, and artistic aspects. Many parts of these volumes focus on movie companies, illustrating the crucial role that movie companies have played in Japanese film history. These volumes also explain the influence of foreign movies and foreign film theory on Japanese film. These volumes contain short explanations on both Japanese and foreign films released in Japan in each of the years from 1911 to 1966.

Volume I deals with the early stages of Japanese cinema. Here, Tanaka starts with a concise history of the development of movies in general, and then turn to the process of how the Japanese accepted movies. Volume II deals with the heyday of Japanese cinema, exploring how Japanese film shifted from silent film to sound film after the technology of sound was introduced.  [Vol. III is missing from Starr Library.]  Volume IV discusses the decline of Japanese cinema after its second heyday in the 1950's. This volume mainly considers how the development of television led to the decline of Japanese film and how the film industry responded to this decline.

Japanese Cinema: An Introduction
Donald Richie, Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1990
Call no: PN 1993.5 .J3 R474 1990

This is a concise Japanese film history book by leading Japanese film scholar Donald Richie. This book covers the period from the beginning of Japanese film to the 1980's. Riche divides Japanese cinematic history into four eras: 1) from the beginnings stages of Japanese film in the 1890s until the early 1920s; 2) from 1923 to the late 1930's, the first heyday of Japanese film; 3) from the 1940's to the late 1950's, including the World War II era and the second heyday of Japanese film; 4) from the 1960's to the 1980's, when the Japanese film industry declined. Richie discusses representative directors and works from each of the four periods. Thus, the readers can quickly grasp the outline of Japanese film history. The glossary section explains some Japanese terms often used in Japanese film studies. The bibliography lists English language reference materials on Japanese film.

Nihon eigashi no hyakunen
Yomota Inuhiko. Shûeisha, 2000

This is a concise and comprehensive history of Japanese film from 1896 to 2000. Yomota divides Japanese film history by decades. However, the outstanding point of this book is his questioning of conventional perspectives on Japanese film history. In his prologue, Yomota states his objective in very first sentence: "The film history is not the history of masterpieces." He argues that it is impossible to comprehend Japanese film history by listing only masterpieces, and that it is rather by focusing on nameless works behind the masterpieces that we can truly understand the development of  Japanese film. His perspective is reflected in the contents of the book. For instance, in the section of the 1960's and the 1970's, he discusses the porn films (pinku eiga), a genre that most film histories ignore. According to Yomota, half of movies produced in 1970 were porno films. Until the adult video appeared, porn was thriving sector of the Japanese film industry. The importance of porn films is not limited to their high productivity. Porn films provided opportunities to talented directors who did not have the chance to work with major companies. Thus Suo Masayuki, who became famous for Shall We Dance?, made his first film in the porn genre.

Another particular point about Yomota's perspective is his questioning of the categorization of "Japanese film." He points out the difficulty of defining "Japanese film" in terms of three issues. The first issue is to what extent films created by Japanese filmmakers in Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria before 1945 can be considered "Japanese film."  The second issue is whether films by resident Korean directors in Japan and films in Okinawa dialects with Japanese subtitles should be considered "Japanese film." The third issue is whether films by Japanese directors using foreign capital can be considered as Japanese films. (In the 1980s, for example, Kurosawa and Oshima made their films with the support of French capital.)

Yomota also emphasizes the generation gap as casting doubt on the concept of "Japanese film," comparing Jiraiya in the 1910's and Ikiru in the 1950's, and suggesting that two such widely contrasting works by directors of different generations should not be considered in one such category as "Japanese film." Comparing a film with its contemporary film culture in other countries, he argues, would be a more effective way to understand a "Japanese" film.

While thus challenging various notions of "Japanese film," Yomota nevertheless employs a conventional style of  film history, dividing the entire history into periods and discussing representative directors and films from each period.


Eiga, ongaku, geinô no hon: Zen jôhô 45/94 [Complete List of Books of Movies, Music and the Performing Arts in Japan 1945-1994Nichigai Asoshieetsu,1997
Call no: REF Z6935 .E43 1997

This is a one-volume list of Japanese-language books on movies, music, and performing arts from 1945-1994. The section of movies features list of books not only on Japanese films but also on foreign films.