Asian Cinemas

Culture is not created in a vacuum

Films are made in particular countries, by directors of particular nationalities, and featuring the language, costumes, mythologies, and other cultural identifiers of their peoples, and these elements usually define the work purely as one of that nation.

There can be no doubt, however, that creative works are influenced by, and influence, other creative works. A creator cannot switch off all of the things that they have seen, heard, read, etc. when creating something themselves. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, a creator’s work will reference those influences.

So if a creator is influenced by a culture other than their own, what does this mean for their work and its place within their national cinema?

Let us consider Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo. It is a Japanese language film, made in Japan, with thematic and cultural references that are rooted in Japanese culture. It would be easy to say that it is a Japanese film and leave it at that.

Yojimbo is a good example of a work that is not just a Japanese film made for a Japanese audience. In fact, Desser claims that Japanese filmmakers of the post war period “embarked on a campaign of filmmaking for Western consumption” (2003, p. 181).

Despite being classified as a jidai-geki (period film), there are numerous examples of the Western genre’s influence within the film, including (but not limited to):

  • The mise en scène evokes the deserted, wind-swept towns of the wild west,

  • The protagonist, Sanjuro, acts as the lone “gun for hire” (Desser 1992, p. 156), and
  • A final showdown or “duel” between the protagonist and the antagonist, ending with the demise of the antagonist.

Of particular note is the antagonist’s use of a gun, when everyone else fights with the traditional weaponry of the period. The gun could be seen as a motif of the influence of the West seeping into what was a very traditional, closed society. It could also be considered an unashamed nod to the Western genre itself!

(The fact that the film went on to influence an almost direct remake in Italian director Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western Per un pugno di dollari (aka A Fistful of Dollars, 1964) shows just how obvious its link to the Western genre is!)

The Western is not the only influence at play here, however. Desser notes that Yojimbo, “has much in common with American gangster films, … strongly reminiscent in plot and setting of Dashiell Hammett’s “hard-boiled” novel Red Harvest” (1992, p.156), a work based in the noir genre. This is exemplified in the narrative: in a town inflicted by gambling and other vices, Sanjuro must deal with not one but two groups of violent gangsters.

Yojimbo is a Japanese film that is influenced and inspired by two very American genres. So, can it sit solely within the Japanese national cinema? And if not, then where?
This is a concept I’d like to explore further as we move through the semester. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Desser, D. (1992), ‘Toward a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film’ in Reframing Japanese Cinema. Noletti & Desser (eds.). Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis. 1992, pp. 145-164.

Desser, D. (2003) ‘Consuming Asia: Chinese and Japanese popular culture and the American imaginary’ in Multiple Modernities: cinemas and popular media in transcultural East Asia. Kwok Wah Lau (ed.). Temple University Press. 2003, pp. 179-199.

Comments on other students’ blogs:


New Doc Project 4 Gantt Chart

There’s sooooo much to get done before the Studio Exhibition in late October, so I made up a gantt chart to help our group stay on track.

Media 4 - New Documentary

Organising chaos

Media 4 - New Documentary

Hannah’s presentation on Korsakow got me thinking…

Hannah Brasier came back to our studio this week to speak to us about her work in Korsakow, her approach to making k-films and the research that has informed her work. I found the whole thing really refreshing, and I’m suddenly rethinking the entire direction of our project. I wish that she had presented to us 3-4 weeks ago; week 9 seems like a terrible time to start questioning everything you’ve produced to date, and how you’re going to go forward!

The thing that stood out most for me in Hannah’s presentation was her reference to Manovich’s ideas around the relationship between the interface and the database. She clearly thought about this in her k-films: her use of a list-style interface for the first k-film about noticing, and clustering the clips by theme using slightly different interface designs to highlight a “change” of cluster. Again in subsequent films, her interfaces were simple but used subtle differences to highlight these changes (or “pinch points”, as she called them).

Screenshot from Hannah's Honours work, 'Noticing'

Screenshot from Hannah’s Honours work, ‘Noticing

This is an interesting way to start thinking about UX design. How does the database dictate or inform what the interface should do/look like/be? Does it need to be visually engaging, or should it be simple and use basic elements to let the content itself guide the user’s journey?

These new concepts are making me rethink our editing decisions, and how we’ve used the footage we have so far. It’s just so linear, or as my OH might say, “it’s so durr-uh-gurr!” (I’m pretty sure he means de rigueur). I’m starting to want to move into abstract, unchartered territory, and play with what we’ve got more. Take the audio we’ve got and layer it over new footage; footage that may be related, but maybe not. Just play.

Is it too late in the semester to do that?


I love this quote. It came up in a class today and I remembered just how inspiring it really is – because it’s TRUE!!!

All creatives need to listen to this over and again whenever they’re feeling like the work they’re producing is shit, like they’re never going to get to where they want to be. We’re all shit at doing until we’re not anymore. You just have to keep pushing through, and making and making and making.

Film Reviews in 100 Words or Less

Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The journey of a washed up actor trying to revive his career on Broadway, complicated by his superhero split personality.

It’s the simplicity of the thing (narrative, continuous long shot, solo drum track) that allows performances from Keaton, Norton and Stone to shine.

A light touch of kookiness throughout (superpowers, special effects, nakedness) adds rather than detracts.

Did you notice the thematic dichotomy of truth/acting throughout? I could spend 1000 words on that alone, but I won’t.

I am still in awe of the choreography that would have had to go into shooting this.

4/5 – because I hate ambiguous endings.