COOL CLASSES: “Postwar Japanese Cinema”

In this class, students consider how Japanese filmmakers use cinema to explore fundamental questions of life and death in the country’s postwar period.

Class name: “Postwar Japanese Cinema”

Taught by: Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Associate Professor of Visual Studies Erin Schoneveld

Says Schoneveld about her class:
From the immediate postwar period to the present day, Japanese filmmakers have employed the visual language of cinema to offer a more nuanced and complex expression of the human condition. Focusing on films by influential directors including Ozu Yasujirō, Kurosawa Akira, Mizoguchi Kenji, Honda Ishirō, Itami Juzo, and Miyazaki Hayao, this course considers how Japanese filmmakers use cinema to investigate issues of truth, beauty, identity, and nationhood in an attempt to answer fundamental questions regarding life and death in Japan’s postwar period. In our exploration of postwar Japanese cinema, we engage with three major themes: memory, family, and the environment. Throughout the semester we examine how these themes not only express the changing social, cultural, and physical landscape of postwar Japan, but intertwine in complex and meaningful ways.

Schoneveld on why she wanted to teach this class:
Most film courses examine the theory, history, and criticism of moving images. While these analytical approaches are crucial to our understanding of cinema, I also wanted to expose students to the collaborative, logistical, social, and artistic components of filmmakers and media producers. When designing “Postwar Japanese Cinema,” my goal was to develop a creative project that engages with the act of making because I believe that film production can supplement and extend critical interpretation and reflection of postwar Japanese cinema and society. 

With this in mind, students participate in a semester-long film production project to create a short narrative film in the style of Japanese filmmaker Ozu Yasujirō (1903-1963). Ozu is one of the most influential filmmakers in the history of Japanese cinema. His films investigate the changing nature of everyday life in postwar Japan with a particular focus on the dissolution of the family. Ozu is known for his unconventional filmmaking style consisting of a static camera, low camera heights, empty shots, and 360-degree use of space. Thus, Ozu’s films are not only stylistically compelling for students to emulate, but they provide an ideal historical, narrative, and structural framework for this creative assignment.

Schoneveld on what makes this class unique to her department:
This course provides an exciting opportunity for students to study key aspects of the historical and cultural development of postwar Japanese cinema as well as experience all aspects of the creative endeavor of narrative filmmaking from pre-production, to production, and post-production.