Truth at 16 Frames a Second: Japanese Documentary Film
Jean-Luc Godard famously described cinema as “truth at twenty-four frames a second.” He used film and its icons in an era of standardized mass culture to unhinge elements of ideology from their fixed places in daily life.
Japanese documentary in the twentieth- through twenty-first centuries offers different approaches to both mass culture and the spectrum of genres and styles that ranges from truth to…truthiness. Auteurs and studios alike often stressed the non-standard (i.e. non-Hollywood studio-like) and conspicuously less lavish nature of Japanese materials in order to define their cinematic styles, genres and stances.
This course will look at actuality cinema, constructed newsreels, animated propaganda, atom bomb cinema and postwar censorship, the sex film, records of domestic terrorism and revolutionary crime, the focus on sound and music in counter-cultural work, action documentary, “culture films” made during the colonial era, neo-proletariat cinema, and the “first-person” film of the 1990s. Finally, we will look at the use of new media and documentary styles to convey the situations of Japanese citizens, internal refugees, eco-partisans, and precarious workers after the 3/11 triple whammy of tsunami, earthquake and nuclear meltdown.
Films include: Tsuchimoto Noriaki’s Minamata series, Adachi Masao’s AKA Serial Killer, Wakamatsu Kōji’s Red Army works, Ogawa Shunsuke’s participatory documentaries, The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Peep “TV” Show. Critical and theoretical readings will draw from the playbook of international documentary productions. We will also explore debates on frameworks of national/trans-national cinemas and the upsides and downsides of a category such as “alternative modernity” by asking; “alternative to what?”