• April 18th, 2016

Outline for “Outside Influences” Course Final Paper

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Course Description:

The Japanese film industry began at the dawn of the twentieth century, about three decades after the Meiji
Restoration of 1868. The country had undergone a massive reform under Imperial rule, opening itself to a
host of outside, foreign influences as it sought to modernize. (the word “Meiji” means “enlightened rule”
and the goal was to combine modern advances with traditional, eastern values). While Japan was already
modernizing in many respects in order to update its industrial capacity, the population was confronted with
a struggle between a culture steadfastly steeped in tradition and at the same time fascinated by the
influence of the other. It was a time defined by a poignant sense of loss as well as a passion for the new.
Film, as a rapidly growing art form that was increasingly accessible to the masses reflected this struggle
between old and new. While early Japanese films revolved around themes and characters established in
Kabuki theatre that sought to reinforce traditional, almost stereotypical roles within society, the post-war
era witnessed a rapid opening of more liberal views concerning the role of men and women within a
changing society. Ideas about the individual, reflected in the influence of the west ran headlong into
traditional values that always placed the needs of the collective above those of the self. Changing character
types, the reinforcement and rejection of tradition, cultural and political criticism, the changing role of
women… all of these were explored in the powerful, visual medium of film, an expression of a social
discourse raised to the level of art.
This seminar will explore Japanese cinema as a reflection of the rapid cultural changes that overtook the
country as it opened itself to the outside world, traced from its early beginnings and concentrating on the
post-war period through the 1960’s. As a nation originally defined both by an indigenous, feudal culture
rooted in animism (Shinto) and one highly derivative of its foreign neighbors (primarily Korea and China),
Japan has always found a way to incorporate outside influences, forging them into a particular and unique
form of culture. Following its defeat in WW2, the occupation by western forces and the adoption of a
democratic constitution perpetuated a confrontation of ideas and social mores, opening up Japanese
society and at the same time reinforcing its hermeticism. The paradox has and continues to elude western
understanding. One could argue that even today Japan invigorates its cultural landscape with its
fascination for the other, and that the result, at times as bizarre as it is beautiful, continues to astound.

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