Reviews are cool but they take a long time to formulate, compose and revise.  To make this blog a bit more “happening” without stopping all other activities in my life, I’ve decided to add tidbits about all sorts of things.  These aren’t necessarily original thoughts of my own and many of them may seem trivial to the professional film scholar.  Some won’t be about film at all.  But they will all be brief ideas that I’ve recently encountered (that means a lot of Richie, at least for now) and that I think are interesting enough to be worth sharing.  I’ll also give a hint about what the next tidbit will be, in order to keep you coming back!

Amongst the eccentricities that plagued Japanese film music in the “Golden era” (say 1949-1965 perhaps?) of Japanese cinema, was the general tendency not to use traditional Japanese music.  Japan has numerous rich musical traditions but they are all associated with the drama of Kabuki and Noh in the minds of the average viewer–at least that’s what the decision makers at the studios thought.  To hear a samisen or a koto in the middle of a film, even a pure jindai-geki would be confusing or even offensive as it would evoke the other theatrical arts and their established reliance on such instruments.  As in many aspects of Japanese film, Kurosawa was an exception; especially in his jindai-geki classics.  But even he more-or-less believed in the separation between the traditional theater and film–he just consciously brought films like Throne of Blood closer to the Noh style and exploited that dissonance to dramatic effect.  As usual, Donald Richie said it first and best (Anderson and Richie, p. 343):

No matter how exotic the style and action of period-films appear to Western audiences, to the Japanese this film style is a part of the realist tradition that was adapted from the West and therefore has only the slightest of connections with the classic Japanese drama.  Because so much Japanese classical music exists only in relation to the classic drama, the use of this music in films would present a severe stylistic clash.  The music is identified with classical acting but the acting on the screen is not.

Next time, the benshi.  Some strange facts about the not-so-silent side of Japanese silent cinema.

Amazon link to “The Japanese Film: Art and Industry (Expanded Edition)”

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