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Rediscovering Prewar Japanese Film Theory

Symposium on Rediscovering Prewar Japanese Film Theory

With the arrival of digital media, the cinematic medium has changed significantly in terms of technology, industry, and culture. Film studies has consequently been forced to reconsider its project.

This symposium was one part of this reconsideration, as it aimed to bring to light theories of cinema developed in Japan in the prewar era, and ask what meaning they could hold for today. Such theories had largely been ignored up until now, given how the field of film theory has been centered on Euro-American thought. The three editors of Rediscovering Classical Japanese Film Theory―An Anthology (Yumani Shobō), which will be published this fall, discussed the project, with Waseda’s Takeda Kiyoshi serving as moderator.

Prof. Kiyoshi Takeda (Moderator)

During the first half, each of the three offered individual reports on the history and present status of Japanese film studies; in the second, they followed up on those issues and debated why there has been a lack of discourse on Japanese film theory. A number of issues were raised about the reasons why film theory is absent in Japan: that film theory had developed on a Western standard, that there were linguistic limitations stemming from the need to publish in Japanese, that the theoretical range of practitioners and cultural intellectuals was often overlooked, that theoretical investigations were seen more as a question of philosophy than of film, and that in the end, the conditions had not yet been established for research on film related magazines and documents containing theoretical discussion. Recently, however, on the occasion of reconsidering the existing foundations of academic research, the effort to rediscover the meaning of film theory in Japan and in Asia has developed on an international scale, especially with the increase in foreign film scholars fluent in Japanese. After the debate on stage, there was a vigorous discussion with the audience, with both panelists and audience sharing the expectation that the anthology will prompt significant developments in film studies in Japan.


The auditorium was largely full despite the hot weather, with even researchers and students from Yale and Harvard universities attending. Without a doubt this was a stimulating symposium for the young researchers who will take up the mantle of Japanese film research in the future. In that sense, it was a very productive event.

About the symposium

  • Date and Time: July 14th (Fri), 3:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Venue: Okuma Memorial Tower B1, Multipurpose Lecture Room
  • Speakers:
    Aaron GEROW (Prof. at Yale University)
    IWAMOTO Kenji (Prof. Emeritus at Waseda University)
    Markus NORNES (Prof. at University of Michigan)
  • Moderator:
    TAKEDA Kiyoshi (Prof. at Waseda University)
  • Sponsored by:
    Waseda University’s Top Global University Project, Global Japanese Studies
    Waseda University Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences, Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture
    Waseda University Asakawa Senior Fellowship Program
    Waseda University Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Cultural Sciences Theatre and Film Arts
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