Film Criticism and The Study of Cinema In Japan: A Historical Survey By Kenji Iwamoto

1. From the Beginning of the End of World war II

Cinematography was introduced to Japan in 1896, but whether seen as mereentertainment or scientific machinery, it was a novelty to be exhibited. It is no wonderthat in this early period there was no critical consciousness or academic study of cinema as an art form. The earliest documents about cinema were "news items" in newspapers and journals which announced cinema as modern exotica. Next appeared books which gave accounts of its magical and scientific mechanisms. In Nihon Eiga Bunkenshi (Japanese Bibliography on Film) by Mishio Imamura, these books are called "rudimentary and story books on film at the dawn of cinematography." Imamura has also observed that film journalism "began with newspaper ads and postersthen developed into books, magazines and publicity-news agencies, in this order." It would be a long time before film criticism and academic study of cinema began.

The Establishment of Film Journalism

Kyokko Yoshiyama (1881?-1944) is considered to be the first professional film journalist. His weekly film review began in the newspaper, Miyako Shinbun, in late July, 1911. In the beginning, he wrote a simple entertainment guide to cinema. After (re)-viewing the films, he began to compare both Japanese film with Western film, and cinema with theatre (in this case, his intention was to renovate the traditional Japanese theatre through ideas inspired by Western literary films based on famous novels or plays.) Eventually, as result of this, he began to analyze the characteristics of cinema. Although Yoshiyama published two books, Nihon Eigakai Jibutsu Kigen (The First Happenings in the Japanese Cinema World), and Nihon Eigashi Nenpyo (A Chronology of Japanese Cinema), 1940, the bulk of his reviews remained scattered in various magazines even after his death. Yoshiyama was a contemporary of R. Canudo, an Italian born pioneer film critic who worked in France and began to write in the same year, 1911. Coincidently, like Yoshiyama, the bulk of Canudo's film reviews are scattered and uncollected. Needless to say, they held different critical views of film. While Canudo was an avant-garde poet, sympathetic with Futurism and Cubism and wrote some theoretical essays on cinema, Yoshiyama was basically a chronicler of films' reputations and was well grounded in Kabuki drama. Canudo had the good fortune posthumously to have some of his essays collected in the volume, L'Usine aux images, 1927.

The early film magazines were published by the film companies, but they were limited tojust publicity materials. Eventually film journalism, independent of the film industry, appeared, originally established by movie fans. A fan group, consisting mainly of students, issued a little film magazine, Katsudo no Tomo (A Companion to Moving Picture), in 1913. Some contributors to this magazine were Tohkohshi (pseudonym of Shigeki Iwasaki), Yukiyoshi Shigeno, Kakeisanjin (pseudonym of Norimasa Kaeriyama). They started another magazine titled Film Record the same year, which was later called as Kinema Record from the fifth issue in 1913. Although these magazines were in fact pamphlets similar to a program guide, the writers all praised Western films without reserve and condemned domestic films.

The bimonthly Film Record was founded with the initial purpose to record and make public accurate information (the number of film rolls, title credits, etc.) regarding each new film. Gradually space increased for new reports, essays and reviews. The opening article of the third issue (November, 1913) declared its critical policy: "Our criticism will not only give the personal opinion of the writer himself, but also take others
opinions into account. This is because our criticism shall give an unprejudiced view on every film. Our criticism will evaluate a film in terms of dramaturgy. Photoplay, itself and photography." In the seventh issue (February, 1914), Seiji Ogawa wrote two articles, "Nihon Shashin no Hihyo to Iukoto ni Tsuite (On the Criticism of the Photography in Japan )" and "Katsudo Shashingeki Oyobi Sakusha o Ronjite Seizoka ni Oyobu (The Moving Photography, the Author and the Director)," in which he observed that those frequent moviegoers of Western films had a more refined connoisseurship of film that the Japanese filmmakers, and that the script was so important that the scriptwriter had to have the same capability as the director and cameraman. He criticized the indifference of the Japanese filmmakers, in other words, their inability to provide good scripts for their works. He concluded:

From these observations, it is clear that a perfect moving picture drama needs an author with the qualifications mentioned above. What has our domestic cinema achieved? What have our authors accomplished? I suspect that the Japanese photoplay is far from being successful and far from having perfect authors
More than that, it is regrettable to add the fact that we can find and praise no recent Japanese photoplay as art.

