Japanese cinema

From New World Encyclopedia

Japanese cinema (映画; Eiga) has a history that spans more than one hundred years. It is the source of the following signature genres and subgenres: Anime (Japanese Animation, which unlike most western cartoons is not always aimed at children), Jidaigeki (period pieces featuring samurai and sword fighting), Cult Horror Films (such as The Ring and Battle Royale, known in the west as J-Horror), Kaiju (monster films such as Gojira), Pink films (soft-core pornographic films often more socially-engaged and aesthetically well-crafted than simple pornography), and Yakuza films (about Japanese mobsters). Japanese Cinema has been the major influence on the later development of cinematic technique in all Asian countries. Japanese directors such as Akira Kurosawa were considered some of the most important and influential filmmakers in the world by Japanese and Western standards, with Kurosawa's work inspiring many American films. In recent years, more and more Japanese films have made an impact in the West. Cinema is the preeminent narrative form of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, and Japanese cinema has played a significant role around the world.


The silent era

The first film produced in Japan was the short documentary, Geisha no teodori (芸者の手踊り) in June 1899.

Japan's first star was Matsunosuke Onoe, a kabuki (Japanese theater) actor who appeared in over 1,000 films, mostly shorts, between 1909 and 1926. He and director Shozo Makino helped to popularize the jidaigeki (period drama) genre which would eventually become the bread and butter of Japanese great, Akira Kurosawa.[1]

The first female Japanese performer to appear in a film professionally was the dancer and actress, Tokuko Nagai Takagi, who appeared in four shorts for the American-based Thanhouser Company, between 1911 and 1914.[2]

Some of the most discussed silent films from Japan are those of Kenji Mizoguchi, whose later works (for example, The Life of Oharu) are still highly regarded today.

Most Japanese cinema theaters at the time employed benshi, narrators whose dramatic readings accompanied the film and its musical score which, like in the West, was often performed live.[3]

The 1923 earthquake, the Allied bombing of Tokyo during World War II, as well as the natural effects of time and Japan's humidity on the then-more fragile film stock have all resulted in a great dearth of surviving films from this period.

The 1930s

The first Japanese all-sound film, The Neighbor's Wife and Mine, was directed by Heinosuke Gosho in 1931. Notable talkies of this period include Kenji Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion (Gion no shimai, 1936), Osaka Elegy (1936), and The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (1939), along with Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937). However, unlike in Hollywood, silent films were still being produced in Japan well into the 1930s:

A stubborn Ozu continued to make silent films up through An Inn in Tokyo (1935). A key turning point was a 1932 strike by benshi [narrators] against the announced policy that had urged theaters showing foreign films to fire all of their benshi. The strike was led by Akira Kurosawa's brother, Heigo, a famous benshi who committed suicide after the strike's failure" (Rickman, Japanese Cinema to 1960).

Mikio Naruse's Wife! Be Like A Rose! (Tsuma Yo Bara No Yoni, 1935), was one of the first Japanese films to gain a theatrical release in the United States. However, with increasing censorship, the left-leaning films of directors such as Daisuke Ito also began to come under attack.

Mizoguchi, influenced in the 1920s, by western art and literature, made an early impression with films such as And Yet They Go On (1931), part of a group of left-leaning "social tendency films" produced by progressive filmmakers in the early 1930s. As they decade wore on, Japan's increasingly militarist government instituted a crackdown on the political content of films, which were expected by the end of the decade to conform to a "national policy" of pro-family and pro-military values. One of the most talented Japanese directors of the 1930s, Sadao Yamanaka (1909-38), emphasized individual feelings rather than heroics in his satire of the chambara (sword-fighting) genre The Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935), and the gentle, Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937). Obviously a dissident, he was drafted and sent to the Chinese front, where he died.

