In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Japanese Cinema

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Filmographies
  • Japanese-Language Resources and Translation
  • Film Theory
  • Cultural Context
  • Film History
  • Avant-Garde Film and Video
  • Documentary Film
  • Anime

Cinema and Media Studies Japanese Cinema
Scott Nygren
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0040


Japanese film became a major area of English-language film study in the 1960s, after the publication of Anderson and Richie’s groundbreaking work, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, in 1959 (see Anderson and Richie 1982, cited under Film History). Although Japanese cinema is one of the oldest continuous traditions of filmmaking in the world, with films by Japanese filmmakers dating back as early as 1898–1899, Japanese films were only rarely screened outside of Japan until after Kurosawa’s Rashomon won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. Before then, international cinema effectively included only Europe and the United States, and all other cinemas were restricted to regional exhibition. Afterward, other non-Western cinemas also gained international recognition and distribution. Accordingly, English-language study of Japanese film coincides with the recognition of non-Western cinemas as a crucial part of world cinema, marking a fundamental break with the Eurocentric model of the world that dominated cinema’s first half century. Over the last half century, a rich and diverse body of work has emerged both in topics and approaches. Japanese film has become a model in cinema studies for understanding film history outside the grand narrative of a Eurocentric tradition and has been a site for the emergence of innovative approaches to issues of cultural context and identity, the limits of language, the problem of missing films, and of modernization outside the West. Strategies continue to proliferate, with many new books and approaches appearing in the last decade. Moreover, some important books exist only in French or translation into French, and these are included below when no comparable text exists in English.


A few books are broad enough in their concerns, combining close analysis of individual films with a broad historical overview, to work well as introductory textbooks. Bock 1978 is now a historic text but remains excellent as a well-organized and conceived overview of key formative periods. Richie 1990 has been updated for introductory purposes, and Nolletti and Desser 1992 includes a broad range of approaches in an anthology. Phillips and Stringer 2007 offers contextual readings of major films as a contemporary introduction. Any course in Japanese film would be well advised to combine one of these books with others selected from Film History and Cultural Context.

  • Bock, Audie. Japanese Film Directors. New York: Kodansha, 1978.

    Studies of major directors grouped according to the East Asian convention of generations rather than by decades, from the prewar era through the 1960s.

  • Nolletti, Arthur, Jr., and David Desser, eds. Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

    An anthology of essays on multiple topics and related issues in Japanese film.

  • Phillips, Alistair, and Julian Stringer. Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Close readings of major films from the silent era to contemporary work, including such major directors as Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, Oshima, Suzuki, Kitano, and Miyazaki.

  • Richie, Donald.Japanese Cinema: An Introduction. Images of Asia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    A concise introduction to Japanese film, distilling many decades of Richie’s research in the field.

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