Ogawa emphasized the need for a competent scriptwriter; probably, so did his colleague, Norimasa Kaeriyama. Kaeriyama joined Nihon Kinetophone Inc, in 1914, Tenkatsu (an abbreviation of Tennenshoku Katudo Shashin Inc.) in 1917. He not only wrote a pioneering book, Katsudo Shashingeki no Sosaku to Satsuei (The Production and Photography of Photoplay), in 917, but also led the "Jun Eiga Geki (Genuine Film Play)" Movement in order to realize his ideals.

By publishing a magazine, the Kinema Record group tried to influence the filmmakers in production by declaring its ideals. A similar strategy was adopted by L. Delluc in France, who practiced film criticism in the Magazines, Le Film, 1917-1919, Paris-Midi, 1918-1923, and Cinea, 1921-1923, at first, and then entered into film production. Kaoru Osanai, the prominent Shingeki (New Drama) leader at that time, also helped innovate Japanese film production, although his film ideal was never formulated clearly. Two editorial principles of Kinema Record
film criticism for the sake of movie fans and the documentation of the trade and production--were inherited by the bimonthly Kinema Junpo, founded in 1918.

Apart from the film journalists, there were others interested in cinema. In the field of aesthetics, Jurei Nakagawa, a haiku poet, wrote about cinema in Keiji Shinin Shokuhai Bigaku (A Treaties on Aesthetics) in 1911. The influence of German aesthetician, K. Lange, is evident in his dismissal of cinema as an art form. During the same period, a sociologist, Yasunosuke Gonda gave film critical acclaim. He saw a great future in cinemaas the entertainment medium for the masses. In Katsudo Shashin no Genri Oyobi Ouyo(The Principles and Applications of Moving Picture), 1914, he praised the cinema as
a vehicle for the new civilization in the new century. This somewhat rose-colored view calls to mind the American poet, V. Lindsay's The Art of the Moving Picture, 1915. The other was Takahiro Tachibana, a censor, who followed the developments of world cinema and collected much cinema bibliography as part of his work. He discussed the relationship between cinema and society (social conventions, education, juvenile problems, national regulations, crime, etc.) in 1920. He was also an enthusiastic movie fan and wrote many essays on film under the pseudonym of Kohshiro Tachibana.

The Impact from the West

By 1920, up-to-date movie fans knew the "cinematic-ness" or refined expression of Western film very well and became dissatisfied with many aspects of domestic film. For one, there were few actresses in Japanese films. The female role was played by an oyama,
a female impersonator from the kabuki traditions. There was no customs of creating a "tight," well constructed script. In order to economize film, the shooting speed was less than standard 16 frame-per-second. The camerawork was static and the frame had no movement. In other words, there was no interesting movements resulting from the montage combinations of close-ups, medium and long-shots, or from the variations of camera angles and positions. Many "cinematic" Western films were imported, stirring the blood of movie fans.
Westernized fans loudly insisted in flourishing film magazines on the exclusion of oyama, quick scene transitions and the unobtrusiveness of benshi.

Those who wrote on the cinema in the 1910s, such as Yasunosuke Gonda and Norimasa Kaeriyama, had read books written in foreign languages and assimilated them with their own ideas. In the 1920s, the foreign books were translated and published in Japan and the foreign ideas became directly accessible to the Japanese people. They were, for example, A. Lescaboura's Behind the Motion-Picture Screen (Eiga Gejyutsu Kenkyu) translated by Toshimoto Kawazoe: H. Munsterberg's The Photplay: A Psychological Study (Eigageki, Sono Shinrigaku to Bigaku), 1916, translated by Koutaro Kuze (pseudonym of Tetsuzo Tanikawa, a philosopher), both published in 1924: Eiga Gikyokuron (Treatises on the Screenplay), an assimilated work to a certain German texts, by Toshio Tamura published in 1925. The Japanese version of Lescabouras was a general guide of film production,mixing arbitrarily translations, commentaries and Kawazoe's opinions. It was not a translation in a conventional sense. However, aside from Lescaboura's text, it is interesting for us to find in Kawazoe
s addition that he negated the merits of benshi's service and recommended as a good film. "Von Morgen bis Mitternacht," 1920, among the German Expressionist films.