By the 1930s, and despite the worldwide depression and political turmoil that affected the nation, Japan had a thriving film industry, vertically integrated like the American film industry at the time (Japanese studios owned their own theaters as MGM, Paramount, et al, owned chains of theaters in the U.S.). Thus, the studios had guaranteed outlets for their films, allowing for the same economies of scale that made Hollywood so strong. Japanese film directors, however, had more autonomy in story selection, screenwriting, cinematography, and editing than did all but a few directors working on Hollywood's assembly line.[4]

The 1940s

With the Allied occupation following the end of WWII, Japan was exposed to over a decade's worth of American animation that had been banned under the war-time government. Thus, the seeds were sewn for decades of revolutionary Japanese anime.

Kenji Mizoguchi made The 47 Ronin, Parts 1 and 2 (1941), a faithful adaptation of the oft-filmed feudal epic Chushingura about the protracted revenge of a disgraced lord's samurai, and the only Mizoguchi film released on DVD. It employs the long-take, highly mobile camera technique that makes the director's films visual masterpieces. Many of Mizoguchi's films are jidaigeki, period films employing a heightened, dispassionate vision that downplays immediate drama—all of the famed violence of the Chushingura (47 Ronin) saga takes place off-camera in Mizoguchi's version—in favor of tragic contemplation.

Akira Kurosawa made his feature film debut with Sugata Sanshiro (Judo Saga) in 1943, and went on to make the drama The Most Beautiful (1944), Sanshiro Sugata Part II, The Men Who Tread On the Tiger's Tail in 1945, Those Who Make Tomorrow, and No Regrets for Our Youth in 1946, the romantic comedy One Wonderful Sunday (1947) and the first of his many collaborations with legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune in Drunken Angel (1948). Two more Kurosawa/Mifune pairings followed in 1949, The Quiet Duel and Stray Dog.

1949 saw recognized Japanese film visionary Yasujiro Ozu's first collaboration with leading lady Haruko Sugimura in the chaste drama, Late Spring.

The 1950s

The 1950s were the zenith of Japanese cinema, and three of its films (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, and Tokyo Story) made the Sight & Sound's 2002 Critics and Directors Poll for the best films of all time.[5] The decade started with Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and marked the entrance of Japanese cinema onto the world stage. It was also the breakout role for legendary star, Toshiro Mifune.[6] Later, 1952 and 1953 saw another Kurosawa film, Ikiru, as well as Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story.

The year 1954 saw two of Japan's most influential films released. The first was the Kurosawa epic Seven Samurai, about a band of hired samurai who protect a helpless village from a rapacious gang of thieves, which was reset as a Western and remade in Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven.

That same year, Ishirō Honda released the anti-nuclear horror film, Gojira, which was translated in the West as Godzilla. Though it was severely edited for its Western release, Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire industry of Kaiju films. In 1955, Hiroshi Inagaki won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for Part I of his Samurai Trilogy.

Kon Ichikawa directed two anti-war dramas: The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires On The Plain (1959), along with Enjo (1958), which was adapted from Yukio Mishima's novel, Temple Of The Golden Pavilion.

Masaki Kobayashi made two of the three films which would collectively become known as the The Human Condition Trilogy: No Greater Love (1958) and The Road To Eternity (1959). The trilogy was completed in 1961, with A Soldier's Prayer.

Kenji Mizoguchi directed The Life of Oharu (1952), Ugetsu (Tales of Moonlight And Rain) (1953), and Sansho the Bailiff (1954). He won the Silver Bear at the Venice Film Festival for Ugetsu.

Mikio Naruse made Repast (1950), Late Chrysanthemums (1954), The Sound of the Mountain (1954), and Floating Clouds (1955).

Yasujiro Ozu directed Good Morning (1959) and Floating Weeds (1958), which was adapted from his earlier silent film, A Story of Floating Weeds (1934), and was shot by Rashomon and Sansho the Bailiff cinematographer, Kazuo Miyagawa.

