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Rising Sun, Divided LandJapanese and South Korean Filmmakers$

Kate Taylor-Jones

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780231165853

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231165853.001.0001

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Cinematic Japan and Korea

Cinematic Japan and Korea

A Long and Turbulent History

(p.10) Cinematic Japan and Korea
Rising Sun, Divided Land

Kate E. Taylor-Jones

Columbia University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the historical development of cinema in Japan and Korea. In Japan, Shiro Asano imported the first motion picture camera in 1897 and the medium was quickly embraced by the whole population and over the next decade became a popular method of entertainment. The first cinema was opened in 1903 and the first Japanese production company was established in 1908. In Korea, cinema was first introduced to the general public in 1903. The Korean film industry, however, had a difficult start and it struggled to emerge from under the control of the Japanese. As a result the first Korean film was not actually produced until 1919.

Keywords:   Japan, Korea, cinematic history, cinema, Japanese films, Korean films

  • They said, you’re Japanese.
  • They said, stop being Korean.
  • I came by boat.
  • When raising my children
  • I wore a Kimono.
  • To rent a house
  • I wore a kimono.
  • I put my chŏgori.
  • Away in the dresser.
  • I will give my fingerprints
  • For alien registration.
  • I’ll make my children give theirs.
  • But,
  • I don’t want to make my grandchildren give theirs’

– ‘On Fingerprinting’ by Mun Kon-bun (quoted in Ryang 2002)

This opening poem was written by zainichi (Japanese-Korean) female poet Mun Kon-bun. In this simple but effective musing she vocalises many of the issues facing people of zainichi descent living in contemporary Japan. Ethnic Koreans make up the biggest immigrant community in Japan and these communities, particularly those located around Osaka, have been in Japan for many decades. (p.11) They continue, however, to frequently suffer economic, social and educational exclusion in the country that has been their home for several generations. The presence of the current zainichi community in Japan is a legacy of the tumultuous events that took place at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the same time as Europe fought on the fields of France and Belgium in the first ‘modern’ war, Japan was consolidating its hold on Korea, a nation it had invaded in 1910. The modern era had been proclaimed around the world: transport, economics, culture and ideology could now reach a global audience. Just before the beginning of this new modern century the Lumière brothers first film, Employees leaving the Lumière factory/La Sortie des usines Lumière (1895) had heralded the beginning of what has become a fantastically popular, often highly politicised, global phenomenon, namely cinema.

Cinema quickly travelled around the world and has become one of the most popular and enduring modern art and entertainment forms. In Japan, Shiro Asano imported the first motion picture camera in 1897 and the medium was quickly embraced by the whole population and over the next decade became a popular method of entertainment. 1903 saw the opening of the first cinema and 1908 witnessed the creation of the first Japanese production company. Like many national cinemas Japanese film was deeply indebted to the legacy of the theatrical arts and, as Donald Ritchie states, initially the Japanese audiences indeed saw cinema as ‘a new form of theatre’ (2005: 22). Kabuki and shimpa (new style) theatre traditions greatly influenced early Japanese cinema in terms of form, narrative and acting styles. Realism was secondary to style and the theatre traditions maintained a strong hold on cinema for a couple of decades in the fixed position of the camera, the use of male performers in female roles and the traditional narratives. As Keiko McDonald states during this period, ‘the three definitive characteristics of Japanese cinema are its use of onnagata (female impersonators), benshi (commentators) and centre-front long shots following strict continuity’ (2006: 2). Cinema quickly divided into two distinct genres: jidai-geki (period drama) and gendai-geki (new or contemporary drama)1 and the 1910s saw a huge expansion of the Japanese film industry. Two large production giants, Nikkatsu and Tenkatsu, had began to imitate the vertically integrated production model of their American rivals and a vibrant star system developed with fans able to follow the exploits of their favourite stars such as Matsunosuke Onoe in the new raft of film magazines that appeared at this time. By the 1920s the call for more realistic acting styles, modern narratives and an increasing focus (p.12) on cinema as an art form in its own right, separate from theatre, saw the industry transform even further. The ‘pure film movement’ (jun’eigageki undō) originated around 1910 (see Bernardi 2001) and would be enhanced and developed further into the 1920s with the founding of two studios, Shōchiku and Taikatsu. Those who believed in the focus on ‘pure film’ were determined that cinema should move away from the theatrical traditions that had dominated since its conception and offer a new, formalised approach to cinematic storytelling. Heading this transformation was the newly established Shōchiku Company that, like its rivals, had copied the integrated American model. Editing techniques such as cross-cutting and parallel montage, taken from foreign directors such as D. W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation, 1915) and Sergei Eistenstein (Battleship Potemkin/Bronyenosyets Potyomkin, 1925) were embraced, and films such as The Enchanted Snake (Maji-nai no hebi, 1917) and Island Woman (Shima no Onna, 1920) broke with the tradition of female impersonation and actually starred a woman playing the female role (see Bernardi 2001, Macdonald 2006). Benefiting from the new wave of technicians trained overseas, films such as Kinugasa Teinosuke’s surrealist Page of Madness (Kurrutta ippeiji, 1926) opened up further debate about the potential of the cinematic image. At the end of the 1920s they had ‘created a style of filmmaking that gave the public a glimpse at a visually defined concept of modernism, later to be equated with “Americanism”, that had been adapted to meet the demands of the rapidly changing society’ (Standish 2005: 37).

