The Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories

Today, I’m sitting in on the Permanent Seminar on Histories of Film Theories symposium, a research dissemination event bringing film scholars working in the field of East Asian cinema.

While I don’t speak the same academic language as many of the presenters, it’s enjoyable to be here and see so many people working diligently on a subject as obscure as East Asian cinematic history. It is fascinating to sit and listen to discussions of Japanese colonial cinema, the philosophy of Maeda Ai, and Chinese literary giant Lu Xun’s “amateur” analysis of an obscure Japanese writer’s 1941 work on Democracy and cinema. Wow.

As always, I am struck as the paucity of discussions of modern cinematic and artistic history. I remember when I was an undergrad, studying German literature and cinema, being frustrated by the seeming reluctance of academics to work with current literatures and cinemas. While it is certainly safe to work in spaces where philosophies and criticisms are recorded, accepted and preciously interpreted, academic thought cannot progress by resting forever on the laurels of Foucault, Derrida and what academic libraries are willing to provide shelf space for. Admittedly, this impression is entirely based on the limited number of presentations I have seen to this point and likely not fair to those whose work I am not so familiar with, but this impression is what sticks.

Orignally, I had intended to go to graduate school in the humanities, specifically in Japanese film studies. Life, of course, got in the way and things turned out differently. I am most satisfied with the ways things turned out, but I am happy to have a background in the humanities. I often question to utility of segregating academics into the disciplines, the borders between which are often artificial and created for reasons other than academics. I find that we have much to offer one another, though little opportunity to interact. For someone as intellectually schizophrenic (if that can be considered a positive) as myself, I think that’s a shame.

Tonight, Ozu’s Tokyo no Yado, a Japanese silent, will be shown to live musical accompaniment and dialogue performed by a practicing benshi. Before talkies, silent films in Japan were narrated live. Often the narrators (benshi) were more popular than the movies themselves. Kataoka Ichirou is one of 15 practicing benshi in Japan and is visiting Ann Arbor for the next six months. I had the opportunity to speak with him briefly last night. Hopefully I will be able to interview him before he leaves.

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About Peter Larson

Post-doctoral researcher at the University of Michigan School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology

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