The 1960s

The very success of the mainstream Japanese cinema of the 1950s enabled studios like Shochiku, especially, but also Nikkatsu, to allow a greater sense of directorial freedom of expression and the breakdown of classic genres. This was exacerbated when the industry began a steep decline after 1963 due, mostly, to the introduction of television. This new medium rather quickly took away one of the industry's stalwart audiences: middle-class women. One way to try and hold on to their remaining audience was the turn to younger directors and their favored theme of youth. With films like Seishun Zankoku Monogatari (Cruel Story of Youth, 1960), Furyo Shonen (Bad Boys, 1961), and Buta To Gunkan (Pigs and Battleships, 1961), among others, something like a "New wave" appeared. Alienated youngsters rebelling from middle-class society or unable to enter into the promise of economically resurgent Japan, and a film style characterized by neo-documentary techniques, hand-held camera work, a rejection of the pictorial tradition, all sifted, many times, through a darkly comic lens, certainly marked a break even from those 1950s youth films that are the clear predecessors of the 1960s new wave.[7]

Akira Kurosawa directed the 1961 classic, Yojimbo (The Bodyguard), which is considered a huge influence on the entire Western genre, particularly the "spaghetti westerns" of Sergio Leone. Yasujiro Ozu made his final film, An Autumn Afternoon, in 1962. Mikio Naruse, a prominent and prolific contemporary of Ozu and Mizoguchi, directed the widescreen melodrama, When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, in 1960; his final film was Scattered Clouds, the second of two films he completed in 1967.

Technicolor arrived in Japan in the 1960s. Kon Ichikawa captured the watershed 1964 Olympics in his three-hour documentary, Tokyo Olympiad (1965).

Seijun Suzuki, whose films eventually became renowned by film enthusiasts worldwide for their jarring visual style, irreverent humor, nihilistic cool, and entertainment-over-logic sensibility, was fired by Nikkatsu studio after making 40 predominately B-movies for the Company between 1956 and 1967, working most prolifically in the yakuza (Mafia) genre. The cause of his dismissal was the film now regarded his magnum opus, Branded to Kill (1967), starring notable collaborator, Joe Shishido. Nikkatsu's stated reason for letting him go was for "making films that don't make any sense and don't make any money." (Suzuki successfully sued the studio for wrongful dismissal but was blacklisted for 10 years.) Almost thirty years later, tributes by such acclaimed filmmakers as Jim Jarmusch, Takeshi Kitano, Wong Kar-wai, and Quentin Tarantino signaled his international discovery.

Nagisa Oshima, Kaneto Shindo, Susumu Hani, and Shohei Imamura emerged as major filmmakers during the decade. Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth, Night and Fog in Japan, and Death By Hanging became three of the better-known examples of Japanese New Wave filmmaking, alongside Shindo's Onibaba, Hani's She And He, and Imamura's The Insect Woman.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes (1964) won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars. Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1965) also picked up the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, continuing a trend from the late 60s, younger film makers such as Koji Wakamatsu (b. 1936), utilized the growing roman-poruno (romantic pornography) genre to inject the youthful politics of the New Wave into films like Tenshi No Kokotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels, 1972).

Taking the genre to the height of hardcore pornography, Nagisa Oshima directed In the Realm of the Senses (1976), a World War II period piece about Sada Abe, a woman infamous for erotically asphyxiating her husband and then castrating him and carrying his genitals around in her handbag. Staunchly anti-censorship, he insisted that the film would contain hardcore pornographic material; as a result the exposed film had to be shipped to France for processing, and an uncut version of the film has still, to this day, never been shown in Japan. However, the pink film industry became the stepping stone for young independent filmmakers of Japan.

Yoji Yamada introduced the commercially successful Tora-San series (also known as It's Tough Being a Man) about traveling merchant Torajirō, who is always unlucky in love, while also directing other films, notably the popular The Yellow Handkerchief, which won best picture at the Japanese Academy Awards.

This new-style samurai film prospered into the early 1970s, with stars like Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997), who appeared in over twenty films as the wandering, blind swordsman Zatoichi, but by then overexposure on television, the aging of the samurai stars, and the continued decline of the mainstream film industry stalled the production of these surprisingly original genre pictures.

