Among Asian countries—where until recently documentary filmmaking was largely the domain of central governments—Japan was exceptional for the vigor of its nonfiction film industry.
Among Asian countries—where until recently documentary filmmaking was largely the domain of central governments—Japan was exceptional for the vigor of its nonfiction film industry. And yet, for all its aesthetic, historical, and political interest, the Japanese documentary remains little known and largely unstudied outside of Japan. This is the first English-language study of the subject, and originally my dissertation.
Beginning with films made by foreigners in the nineteenth century and concluding with the first two films made after Japan’s surrender in 1945, I move from a “prehistory of the documentary,” through innovations of the proletarian film movement, to the hardening of style and conventions that started with the Manchurian Incident films and continued through the Pacific War. Drawing on a wide variety of archival sources—including Japanese studio records, secret police reports, government memos, letters, military tribunal testimonies, and more—I chart shift in documentary style against developments in the history of modern Japan.
Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).Read the Book
Very deftly Markus Nornes balances historical discourse and contextual analysis. His readings are brilliant. This book breaks new ground in charting the development of Japanese documentaries in the prewar and Occupation eras. This is the first comprehensive study of this subject in English.
Nornes’s book not only makes a valuable contribution to the study of international documentary film, but also to understanding the ambiguous work of such fiction filmmakers as Mizoguchi, Ozu, and Kurosawa during the war. Japanese Documentary Film is of major importance for Japanese and documentary studies but its significance is not limited to specialists. The issues raised here are important for all of film and cultural studies.
Ultimately, Japanese Documentary Film is useful in de-centering the Euro-American discursive enshrinement of non-fiction film history that discounts the existence of Japanese filmmakers and critics. Nornes’s creative treatment of actuality illucidates the lively and surprising history of an amazingly productive and innovative cinema./p>