Jidai-geki, or period film, of this silent era rapidly developed and the inclusion of more and more exciting action sequences saw the hero break free of the formalisation of Kabuki to reach new heights of popularity with cinema audiences. A subsection known as chambara, after the dramatic sword play sequences, with films such as Chūji’s Travel Diary (Chūji Jynuisada, 1925, Daisuke Itō), Streets of Masterless Samouri (Rōningai, 1928, Masahiro Makino) and The Serpent (Ocohi, 1925, Buntarō Futagawa) proved to be especially successful. By 1928 Japan produced more films annually than any other country and would continue to be one of the most prolific cinematic producers of the decade (see Ritchie and Schrader 2005: 44).

As the decade rolled on, Onnagata and then benshi saw their influence and use diminish. During the early days of cinema benshi, who provided the audience with narrative, meaning and ‘emotional overlay’ (Kirihara 1992: 61), had been popular stars in their own right. The new editing and narrative styles meant that they were no longer needed as an integral part of the film viewing as narrative (p.13) could be conveyed to the audience via other means. The legacy of their labour and pay disputes with the studios together with the coming of sound in the 1930s would see the once powerful benshi consigned to cinematic history.

The arrival of sound in the 1930s was ushered in with Gosho Heinosuke’s The Neighbours Wife and Mine (Madamu no nyōbō, 1931). Starring lead actress Tanaka Kinuyo, the film achieved huge acclaim and soon all the studios had embraced the new sound technology. Famous and iconic Japanese directors such as Ozu Yasujirō, Yamanaka Sadeo and Mizoguchi Kenji began to produce some of their most famous and remarkable works. Films from this period such as I was born but… (Umarete we mita keredo, 1932, Ozu), Humanity and Paper Balloons (Ninjō Kamifūsen, 1936, Yamanaka Sadao), Osaka Elegy (Naniwa Eriji, 1936, Mizoguchi) and Sisters of Gion (Gion no Kyōdi, 1936, Mizoguchi) remain cinematic classics to this day. A new player joined the cinema game and began to compete with Nikkatsu and Shōchiku in all film genres. Tōhō studios spurred the competition to provide films that appealed to all areas of the cinema market: slice-of-life realism, melodrama, shomin-geki (lower-middle-class dramas), literary adaptations, comedies, musicals and romantic tragedies were all seen by Japanese audiences and a few films even made it to the international market (see Okubō 2007).