Coincident with the new-style samurai film was another male-oriented genre, often filled with more graphic violence than the samurai film. (Though few films can top the Kozure Okami series [Lone Wolf and Cub, 1970–1972] for sheer swordplay mayhem.) Known as the yakuza (gangster) genre film, it became the staple of Toei Pictures.[8]

Kinji Fukasaku directed the Japanese portion of the American-Japanese film chronicling the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and completed the epic Battles Without Honor and Humanity series of Yakuza films in 1974.

New wave filmmakers Susumu Hani and Shohei Imamura retreated to documentary work, though Imamura made a dramatic return to feature filmmaking with Vengeance Is Mine (1979), the story of real-life serial killer, Iwao Enokizu.

The 1980s

The rare breakout hit from the roman-poruno [romantic pornography] world and the occasional film by Kurosawa, Imamura, and Shinoda could hardly lay claim to being any further Golden Age or New Wave–like excitement, while only a small handful of new directors emerged in the 1970s and 1980s to launch the Japanese cinema into any new areas, to find new audiences, and to garner much new respect. The situation in the 1980s was so very dismal that critics have come to call this the "lost decade" of the Japanese cinema.[9]

Of course, by the end of the 1980s, the drought of great filmmaking in Japan was over, and it was not live action features but anime that ended it. Hayao Miyazaki adapted his manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind into a feature length anime film with tremendous success in 1984.

Katsuhiro Otomo followed suit with his Akira in 1988, a feature length anime that reached the western world and forever awakened American audiences to the potential power, potency, and maturity of the Anime (Japanese animation) genre. One of the reasons for the movie's success was the highly advanced quality of its animation. At the time, most anime was notorious for cutting production corners with limited motion, such as having only the characters' mouths move while their faces remained static. Akira broke from this trend with meticulously detailed scenes, exactingly lip-synched dialogue—a first for an anime production (voices were recorded before the animation was completed, rather than the opposite)—and super-fluid motion as realized in the film's more than 160,000 animation cels. It is regarded by critics as one of the greatest animated films ever made.

New anime movies were run every summer and winter with characters from popular TV anime.

Shohei Imamura won the Golden Palm at Cannes for The Ballad of Narayama (1983), a remake of the 1958 film of the same name.

Akira Kurosawa directed Kagemusha (1980), which credited George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola as executive producers in the international version, and Ran (1985), an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear. Likewise, Seijun Suzuki made a comeback, beginning with Zigeunerweisen in 1980.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) debuted, initially with pink and horror genre films, though he would eventually grow beyond this (and generate international attention) by the 1990s.

The 1990s

Shohei Imamura again won the Golden Palm (shared with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami), this time for The Eel (1997), joining Alf Sjöberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and Bille August as only the fourth two-time recipient.

Takeshi Kitano emerged as a significant filmmaker with works such as Sonatine (1993), Kids Return (1996), and Hana-bi (1997), which was given the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Takashi Miike launched a prolific career, making up to 50 films in a decade, mostly in the yakuza and horror genres, building up an impressive portfolio dabbling in almost every known genre, with titles such as Audition (1999), Dead or Alive (1999), and The Bird People in China (1998). Among his portfolio are films that depict shocking acts of violence and taboo sex, as well as some of the strangest movies ever made, such as The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001), an unconventional farcical musical-comedy-horror-family movie involving a bizarre claymation sequence, zombies, and b-movie pastiches.

Former documentary filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda launched an acclaimed feature career with Maborosi (1996) and After Life (1999).

Now legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki directed two mammoth box office and critical successes, the animated films Porco Rosso (1992) which beat E.T. (1982) as the highest-grossing film in Japan, and Princess Mononoke (1997) which also claimed the top box office spot until Titanic (1997) beat it. Other anime films continued to garner a huge fan following, including the science fiction classic Ghost In The Shell (1995).

