ARTS 643
Japanese Cinema from the Silent Era to the Present Day

Ethan de Seife

Course Objectives

No twelve-week class can provide a truly comprehensive survey of one of world cinema’s most vital, important, and fascinating industries. Rather than aim for a rigorous chronology, the course’s chronology is general, focusing instead on major directors, themes, genres, and production cycles. The overall goal of the course is to provide you with a solid general and critical knowledge of the history and aesthetics of Japanese cinema.           

This is a graduate course, so I do expect a high degree of scholarship and professionalism. If you have little or no experience in studying film, I strongly recommend that you buy for yourself a copy of the most current (7th) edition of Film Art, David Bordwell’s and Kristin Thompson’s excellent introductory text.

Required Texts

• Donald Richie, A Hundred Years of Japanese Film (Second edition)
David Bordwell, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (see note below)
Noel Burch, To the Distant Observer (see note below)

Required Films

Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa, 1962, 96 min.)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1988)

The Richie book has been placed on order at Broad Street Books in Middletown (45 Broad Street; 860-685-7323), but you should feel free to search around online for better deals. Good places to start are and

The Bordwell and Burch books are out of print, but, through the magic of the internet, PDF versions of both are available. Both books can be downloaded from this site: (From this page, click on “browse”; on the “browse” page, book titles are listed alphabetically. Click the link for each book, and select “link to full PDF” to begin the download.) Please note, though, that these are large downloads; if this presents a problem for you, just give me a blank CD-R (or $1) and I will burn you a disc with the full text of both of these volumes. Do this immediately, though, as these books are assigned for Weeks 2 and 3. Readings from these books are marked on the syllabus with a dagger (†).

Both Sanjuro and Tetsuo: The Iron Man are readily available on DVD, and, though they are on 24-hour reserve at Wesleyan’s Science Library, I strongly recommend that you purchase copies, as you will need to watch both films multiple times. Please do not view these films on VHS. VHS is awful.

Many of the readings for this course can be found in the course reader, which is available at PIP Printers (179 Main St. Middletown; 344-9001). All readings from the course reader are marked with an asterisk (*).

Course Requirements and Assignments
Segmentation assignment 10%
Response paper #1 15%
Response paper #2 25%
Final paper 40%
Attendance/class participation 10%

Segmentation assignment
Your first assignment will be to perform a segmentation of Akira Kurosawa’s film Sanjuro. For this assignment, you will not need to do any outside research – you will be working strictly from the film itself. I will provide further details on this assignment in the coming weeks. The segmentation is due on February 14. 

Response papers
These short but important papers have been designed to give you some experience writing about film, and to help you develop ideas for your final paper.
For response paper #1 (due on March 7), you need not do any additional reading or research: you will be working strictly from certain films. For response paper #2 (due on April 4), you will need to consider certain films within the context of some of the class readings. I will give you all the relevant information about these assignments in the coming weeks. 

Final paper
The major assignment for the course (40% of your final grade) will be a research paper in which you advance an original argument about an individual film, a group of films, a director’s work, and/or historical or theoretical perspectives on any of the issues covered in the course. This is by no means the sum total of directions your paper might take; the field is wide open, and I will offer some further suggestions. If you wish to write about films not screened in class, that’s fine, but you’ll need to submit DVDs of the films along with your paper.                      

I will require each of you to meet with me – or at least call or email me – so we can discuss your paper topic.          

You should start thinking about possible paper topics right away. My suggestion is that, within the first 4-5 weeks of class, take special note of the topics, performers, films, etc., that are interesting to you, and start thinking about how you can turn your interests into a research paper. I will give more details about the paper assignment soon.          

The final paper is due on April 25 – the last day of class. 

Attendance/Class Participation           
You are expected to attend every class. If you foresee a potential conflict, please let me know about it as soon as possible. Official university policy on absences is: “Any student who is repeatedly absent without excuse from scheduled academic exercises at which attendance is mandatory may be required to withdraw from the course.” If you need to withdraw from the class, you must deliver to the GLSP office a signed, dated official withdrawal form; submission of this form prior to April 16 will result in a ‘W’ on your transcript; submission after April 16 will result in an ‘F’ on your transcript.         

Since this is a small, graduate-level class, I am counting on a good deal of class participation from each of you, and am looking forward to some lively discussions. Please don’t take this lightly: it’s a significant portion of your final grade. Participating in class discussions can only boost your grade.           

I also expect you to be familiar with and abide by the tenets of the Wesleyan Honor Code:

Late Assignments
I will not accept late assignments. Please have all your work completed on time


Please check your e-mail frequently. I will set up a class e-mail list, and will send you messages from time to time regarding course business. Email is generally the best way to get in touch with me; use If you need to speak with me, try my cell first (914-434-1958), then my home (860-343-7253).

A Note on Class Meetings

Though the readings are extremely important, our primary texts for this class will be the films themselves. Because time is so limited (and because the films we’ll be seeing have a tendency toward lengthiness), I have received special dispensation from the High Sheriffs of GLSP to have this class last for four hours, rather than the standard three. This should give us sufficient time to see and discuss all of the films. (Please, though, take note of the film scheduled for February 21: its extreme length necessitates alternate screening arrangements.) There will still be time for a brief break between film and discussion.

