Finding Film Theory in Japan

So much for updating more frequently 🙂

Well, I’m in Japan and partway through my program.   I thought I’d give a run-down on the nuts and bolts of intensive, short-term language study in Japan, writing down some of what I’ve found out about research in Japan along the way.   I’m hardly the only person doing that sort of thing (and someone I know already beat me to actually setting fingers to keys on this one to an extent), but I haven’t seen anything about the specific topics I’m going to cover.

The first thing I want to talk about is a bit boring, but horribly useful: Japanese bookstores and film theory.   Studying film academically is a matter of course in America, but it’s a relatively new development in Japan.   (See here for a short history of its development.)   To be clear, I’m talking about academic study – film theory, not film criticism.   As a result, it’s many times easier to find books or magazines reviewing the latest films, doing photo spreads on the newest hot young thing or listing someone’s favorite horror movies than it is to find an analysis of, say, the recent spurt of manga, TV shows and movies about Abe no Seimei.   That disparity exists pretty much everywhere – talking about the latest blockbuster is as international as it gets – but it’s exaggerated in Japanese scholarship.   Moreover, the way that Japanese bookstores are organized kind of highlights it.   Still, you should know the Japanese scholarship on a topic before you start shooting your mouth off, right?   I’ll show you how to navigate stores for academic books about film, and that should give you a good enough idea of how the system works that you can figure out how to find other kinds of academic books, too.

Let’s say you want to find books about women in film.   Not a specific book, just academic books on that topic.   In America, you’d stop by two bookstore sections – women’s issues and film – and maybe the women’s interest and general interest sections of the magazines/journals area.   In Japanese bookstores, there are far more sections, but they’re smaller and less likely to have what you want.   The various women’s sections (books and magazines) are largely fashion- and diet-related.   There might have been one or two other subsections, but they’re similar in tone (i.e. useless for our purposes).   There is a large section labelled nonfiction (ノンフィクション), but it seems to be all/mostly memoirs.   Likewise, there is a section labelled essays ( エセイ ) which consists of compilations of essays by single authors on a variety of general topics (i.e. a volume won’t discuss one topic in depth, but cover various aspects of society in different essays).

So much for the less-useful areas, on to the good stuff.   Japanese bookstores have at least two film sections – “film” (映画) and “Western film” (洋画) – both sections are mainly filled with non-academic works (“Best Ever” lists, for example), but I found a couple gems in them on my last trip – the second issue of Pop Culture Critique, whose theme is “girls’ combat experience”, and a book on film by one of Studio Ghibli‘s producers.   Nearby, you’ll usually find sections on TV dramas, anime and games.   Similarly, I suggest taking the time to go through the related magazine areas.   Magazines themselves haven’t panned out for me yet, but stores often shelve books and unusual items with the magazines.   On a recent trip to a bookstore I hadn’t visited before, I found a set of specially reissued Ozu films.   Each “volume” included one film and a short (40-ish page) set of specially printed notes, interviews and so on.

Now, those suggestions work for your standard new and used bookstores (i.e. Kinokuniya and Book Off), and assume you don’t have a specific title in mind (if you do, order it).   When looking for other kinds of resources, other guidelines apply.   If you want dōjinshi, for instance, Kathryn Hemmann recently posted an excellent guide to dōjinshi resources in the Tokyo area.   If you have any suggestions or know of other, similar resources, please do comment.   I’ve got less than a month left, and I want to make the most of it.

 

Update: I dropped by the Jinbocho area today, and they have boatloads of used book stores.   (Also, apparently, CD/record stores.)  There’s even a store that specializes in science-fiction and mysteries.  Some of the stores are pretty small, but the flip side of that is that they carry rarer books and magazines.  Happy hunting!

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