Secrets to studying Japanese film

In its field I cannot imagine a research guide more needed. For whole decades scholars have struggled simply to locate sources, even to find out what there were. Now, however, the skill and stamina of Mark Nornes and Aaron Gerow have resulted in a reference work that both illuminates and defines this field, clearing a formerly obscured terrain for future scholarship.

RESEARCH GUIDE TO JAPANESE FILM STUDIES by Mark Nornes and Aaron Gerow. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2009, 197 pp.+ VIII, $60 (cloth); $25.00 (paper)

Divided into six general categories, the guide allows its user to enter its complicated subject through a number of portals. First is a section on collections of Japanese films and written materials on Japanese films. The primary film archive in Japan is Tokyo’s National Film Center. The most valuable assemblage of written materials is the Makino Collection recently (2007) acquired by Columbia University.

Next is a section on the distribution of Japanese films. There is really only one source, the invaluable Japan Foundation, which has a large collection of subtitled Japanese films and is free, the user paying only postage. There is, however, a stipulation. The user must obtain the permission (and usually pay something to) the company that originally made the film. These can be intransigent, notably Toho, “who don’t respond well to requests from what they think are minor customers.” This section is followed by one on bookstores specializing in Japanese film.

The following category lists bibliographical studies and is divided into a number of sections including general histories, filmographies, guides to archives, etc. It is followed by a section listing online and digital resources.

Finally, there is a valuable question-and-answer section dealing with everything from “How do I find 16 mm and 35 mm films?” to “Where can I catch a live benshi performance?” The guide concludes with not one but five indexes: personal names, subjects, titles, electronic resources, and names of institutions.

All of this enormously aids both the simple student and the seasoned specialist. “Frankly,”as the authors write, “it is hard climbing up the hill of Japanese film studies,” but here is something to make the way less arduous.

This guide, as the authors state “aims to become a genkan to Japanese film studies, an entryway into navigating through one of the richest cinematic archives there is.”

With each section, they offer comments on the whole and on individual entries. They also let users know what is most likely to help. The entries are broadly grouped into “The Best” and “The Rest.”

The result is an invaluable resource, Gerow focusing on bibliography and Nornes casting a wider web. As they say: “We could have refused to cooperate in order to each obtain the sole credit thought necessary to get promoted in American academia; we could have even abandoned the project in order to monopolize the resources and knowledge that many in the Japanese research world keep secret so as to maintain their authorities.”

“Instead,” they continue, “the two of us chose to pool our different resources and the resulting work has benefited enormously from that decision.” It certainly has, and all of us Japanese film students owe them a debt of gratitude.

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