The cinema of the 1930s also became increasingly marked by the dual narratives of nationalism and militarism that were sweeping the county. From the isolated state that American Commodore Perry had forced into international trade by threat of violence in 1854, a few decades of development had resulted in a Japan that was now a centralised state under the name and rule of the Emperor with a powerful navy, a modernised army and the beginnings of an industrialised economy. In tune with the empire building that marked that age, Japan quickly embarked on a series of military excursions and conflicts to expand the nation’s sphere of influence. The aims and reasons for this development have come under much scrutiny: most history books inside Japan support this expansion as the pre-emptive need to defend themselves against the ever-present threat of China and Western powers such as France, America and Britain that were seeking to expand their already considerable overseas territory. For those from outside the nation, particularly from countries that suffered under Japanese invasion and colonisation, it was not considered self-defence but rather the aggressive desire to establish Japan as the dominant cultural, economic and military force in the region.2

(p.14) As with all modern periods of political upheaval, cinema was seen as an important tool. In 1939 the Film Law was passed resulting in the film industry coming under the control of the Cabinet Propaganda Office. The 1940s would usher in a period of cinematic censorship and control, and films were rigidly assessed at all stages of development. Any sign of dissent from the official discourses of military glory, self-sacrificing nationalism, traditional family values and the exultation of the Emperor would result in the termination of production and, as the sad case of director Yamanaka Sadeo illustrated, a possible posting to a dangerous warzone.3 All production companies, including Nikkatsu, were split into two huge structures: Tōhō and Shōchiku respectively. National Policy films (Kokusaku Eiga) were designed specifically to offer the audience the ‘correct’ vision of Japan and the Japanese people. Naruse’s The Whole Family Works (Kararaku ikka, 1939) showed an entire family contributing to the work which is required on the ‘home front’. (Japan had been at war with China since 1937 and after Pearl Harbor Japan entered World War II.)

Films such as The Sea War from Hawaii to Malaya (Hawai-Marei Oki Kaisen, 1942, Yamanoto Kajirō) and Our Planes Fly South (Aiki Minami Tobu, 1943, Sasaki Yasushi) show both the spirit of nationalism and self-sacrifice that all people were been called upon to offer. They both feature mothers actively encouraging their sons to participate in and die for the Japanese war effort. Young men were encouraged to engage with the war by their mothers and there were a series of feature films dedicated to the heroics of the Japanese soldiers on the front line. Mud and Soldiers (Tsuchi to heirai, 1938, Tomotaka Taska), Chocolate and Soldiers (Chocolate to heitai, 1938, Sato Takeshi), The Story of Tank Commander Nisihizumi (Nishizumi senshachō-den 1940, Yoshimura Kōzaburō) and Navy (Kaigum, 1943, Tomotaka Taska) all offer a vision of the noble, obedient and honourable Japanese army fighting to defend the Emperor and Japan. This period, however, would soon draw to a close. In 1945, after extensive military losses, the fire bombings of Japanese cities and then the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered to the Allies. The subsequent American occupation and the several previous years of warfare had resulted in the destruction of a huge amount of early Japanese cinema. Yet the 1950s and the subsequent decades would see the recreation and revival of Japanese cinema and the radical development of the nation, on all fronts.

Across the Sea of Japan, the 1945 defeat heralded a new beginning for another cinema, that of Korea. Korea had suffered the dubious honour of being (p.15) one of the first territories that had caught the attention of Japan in its colonial march. Korea had always been a country that had suffered as a result of powerful neighbours. Since the beginning of East Asian civilisation, the mixing of cultures from China through Korea to Japan was well established. Trade, arts, culture, food and people moved throughout the regions and the individual nations were often engaged in trade and territory disputes. Gradually, over several centuries, distinct countries were born and Korea as a unified entity came into being in the year 918 with the Goryeo dynasty (the English name of Korea derives from this). Despite invasion attempts by the Mongolian empire in the thirteenth century and Japanese invasion in the sixteenth century, Korea managed to maintain its independence and unique culture, language and writing system, although it kept a close link with Qing China as a tributary state. All this changed in the late nineteenth century when the struggles for influence in the region saw many international eyes turn to Korea as a strategic point for East Asia. Its central location and numerous seaports made it a vital part of any campaign to control the wider region. Japan initially sought to transform Korea into a satellite state, in part to act as a buffer against China. This process saw the signing of the unequal treaty of Ganghwa which came into being on 27 February 1876 and was highly reminiscent of the treaty forced on Japan by Commodore Perry a few decades earlier. Korea was forcibly opened up to Japanese and international trade and was made to declare its independence from China in foreign relations. The treaty marked the beginning of a power struggle for Korean domination. Although China by this point was weakening as a power, it made consistent attempts to maintain influence over Korea that through a complex and involved process of uprisings, rebellions and protests, resulted in the first Sino-Japanese war. This ended on 28 July 1894 with Japanese troops entering Seoul and from 1910 onwards Korea was an official Japanese colony.