Eiga Gikyokuron, contrary to its title, was in fact concerned with "film art" rather than screenplays and was a combination of three different German books. As a result of this, and possibly from poor translations, the book was rather unintelligible to the average readers, and was most likely not very popular. However, Munsterberg's book probably had the greatest influence on contemporary readers by virtue of its superior quality of its content and translation. Munsterberg has been frequently cited and praised in Japan as the prominent pioneer of film theory. His prominence in Japan may seen unusual considering that in the U.S.A., he was forgotten immediately, and in Europe, he was almost unknown. His reputation, however, has been revived since the 1970s on both sides of the Atlantic.

One of the reasons for the numerous introductions and translations of foreign film theories from the late 1920s to the early 1930s, was due to Japan's rising left wing movement after the Soviet Revolution and the German Revolution. The Soviet montage theories of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kuleshov and Vertov were accepted, along with political ideologies. They caused ardent debates about the nature of art, in which Ippei Fukuro and Yoshitaro Magami, who helped introduce these theories, participated actively. The Japanese proletarian film movement began active operations in both production (predominantly documentary film) and criticism.

The other reason for the large number of translations was based on the need to research the aesthetics and techniques of sound film. On the other hand, aside from the political revolutions and interest in Talkies, a new generation of critics such as Tadashi Iijima, Kisao Uchida and Chiyota Shimizu appeared in the film journalism. They absorbed the aesthetics of the French silent film.

The Independence of Criticism: Its Variety

According to Mishio Imamura, the period from the late 1920s to the early 30s should be named the "golden age of film magazine." Almost fifty different film magazines were published at this time, ranging from critical periodicals such as Kinema Junpo, Eiga Ohrai, and Eiga Jidai, to the cinematic journals of the leftwing movement, the publicity magazinesof film companies, and fan magazines. It was the most active period in film journalism.

In 1922, Tadashi Iijima (born in 1902) entered the faculty of French literature at the Imperial Tokyo University. In the same year, he became a regular contributor to Kinema Junpo, which was the first step in his long career as a film critic. Before that, he had written amateur criticism for the movie theatre pamphlets or film magazines. He majored in modern French literature in the university and was familiar with the new trends of European literature and art. Consequently, he unexpectedly found himself leading an innovation campaign against benshi against those defended current Japanese film, like Kabuki-oriented Kyokko Yoshiyama.

Iijima's first book, Cinema no ABC (The ABC's of Cinema), 1928, borrowed its title from B. Cendrars, and introduced sympathetically the 1920s French avant-garde film theories of L. Moussinac, J. Epstein, A. Gance, R. Clair, M. L'Herbier, F. Leger, H. Chomette, J. Mitry et al. In particular, it emphasized the importance of Moussinac's "rhythm" theory of editing in relation to the author
's unflagging assertation that "the shot transition is essential to film art." In the next book, Eiga no Kenkyu (Study of Film), 1929, Iijima consciously dealt with the style of criticism for the first time. His film criticism analyzed and explicated the structure of film and the special characteristics of the filmmaker. Although his eyes was attacked as the art-for-art sake or dilettantism by the Marxist film critics like Akira Iwasaki and Taihei Imamura, his criticism was clear, explicit and enlightening, remaining detached from the current ideological standpoints. His style has made him one of the leading film critics for a long time.

Among Iijima's contemporary critics was Akira Iwasaki (1903-1981), a militant Marxist. His social activism was in sharp contrast with Iijima
s connoisseurism, cultivated in a preview room and a study. Iwasaki's first book, Eiga Geijyutsushi (History of Film Art), 1930, was honestly speaking, just a hodgepodge of undeveloped discussions. The next book, Eiga to Shihonshugi (Cinema and Capitalism), 1931, revealed the author's characteristics. Before that, he had contributed two articles, "Senden Sendo Shudan to shiteno Eiga (Cinema as Means of Propaganda)" and "Eiga Ideology (Cinema and Ideology)" to an anthology, Eiga no Tenbo (A View of Proletarian Cinema), in 1930. The former article, which was translated into Chinese by Lu Hsun, a prominent Chinese novelist, shows Iwasaki's main interests clearly in his chapter titles such as "audience", "propaganda", "war", "patriotism", "religion", "bourgeoisie", "petit bourgeois", etc. His strong political attitude was completely foreign to most film critics and journalists who were previously carefree moviegoers. It caused his arrest, and was the only arrest of a film critic by the police and ideological police in wartime.

