JAPANESE CINEMA REDISCOVERED
Most of the Japanese films discussed in this chapter were unknown in the West before the 1970s. This was largely because the industry's output was almost completely destroyed—junked by the studios, obliterated in wartime bombardment, and burned during the American occupation. Several titles by Yasujiro Ozu, Teinosuke Kinugasa, and Kenji Mizoguchi are missing. Sadao Yamanaka made twenty-four films in five years; only two survive, and both are extraordinary.
What we do know of the prewar Japanese cinema is due to fairly recent interest. After World War II, critics in Europe and the United States were aware of Japanese cinema principally through Kurosawa's and Mizoguchi's 1950s work. These films quickly became examples of international art cinema (see Chapters 18 and 19). French critics revered Mizoguchi as a director who exemplified the power of mise-en-scene, a quasi-mystical ability to stage a shot with evocative force. In the late 1960s, a few of Ozu's postwar works, notably Tokyo Story (1953), joined the western canon.
In the early 1970s, more of the 1930s films returned to circulation, along with Kinugasa's A Page of Madness (1926; Film History: An Introduction, pp. 168-169). Retrospectives were held in London, New York, and Paris, while the Japan Film Library Council (later the Kawakita Memorial Film Institute) made prints available to universities and museums. It became evident that Ozu's and Mizoguchi's films of the 1930s and early 1940s were at least the equal of their postwar work and looked startlingly ahead to the "modern" cinema of 1960s Europe.
The reevaluation of the period was crystallized in Noël Burch's book To the Distant Observer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). Burch treated the Japanese cinema of the 1920s and 1930s as a critique of Western filmmaking, indeed of Western conceptions of representation and meaning. His focus on style called attention to the non-Hollywood aspects of the films, which Burch traced to long-standing Japanese traditions in literature and the visual arts.
During the 1980s, retrospectives of Heinosuke Gosho, Mikio Naruse, and Hiroshi Shimizu revived interest in Japanese production of the 1930s and 1940s. Kurosawa's memoirs of the era were published in Something Like an Autobiography, trans. Audie E. Bock (New York: Knopf, 1982). An approach similar to Burch's was developed in David Bordwell's Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988) and Donald Kirihara's Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), though these authors emphasized the films' ties to contemporary popular culture and social change.
Film history remains a provisional discipline, highly dependent on what production companies and archives preserve. Despite gaps in our knowledge, however, Japanese cinema of the interwar era is clearly as important as that of the United States or Europe—a fact that nonspecialist audiences of the 2000s were coming to appreciate, thanks to a growing number of DVD releases.