Akira Kurosawa directed Dreams, a 1990 portmanteau film based on his own actual dreams at different stages of his life. He went on to direct the 1991 film, Rhapsody in August, a meditation on how three generations were impacted by the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and Madadayo, his thirty-first and final film, telling the life of a Japanese academic and author, Hyakken Uchida (1889–1971). The title, Not Yet, in English, is an allusion to an ancient Japanese legend mentioned in one scene of the film, of an old man who refuses to die. This story is constantly referred to in the movie, as every year on the old man's birthday, his students throw him a party in which they all ask him, "Mada kai?" ("Are you ready?") He responds by drinking a large ceremonial glass of beer and shouting "Mada dayo" ("Not yet!"), implying that death may be near, but life still goes on.

Takashi Koizumi made After the Rain (雨あがる, Ame Agaru)(1999) based on the last script of Akira Kurosawa. This movie won Japanese Academy Awards in 1999.

2000 and after

Battle Royale was released, directed by the venerable Kinji Fukasaku based on a popular novel by the same name, by Koushun Takami. It gained cult film status in Japan, Britain, and the United States. The film presents a dystopian future, in which "At the dawn of the millennium, the nation collapsed. At fifteen percent unemployment, ten million were out of work. 800,000 students boycotted school. The adults lost confidence, and fearing the youth, eventually passed the Millennium Educational Reform Act—AKA: The BR Act…." The eponymous act involves a class full of teenage students being kidnapped and brought to an island each year, where they must battle to the death for the amusement of the outside world, a criticism of the paranoia of Japan's older generation, and the voracious appetite for violence and cruelty manifest in "reality" television.

Hayao Miyazaki came out of retirement to direct Spirited Away (2001), breaking Japanese box office records and winning the U.S. Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

In 2002, Dolls was released, followed by a high-budget remake, Zatoichi in 2003, both directed and written by Takeshi Kitano. The J-Horror films Ringu, Kairo, Dark Water, Yogen, and the Grudge series were remade in English and met with commercial success.

In 2005, director Seijun Suzuki made his 56th film, Princess Raccoon. Hirokazu Koreeda claimed film festival awards around the world with two of his films, Distance and Nobody Knows.

In 2004, Godzilla: Final Wars, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, was released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Godzilla.

Unique Genres

Japanese cinema comprises the following unique genres and subgenres.

Anime (Japanese animation)

Anime (アニメ) is an abbreviation of the word "animation." Outside Japan, the term most popularly refers to animation originating in Japan. To the West, not all animation is considered anime; anime is a subset of animation.

While some anime is hand drawn, computer assisted animation techniques have become quite common in recent years. Like any entertainment medium, the story lines represent most major genres of fiction. Anime is broadcast on television, distributed on media such as DVD and VHS, and included in video games. Additionally, some are produced as full length motion pictures. Anime often draws influence from manga, light novels, and other cultures. Some anime story lines have been adapted into live action films and television series.

The history of anime begins at the start of the twentieth century, when Japanese filmmakers experimented with the animation techniques that were being explored in France, Germany, the United States, and Russia. The oldest known anime is in 1907, a short 3 second clip of a sailor boy.

By the 1930s, animation became an alternative format of storytelling compared to the underdeveloped live-action industry in Japan. Unlike America, the live-action industry in Japan remained a small market and suffered from budgeting, location, and casting restrictions. The lack of Western-looking actors, for example, made it next to impossible to shoot films set in Europe, America, or fantasy worlds that do not naturally involve Japan. The varied use of animation allowed artists to create any characters and settings.

During the 1970s, there was a surge of growth in the popularity of manga—which were often later animated—especially those of Osamu Tezuka, who has been called a "legend" and the "god of manga." As a result of his work and that of other pioneers in the field, anime developed characteristics and genres that are fundamental elements of the art today. The giant robot genre (known as "mecha" outside Japan), for instance, took shape under Tezuka, developed under Go Nagai and others, and was revolutionized at the end of the decade by Yoshiyuki Tomino. Robot anime like Gundam and Macross became instant classics in the 80s, and the robot genre of anime is still one of the most heard of in Japan and worldwide today. In the 1980s, anime was accepted in the mainstream in Japan, and experienced a boom in production (It should be noticed that manga has significantly more mainstream exposure than anime in Japan). The mid-to-late 1990s, on into the 2000s, saw an increased acceptance of anime in overseas markets.

