Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Realities That Matter: The Development of Realist Film Theory and Practice in Japan, 1895-1945
by Yamamoto, Naoki, Ph.D., Yale University, 2012, 280; 3525380
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation, "Realities That Matter: The Development of Realist Film Theory and Practice in Japan, 1895-1945," examines the process by which realism became the dominant mode of Japanese filmmaking and criticism in the first half of the twentieth century. Beyond giving an overview of the films or directors already labeled "realist" in general histories of Japanese cinema, it explores how the emergence of the cinematic apparatus at the end of nineteenth century and its subsequent development into a distinct form of art and mass entertainment altered the ways in which Japanese people dealt with the issues of realism at large. Where earlier studies have treated the creation of theory, or systematic knowledge about the given object, as the exclusive domain of the West, I intend to illuminate the work of Japanese critics and thinkers who, like their Western counterparts, strove to theorize their speculations about social, cultural, and perceptual changes engendered by the global circulation of film and its major theories. A blend of archival research and close readings of individual texts, this study mainly considers five types of realism—Naturalism, machine realism, textual realism, epistemological realism, and phenomenological realism—as they developed with Japanese cinema's long struggle with the truly elusive nature of realism as a critical concept. My investigation into the rich but mostly neglected tradition of Japanese realist film aesthetics provides a critical point of comparison for current scholarship on the historical conjunction between realism and world cinema.

Along the same line, "Realities that Matter" aims to offer a more accurate an dynamic history of cultural exchanges between the West and non-West, a history in which Japanese cinema no longer plays a role of an ideal "Other" of European and Hollywood classical filmmaking. Beginning with the introduction of Naturalism in the 1910s, each chapter reveals how Japanese filmmakers and critics of the following decades developed their own conceptions of cinematic realism in response to the latest trends in critical theories and film practice imported from abroad. In Chapter 2, I look into the art historian Itagaki Takao's concept of "machine realism," which he proposed in the late I 920s by drawing upon the writings of contemporary European modernists such as László Moholy-Nagy, Le Corbusier, and Dziga Vertov; Chapters 3 and 4 provide detailed accounts of the reactions of Japanese cinema to the emergence of realist film schools in 1930s Europe, including French poetic realism, Soviet socialist realism, and the British Documentary Film Movement; and Chapter 5 scrutinizes a group of Japanese thinkers of the early 1940s who developed a theory of phenomenological realism under the strong influence of Henri Bergson. Considering these instances in detail, this study presents the historical development of Japanese realist film theory and practice as part of a genuinely modern and global phenomenon of the twentieth century. Japanese cinema's take on the issues of realism was not always on par with its Western counterparts. But as I argue repeatedly in the following pages, such deviations should not be read as Japanese filmmakers and theorists' lack of knowledge about the things happening outside the country but rather as their conscious and critical response to the alleged "universality" of Western discourse.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gerow, Aaron
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian Studies, Film studies
Keywords: 20th century, Film, Film theory, Japan, Japanese cinema, Modernism, Realism, Twentieth century
Publication Number: 3525380
ISBN: 9781267574237
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