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Postwar Japan and Film Theory: Haniya Yutaka’s Ontological Writings on Cinema

Postwar Japan and Film Theory: Haniya Yutaka’s Ontological Writings on Cinema

On July 6, 2019, Naoki Yamamoto gave a lecture entitled “Postwar Japan and Film Theory: Haniya Yutaka’s Ontological Writings on Cinema.” Yamamoto, an assistant professor at University of California, Santa Barbara, is an up-and-coming, insightful film scholar whose research themes include a focus on the historical development of film and media theory in 20th-century Japan—a subject that had been nearly completely neglected in both Japan and the US—and a geopolitical critique of the wider humanities, which have been handled through an ostensibly universal discourse based solely on “theory” originating from the west. From September 2018 through August 2019, Yamamoto pursued joint research with Koji Toba, a professor at Waseda University’s Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, as a Research Fellow funded by the Hakuho Foundation. An internationally diverse audience of 30 sat in attendance at the venue for the lecture, where Yamamoto described the contents of Tenkeiki no Mediology [Mediology in a Time of Transformation] (Shinwasha, publication pending). This book, which represents the fruits of the joint research by Yamamoto and Toba, is a collection of studies of post-war cultural and media movements by 12 researchers currently active in Japan and the US.

Following a brief introduction by Toba, Yamamoto’s lecture began with an explication of the importance of another book, Literary Film Theory (Chuokoron-Shinsha, 1957), by Hiroshi Noma, Kiichi Sasaki, Kiyoteru Hanada, Kobo Abe, Yutaka Haniya, and Rinzo Shiina. Yamamoto focused on a piece by Haniya on film theory, An Old Film Notebook, that forms part of the book. Yamamoto traced back through biographical details regarding Haniya, who was born in 1909 as the son of a tax official in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and explicated the man’s experiences with cinema. Quoting from two books—Yami no Naka no Shisō: Keijijō Gakuteki Eigaron [Thought in the Dark: Metaphysical Film Theory] (San-ichi Publishing, 1962) by Haniya and Yami no Naka no Musō: Eigagaku Kōgi [Visions in the Dark: Lectures on Film Theory] (Asahi Press, 1982) by Haniya and Kunio Ogawa—Yamamoto drew the audience’s attention to two key ideas of the literary study of Haniya: that a “dissonance of the principle of identity” arose from being born in a colony and affected how Haniya understood cinema, and that Haniya noted “ontological self-contradiction” as a principle of film. Discovering a concrete example of Haniya’s “reductive realism” in the writer’s experimentations with the anatomy of the eye in the 1948 short story “Ishiki” [Consciousness], Yamamoto argued that the source of Haniya’s imagination was the world of the silver screen—which possesses a robustness as a very “thing” itself that comes into being as shadows of shadows of that which has had its physiognomy transformed by an action that could be described as “cinematic reduction.” Then, quoting from “Furui Eiga Techō,” Yamamoto described how film audiences—merged with the camera—can see themselves anew as “entities” projected in the historical space that composes this world. Yamamoto uncovered the apocalyptic vision from Haniya’s essay “Haikyo no Gensō” [An Illusion of Ruins] of us, transformed into “cinematic entities,” perhaps surviving beyond the destruction of the world. Describing Kiyoteru Hanada’s argument about “unifying things in opposition while still opposed” as a major theme in philosophy during the first half of the 20th century, and using that as source to bring in the philosophy of Kitaro Nishida, Yamamoto described Hanada and Haniya as entities with large differences in their political stances toward the Japanese Communist Party. Next, Yamamoto concluded his lecture by referencing Haniya’s new left-wing criticism based on a “theory of ontological revolution” that is symbolized by “perpetual revolution” and called for an exploration of the possibilities inherent in Haniya’s “ontological writings on cinema.”

During the question and answer session, Yamamoto gave detailed replies to a variety of questions posed about everything from the biographical details of Haniya to topics relating to film theory; it was a lively exchange.
The talk ended a little past the scheduled time and yet the conference room and hallway continued to be filled with discussions in Japanese and English even afterward, showing how provocatively the lecture induced a reaction in the attendees.

Event Overview:
Postwar Japan and Film Theory: Haniya Yutaka’s Ontological Writings on Cinema
Lecture by: Naoki Yamamoto (Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara)
Date and time: July 6, 2019 (Sat.), 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Venue: Conference Room 11, 6th floor of Building 33, Toyama Campus, Waseda University
Lecture language: Japanese
Participants: Students, Faculty members, General public
Sponsored by: “Humanities Knowledge in East Asia” Research Department, Waseda University Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences
Cosponsored by:
Waseda University Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Top Global University Project
The Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture

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