Contemporary Japanese Film


3.0 out of 5 stars A collection of essays, interviews and film reviews

“Contemporary Japanese Film” is a mis-named book. Judging from the title and size, I was expecting something along the lines of a continuation of Donald Richie’s seminal “100 years of Japanese film,” something bringing equal insight into contemporary Japanese film as Richie brought into the historical. Instead, “Contemporary Japanese Film” is nothing more than a collection of previously published and unconnected essays, interviews and film reviews by Japan-based film critic Mark Shilling. Obviously, someone saw the potential to make money off of existing material, without further work. There are no original articles.

Shilling is a fine film critic and clearly knowledgeable about the modern Japanese film industry. However, either he or his editors do not know how to assemble this knowledge into a useful book. Several of the essays overlap, with the same information in each. For instance, Shilling is clearly a fan of Iwai Shunji’s film “Swallowtail,” as it is introduced, described and critiqued in several essays, without any acknowledgement that it was introduced only a few pages before in a different essay. Also, several concepts, such as block-booking movies and advanced ticket sales to drive up box office, are talked about but never adequately explained for non-familiar readers.

In addition, although it looks like a thick and potent read, more than half of the book, 250 pages out of a 388 page book, is film reviews, culled from Shilling’s column in the English-language Japan times. The majority of these films are not available to Western audiences.

All of this may sound terrible, but the content that is here is of good quality, and once one gets over the initial disappointment of the mis-labeled title, there are a few kernels of insight to pull out of the pages. Probably the most interesting section is the directors interviews, showcasing such luminaries as Kurosawa Akira, Takahata Isao, Itami Juzo, Suo Masayuki (Shall we dance?) and Kitano Takeshi. There are some glaring oversights, such as no Suzuki Seijun, Miike Takashi or Miyazaki Hayao, but I suppose he can’t have covered everyone in his newspaper work.

As a book about contemporary Japanese film, it is a failure. As a collection of non-related essays, interviews and film reviews from someone with knowledge and history of modern Japanese film, it is successful.

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