Unlike western cartoons, Anime as a genre isn't especially marketed towards or created for children. Anime genres are incredibly broad, and include action, adventure, children's stories, comedy, drama, erotica (more specifically ecchi or hentai), medieval fantasy, occult/horror, romance, mecha (giant fighting robots), and science fiction.

Most anime includes content from several different genres, as well as a variety of thematic elements. Thus, some series may be categorized under multiple genres. For example, Neon Genesis Evangelion might be considered to fall into the genres of post-apocalyptic, science fiction, mecha, and drama. A show may have a seemingly simple surface plot, but at the same time may feature a far more complex, deeper storyline and character development. It is not uncommon for an action themed anime to also involve humor, romance, and even social commentary. The same can be applied to a romance themed anime in that it may involve an action element, or in some cases brutal violence.

Jidaigeki (period drama)

Jidaigeki (時代劇) is a genre of film, television, and theater in Japan. The name means "period drama," and the period is usually the Edo period of Japanese history, from 1600 to 1868. Some, however, are set much earlier—Portrait of Hell, for example, is set during the late Heian period—and the early Meiji era is also a popular setting. Jidaigeki show the lives of the samurai, farmers, craftsmen, and merchants of this time. Jidaigeki films are sometimes referred to as chambara movies, an onomatopoeically derived word meaning "sword fight," though chambara is really a sub group. They have a set of dramatic conventions including the use of makeup, language, catchphrases, and plotlines.

Many jidaigeki take place in Edo, the military capital. Others show the adventures of people wandering from place to place. The long-running television series Zenigata Heiji and Abarenbo Shogun typify the Edo jidaigeki. Mito Kōmon, the fictitious story of the travels of the historical daimyo Tokugawa Mitsukuni, and the Zatoichi movies and television series, exemplify the travelling style.

Another way to categorize jidaigeki is according to the social status of the principal characters. The title character of Abarenbō Shogun is Tokugawa Yoshimune, the eighth Tokugawa shogun. The head of the samurai class, Yoshimune assumes the disguise of a low-ranking hatamoto, a samurai in the service of the shogun. Similarly, Mito Kōmon is the retired vice-shogun, masquerading as a merchant. In contrast, the coin-throwing Heiji of Zenigata Heiji is a commoner, working for the police, while Ichi (the title character of Zatoichi), a masseur, is an outcast. Gokenin Zankurō is a samurai, but due to his low rank and income, he has to work extra jobs that higher-ranking samurai were unaccustomed to doing.

Whether the lead role is samurai or commoner, jidaigeki usually reach a climax in an immense sword fight just before the end. The title character of a series always wins, whether using a sword or a jitte (the device police used to trap, and sometimes to bend or break, an opponent's sword).

Kaiju (monster movie)

Kaijū (怪獣) is a Japanese word that means “strange beast,” but usually translated in English as “monster.” Specifically, it is used to refer to a genre of tokusatsu entertainment.

Related terms include kaijū eiga (怪獣映画, monster movie), a film featuring kaijū, kaijin (referring to roughly humanoid monsters), and daikaijū (大怪獣, giant monster), specifically meaning the larger variety of monsters.

The most famous kaijū is the nuclear scare movie, Godzilla. Other well-known kaijū include Mothra, Anguirus, Rodan, King Kong, Gamera, and King Ghidorah. The term ultra-kaijū is short-hand for monsters in the Ultra Series.

Though kaijū and kaijin are typically modeled after conventional animals, insects, or mythological creatures, there are more exotic examples, featured primarily in the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider television franchises. For example, Choujin Sentai Jetman features monsters based on traffic lights, faucets, and tomatoes; Kamen Rider Super-1 includes a whole army of monsters based on household objects such as umbrellas and utility ladders.