Since our class overlaps prime dinner time, feel free to bring food and drink to class, so long as it doesn’t get too distracting for you or your classmates.
Course Schedule
January 24

Akira Kurosawa

Screening:         Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950, 88 min.)

January 31

Yasujiro Ozu I

Richie, pp. 7-96
Burch, pp. 11-60; 67-99; 154-185 (NB: page #s are indentical for book and pdf.)
Screening:         A Story of Floating Weeds (Ukigusa monogatari) (Yasujiro Ozu, 1934, 118 min.)

February 7

Yasujiro Ozu II

Richie, pp. 96-176
Bordwell, pp. 1-179; 256-259; 355-359 (NB: page #s refer to the book, not the pdf.)

Screening:           Floating Weeds (Ukigusa) (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959, 119 min.)

February 14

Kenji Mizoguchi

Reading:             - Richie, pp. 177-212

  - Mark Le Fanu, Mizoguchi and Japan, pp. 1-14; 27-46; 98-105; 178-182*

                          - Tadao Sato, “Mizoguchi and Ozu”*

                          - Max Tessier, “Mizoguchi Kenji”*

                          - David Bordwell, “Mizoguchi and the Evolution of Film Language”*

Screening:                  The 47 Ronin (Genroku chushingura) (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941, 241 min.)

Due:                   segmentation of Sanjuro

**NB: The 47 Ronin is too long to show in class and still have any sort of discussion. For this reason, I have made alternate viewing arrangements; there are three options.

Borrow one of the two copies of this DVD from Science Library, and watch it on your own time. Please note, though, that, like all films for our class, this disc is on 24-hour reserve: for the sake of your classmates, please return it as early as possible.

Buy or rent a copy of the DVD. This is not particularly plausible, as this disc is rare, out-of-print, and very expensive.

Attend the alternate screening I have arranged. This will take place on the Wesleyan campus (exact location TBD) on the afternoon of Sunday, February 18.

February 21

The Japanese New Wave

Reading:           - David Desser, “Introduction”*

- Maureen Turim, “Cultural Iconoclasm and Contexts of Innovation”*; “Rituals, Desire, Death: Leaving One’s Will on Film” (pp. 61-81)*

- Nagisa Oshima, “Perspectives on the Japanese Film”; “Beyond Endless Self-Negation: The Attitude of the New Filmmakers”; “What Is a Shot?”; “With Heavy Heart, I Speak of Korea”; “About Death by Hanging”*

Screening:       Death by Hanging (Koshikei) (Nagisa Oshima, 1968, 117 min.)


February 28

Seijun Suzuki

Reading:           - Anthony Antoniou, “Branded to Kill”*

                        - Tony Rayns, “The Kyoka Factor: The Delights of Suzuki Seijun”*

                        - David Chute, “Branded to Thrill”*

                        - Ian Buruma, “The Eccentric Imagination of a Genre Film-maker”*

Screening:       Branded to Kill (Koroshi no rakuin) (Seijun Suzuki, 1967, 98 min.)


March 7

Giant Monster Invasion!

Reading:           - Ken Hollings, “Gojira mon amour”*

- Chon Noriega, “Godzilla and the Japanese Nightmare: When Them! Is U.S.”*

                          - Barak Kushner, “Gojira as Japan’s First Postwar Media Event”*

- Anthony Enns, “’The Mutated Flowers of Hiroshima”: American Reception and Naturalization of Toho’s Godzilla”*

Screening:       Godzilla (Gojira) (Ishiro Honda, 1954, 98 min.)

Due:                  Response Paper #1 

** Spring Break: no class meetings on March 14 or March 21**

  **SPRING BREAK: No class meetings on March 14 or March 21**
March 28

Anime I

Reading:           - Richie, pp. 213-259

            - Kubo Masakazu, “Japanese Animation as an Industry”*

Screening:       Project A-Ko (Purojekuto A-ko) (Katsuhiko Nishijima, 1986, 86 min.)


April 4

Anime II

Reading:           - Keiko McDonald, “Animation Seminal and Influential”*

                        - Thomas Lamarre, “From animation to anime”*

Screening:       My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro) (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988, 86 min.)

Due:                 Response Paper #2

April 11

Juzo Itami

Reading:           - Gregory Barrett, “Comic Targets and Comic Styles: An Introduction to Japanese Film Comedy”*

            - Mark Schilling, Interview with Juzo Itami*

Screening:       Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985, 114 min.)

April 18

Takeshi Kitano

Reading:           - Mark Schilling, “Mainstream Japanese Film”*

                        - “Master Class with Takeshi Kitano”*

Screening:       Sonatine (Takeshi Kitano, 1993, 94 min.)

April 25


Reading:           (none)

Screening:         The Ring (Ringu) (Hideo Nakata, 1998, 96 min.)

Due:                 Final paper