Taihei Imamura (1911-1986) also had a tendency towards Marxism and materialism, but his efforts were concentrated on the political aspects of cinema, but on the theoretical conceptualizations. Through the works like Eiga Geijyutsu no Keishiki (The Form of Film Art), 1938, Eiga Geijyutsu no Seikaku (The Characteristics of Film Art), 1939, Kiroku Eigaron (On Documentary Film), Eiga to Bunka (Cinema and Culture), both 1940, and Manga Eigaron (On Animation Film), 1941, he discussed, from a wide perspective, cinema in relation to Japanese culture, to language, to photographic recording function and to other new media of the twentieth century. He defined the nature of photographic image as a recording function, which made a forerunner of S.Kracauer and A. Bazin. Imamura, in his book On Documentary Film, also held the social theory of
camera-style (The full development of the documentary film will make it possible that everyone has a camera just as a pen and records life on film, just like writing. This personification of camera will not be realized without the mass socialization of cinema.) and the theory of camera-as author (A scripter, a director or an actor, who cannot operate a camera, is as good as an illiterate novelist.). These theories might be regarded as preceding the French apr-guerre theories (eg. A. Astruc's "camera-style").

It was after the coming of sound that the film reviews collected in book from were ready by movie fans and general readers. It encouraged the publication of many articles by new film critics following Iijima, Iwasaki and Kisao Uchida. They were Tsuneo Hazumi who criticized current Japanese talkies; Matsuo Kishi who spoke highly of the domestic films of Sadao Yamanaka; Fuyuhiko Kitagawa, a "modernist" poet, who supported films "in the style of prose" of Mansaku Itami as opposed to the mainstream films "in the style of verse"; Hideo Tsumura whose moralistic criticism had a flavor of literary stylist, which held many young readers spellbound; and others like Shinbi Iida, Tadahisa Murakami, Kyoichi Ohtsuka, Noriko Sasaki, Tatsuhiko Shigeno, Heiichi Sugiyama, Hajime Takazawa, Tsutomu Sawamura, Keinosuke Nanbu and Akira Shimizu. A younger group whose main activities would comes after the war were Naosuke (now, Naoki) Togawa, Toyoshi Ohguro, Juzaburo Futaba, Ichiro Ueno and Hisamitsu Noguchi. In addition, the activists of the leftist cinema movement, Pro-Kino (Proletarian Cinema) and the filmmakers of the cultural and documentary film also gave some statements of writings which were important in Japanese film history. In particular, one of the leaders of the Pro-Kino Movement, Genju Sasa advocated the radical doctrine that "the documentary film as the reflection of right ideology" or "the documentary film and film criticism for the sake of the critical reform of actualities, "which was more radical than the doctrines of J. Grierson's Documentary Movement and more similar to the views of P. Rotha.

The Germination of the Study of Cinema

Although it is difficult to distinguish strictly "study" from "criticism" in any discipline, I would like to use the term "study" as a convenient label for some scientific
or scholarly-orientated approach to cinema. Therefore Yasunoke Gonda's approach can be called the sociological "study" of cinema, because of his use of statistics in researching the market, and Takahiro Tachibana's is also a "study"-type examination, in that he made distinctions between genres, compiled a bibliography on cinema and compared standards of censorship in the world.

In the 1930s apart from the film journalism of Tokyo, a group of intellectuals in Kyoto, sometimes termed the "Kyoto School" wrote a series of short essays on cinema, which are "studies" as defined above. Shoichi Nakai, an aesthetician, for instance explicitly put the cinema in the context scheme of the aesthetics of contemporary art. Hikaru Shimizu presented the Western (especially German and Soviet) avant-garde film theories in the context of modern aesthetics. Their methods seemed to be more strictly objective than the critic's approach. It was the same with Jun Tosaka, a philosopher. The Kyoto school was characteristically interested in the nature of the photographic image in relation to the aesthetics of the machine age, as a result of the influence of the 1920s experimental art movements like Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism.

In Tokyo, there were some intellectuals who were not film critics but had an interest in cinema. They were Torahiko Terada, a famous physicist and essayist, Nobuyuki Ohkuma, and economist, Kenji OHTSUKA and Kenji Hatano, both psychologists and Nyozekan Hasegawa, a prominent press journalist. TERADA wrote a considerable amount on cinema. In a famous essay, he compared montage with haiku.