J-Horror is a term used to refer to Japanese contributions to horror fiction in popular culture. Whereas American modern day horror films tend to rely heavily on special effects and a multitude of sub-genres (such as slashers, demons or extraterrestrials), J-horror tends to focus on psychological horror and tension building (anticipation), particularly involving ghosts and poltergeists.

Certain popular J-Horror films are based on manga, including Tomie, Uzumaki and Yogen. Many contain themes of folk religion such as: possession, exorcism, shamanism, precognition, and yōkai (spirits or demons).

The origin of the J-Horror can be traced to horror and ghost story classics of the Edo period and the Meiji period, which are known as kaidan. Elements of several of these popular folktales have been worked into the stories of modern films, especially in the traditional nature of the Japanese ghost.

The success of the 1998 film Ring brought the image of the yūrei (Japanese ghost) to Western popular culture for the first time, although the image has existed in Japan for centuries.

Pink films

Pink film (ピンク映画, Pinku eiga) is a style of Japanese softcore pornographic theatrical film. Films of this genre first appeared in the early 1960s, and dominated the Japanese domestic cinema from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s. In the 1960s, the pink films were largely the the product of small, independent studios. In the 1970s, some of Japan's major studios, facing the loss of their theatrical audience, took over the pink film. With their access to higher production-values and talent, some of these films became critical and popular successes. Though the appearance of the AV (adult video) took away most of the pink film audience in the 1980s, films in this genre are still being produced.

Yakuza (Japanese mafia) films

Yakuza eiga, or yakuza films, are a popular film genre in Japanese cinema which focuses on the lives and dealings of yakuza, also referred to as the Japanese Mafia. Ninkyo eiga, or "chivalry films," were the first type of yakuza films. Most were produced by the Toei studio in the 1960s. The kimono-clad yakuza hero of the ninkyo films (personified by the stoic Ken Takakura) was always portrayed as an honorable outlaw torn between the contradictory values of giri (duty) and ninjo (personal feelings).

In the 1970s, a new breed of yakuza eiga emerged, the jitsuroku eiga, or "true document film." Many jitsuroku eiga were based on true stories, and filmed in a documentary style. This genre was popularized by Kinji Fukasaku's groundbreaking yakuza epic Battles Without Honor and Humanity. This film, which spawned four sequels, portrayed the post-War yakuza not as the honorable heirs to the samurai code, but as ruthless, treacherous street thugs. The films star Bunta Sugawara (often thought of as the anti-Ken Takakura) as a sneering ex-soldier who rises to power in the bombed-out Hiroshima underworld.

In the 1990s, yakuza movies in Japan declined. Now, many are low-budget direct-to-video movies. One exception has been the critically acclaimed films of Takeshi Kitano, whose existential yakuza movies are well known around the world.


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  3. Jeffry A. Dym, Benshi, Japanese Silent Film Narrators, and Their Forgotten Narrative Art of Setsumei: A History of Japanese Silent Film Narration (Edwin Mellen Press, 2003). ISBN 0-7734-6648-7
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  8. Film Reference, New Wave. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
  9. Film Reference, The Lost Decade of Japanese Cinema. Retrieved April 7, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bernardi, Joanne. 2001. Writing in Light: The Silent Scenario and the Japanese Pure Film Movement. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814329268
  • Bowyer, Justin. 2004. 24 Frames: The Cinema of Japan and Korea. London: Wallflower Press. ISBN 1-904764-11-8
  • Film Encyclopedia. On Japan. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
  • Mellen, Joan. 1976. The Waves At Genji's Door: Japan Through Its Cinema. New York: Pantheon. ISBN 0-394-49799-6
  • Prince, Stephen. 1999. The Warrior's Camera. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-01046-3
  • Richie, Donald. 2005. A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos. Kodansha America. ISBN 4-7700-2995-0
  • Rickman, Gregg. Japanese Cinema to 1960. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
  • Sato, Tadao. 1982. Currents In Japanese Cinema. Kodansha America. ISBN 0-87011-815-3

External links

All links retrieved March 24, 2018.


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