Japanese Historical Process in Anglophone Cinema


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A consideration of sampling of English-language films which address Japanese historical moments or processes. Ranging from John Wayne's "The Barbarian and the Geisha" to Tom Cruise's "The Last Samurai", the way in which Japanese history is d

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Japanese Historical Process in Anglophone Cinema

  1. 1. Japanese Historical Process in Anglophone Cinema by Jonathan Dresner ASPAC 2014 Bellingham, WA
  2. 2. "...the visual seductions of film can have a reductive effect, and perhaps especially in historical films. The brevity of a film necessarily compresses, forcing the viewer to grasp and grab everything on offer with little time for reflection, caution, or skepticism. The vividness of a gripping film comes too often with a concomitant loss of subtlety, the price we pay for the driving narrative and grand intensity that are so often the delight of a movie. Film, I would argue, tends to rely on the visceral. ...The heroic or villainous figure is an easier fit in a 90-minute production than a complex examination of systems and structures and that, for me, is the trouble with film." -- Philippa Levine
  3. 3. • "Perhaps it's too much to expect that our entertainments have a factual basis. But now I have to deal with the aftermath... and I have to hope that my careful deconstruction can make some dent in the technicolor, surround-sound, adrenaline- enhanced images in their minds." - Jonathan Dresner, "How True to History is Tom Cruise's 'The Last Samurai'?"
  4. 4. Sources Historical Chronology • early 1600s: Shogun • 1603: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III • 1703: 47 Ronin • 1858: The Barbarian and the Geisha • 1870s: The Last Samurai • 1930s-1940s: Memoirs of a Geisha • 1945: Letters from Iwo Jima • 1980s: Karate Kid 2 Production Chronology • 1958: The Barbarian and the Geisha • 1980: Shogun • 1986: Karate Kid 2 • 1993: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III • 2005: Memoirs of a Geisha • 2005: The Last Samurai • 2006: Letters from Iwo Jima • 2013: 47 Ronin
  5. 5. Cinematic Narcissism • "I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again, Hollywood can make a movie set anywhere in the world, in any era of history... and still somehow find a way for the movie to star a white guy. Even a movie about Bruce Lee." - Angry Asian Man (blog) (2 June 2014) [ellipsis in original].
  6. 6. Other Issues • "Destiny: what a drag!" tragic traditionalists. • ahistorical essentialism • tradition as isolating, drag on development • superstition against heroic/effective science; foreigner as "voice of reason" • decontextualized atypical figures • impact-response theory? • "Great Man" history, history as biography. • economic and political change as backdrop • Unnecessary claims to accuracy
  7. 7. Selected Sources • Background Image: Kano Chikayasu, Scenes From The Tale Of Genji, c. 1850, Saint Louis Art Museum. Picture by Jonathan Dresner • Philippa Levine, "The Trouble With Film" Perspectives on History, Masters At The Movies series, 2010 March. • Angry Asian Man (pseud.), "Director Signs On For Bruce Lee Biopic 'Birth Of The Dragon'" Angry Asian Man (blog) 6.02.2014 • Jonathan Dresner, "How True to History is Tom Cruise's 'The Last Samurai'?" History News Network, 8-8-05 http://hnn.us/article/2746