His other essays analyzed the forms of R.Clair's comedies and the Hollywood musicals, which anticipates modern formalistic analysis. Ohkuma dealt with the kiss scene in the context of popular manners and culture. Hasegawa was concerned with the relationship of cinema with mass reproduction at almost same time, in 1937, as W. Benjamin. Until the end of the war, there was no university or college in Japan which had a cinema course as special field, except Nihon University (its cinema course was established in 1929). However, its purpose was to train filmmakers not film scholars. Therefore there was no academic study of cinema at the university level.

Under these conditions, a group of cineastes started a bulletin of cinema study, Eiga Kagaku Kenkyu (Scientific Study of Cinema) 1928-1932, edited by Minoru MURATA and Kiyohiko Usihara both prominent "westernized" directors. (It is regrettable to add that their pioneering masterpieces of gendai-geki or film about contemporary life are lost today, so that we have difficulty in judging their accomplishments.)

In the first issue Murata defined seven branches of scientific study of cinema: economic , industry , management, production, art, exhibition and audience. The contributors to this issue ( the initial number) consisted of two directors, a producer , a publicity man, a distributor, an exhibitor, a censor, a cameraman, an actor, a scriptwriter, that is, with the exception of censor, Takahiro Takabana mentioned above, all were members of the business circle with no outsiders, not even film critics.

The fact suggests that their original purpose was to research (and learn themselves) the problems of their trade in a systematic way. In the later issues of the total ten editions, critics contributed. Following social currents, the bulletin included leftist materia "Danpenteki Proleteria Eiga Mondai" ( Fragments on the Problems of Proletarian Cinema), in the fifth issue, and "Marx-shugi Eiga Hihyo no Hyojun (The Criteria of the Marxist FilmCriticism)," in the sixth issue, 1930, which were supposedly incompatible with its basically industrialist concern. After the seventh issue it featured essays on talkies; sound, dialogue and so on, contributed by critics and composers.

This magazine, while predominately specializing in the techniques and expressions of film production, tried to promote the co-operative study of cinema by bringing together various experts of the movie business. It began the study of cinema in its totality. It contrasted with the "Filmologie" Movement at l'Universite de Paris after World War II, of which the nucleus was a group of scholars aloof from actual film production. The "filmologie" group studied cinema in contemplative terms based on the methodologies of philosophy, aesthetics, study of art and the lik , whereas the Japanese Scientific Study group approached the study of cinema in a concrete and practical manner. This group published twenty four books besides the periodical bulletin, half of which were translations of Moussianc, Pudovkin, Timoshenko, Eisenstein, Shlovsky, Balazs, Arnheim et al. The other half were written by Japanese critics and researchers (Iwasaki's Cinema and Capitalism mentioned previously , Toru Mitsui's Montage-ron to Yusei Eigaron {Theories of Montage and Sound Film}, 1933 etc.) These books complemented the theoretical considerations lacking in the bulletin.

Of the film magazines issued form the 1930's to the end of the war, Eiga Hyoron (Film Review), Eiga Geijutsu Kenkyu (Study of Film Art) and Eiga Kenkyu (Film Study) were the ichest in content. The former featured special editions on various subjects; while the latter two printed many long articles. In those days, as the war was expanding in scale, the cultural and documentary films were debated extensively, ("culture" and "science" were the catch words of the time), and cinema attracted public attention as the educational medium in both schools and society. Many intellectuals like literary writers commonly went to the movies and discussed the relationship between literature and cinema (under the title of, say, "Literature and Art of the Machine Age") in the various periodicals. Cinema remained the king of mass entertainment throughout the war until the 1950s. In 1935, Fuyuhiko Kitagawa wrote, in the foreword of Matsuo Kishi's Nihon Eigaron (Japanese Film):

In retrospect, the history of film criticism in Japan had, at first, been a long period of movie fans thrilled at the novelty of cinema. The second stage was to debate on whether the cinema was an art form or not, and eventually the perspective of film as a sociological phenomenon came to dominate. The last stage has been that of grasping the "Physiology of Film".

Kitagawa's "sociological" probably referred to Marxism, not to what Yasunosuke GONDA did whose sociological study was rather earlier than Kitagawa's periodication. The last stage of film criticism "grasping the physiology of film" (by which KITAGAWA was of course suggesting Kishi's style of criticism) can be regarded as more or less an evidence of a kind of maturity, which cannot however, compare with the case of literary criticism.