Although there had been a private screening of the new cinematic equipment for the court in 1897, cinema was introduced to the general Korean public in 1903. The Korean film industry, however, had a difficult start and it struggled to emerge from under the control of the Japanese. As a result the first Korean film was not actually produced until 1919. A Righteous Revenge (Uirikŏk Kut’u, 1919, Kim Tosan) is generally accepted to be the first film although there have been some spirited debates on the validity of this fact (see Lee 2000: 19). In the early part of the century (roughly 1910 to 1920) the Korean film market was dominated by Western and Japanese imports. Commercial theatres flourished, (p.16) although they were often divided into cinemas for the Japanese and cinemas for the Koreans (see Lee 2000: 21). Despite the difficult circumstances the 1920s saw the production of some Korean films with a decidedly nationalist flavour. The most notable is Arirang (1926, Na Un’gyu). This film, whose title comes from a Korean folk song, offered clear anti-Japanese sentiments and helped to provoke a national interest in Korean independence and a national cinema. The Korea Art Proletarian Federation (KAPF) was a group of young filmmakers who were at the forefront of the ‘tendency film’ genre that was generally anti-government and pro-labourer (Lee 2000: 28). Any film that went against the Japanese discourse of obedience and unity went directly against the colonial rule and as a result by 1931 most members of KAPF were in jail and the burgeoning Korean film industry was being crushed to death by the might of the colonial machine.

The fragile industry was fighting a losing battle from before the first Korean film was ever made. The Japanese were well aware of the power of film and in 1920 the colonial government established a motion picture section that would produce propaganda films for general consumption. In 1922 the Entertainment and Theatres Regulations Act started the process of strictly censoring any film shown in Korea. Western cinematic imports and Korean films were all closely monitored for any dissent or criticism of Japan and the Japanese policies in Korea. The censorship regulations were strengthened and tightened over the next couple of decades and by 1940 the Chosŏn Film Regulations came into force. Korean companies were forced to create pro-Japanese products and fines and possible imprisonment would follow if this was disobeyed. The government controlled all aspects of the cinema from the production and financing to distribution and exhibition. In 1942 the Chosŏn Film Production Company was founded and revoked the licences of all Korean production companies. Films would now only be made in Korea by the Japanese and they were very clear about the messages that they wanted to be given to the Korean population. The Korean Language Prohibition Law came into force in 1938 and forbade the screening of any Korean-language film, and enforced the compulsory usage of Japanese in schools and official situations. Sound had arrived in Korean cinema in 1935 but it would be rare (and technically illegal) to hear Korean on the cinema screen. There was a concerted effort to ‘eradicate “indigenous lifestyles” and make people more “useful and eficient”, including campaigns for short hair on men, wearing coloured clothes (as opposed to traditional white Korean dress), and saving money’ (Moon 2005: 22). The colonial film board would make sure (p.17) that all of these aims would be reflected in cinema and pro-Japanese films such as The Volunteer (Chiwŏnbyŏng, 1941, Pak Yŏnghŭi) rendered the colonial government’s desire to ‘remould Koreans into colonial subjects of Japan’ cinematically (ibid.). The Volunteer is the tale of a young Korean man who is desperate to join the Japanese army and fight for the Japanese Empire overseas. He studies Japanese with due care and attention and speaks passionately about how he sees Japanese colonial rule as a positive and important step in Korean development. With the support of his mother and fiancée, eventually his dreams come true and he departs for military training as his family and friends wave Japanese and Korean flags in celebration. Mr. Soldier (Byeongjeongnim, 1944, Baek Un-haeng) focused on drafted Korean military recruits as they learn how to conform to Japanese army standards. The army is seen to offer the young Korean men purpose, discipline and development and they happily go off to the front to fight for the glory of the Japanese nation. Made at the height of the Korean-language prohibition laws there is no Korean spoken throughout the film and the clear theme of the film is the ‘benefits’ that the Korean populace are receiving by being part of Japan. There is little information about how such propagandistic films such as these were received by Korean audiences but one thing was certain: the Korean national film industry would never succeed under Japanese rule.

1945 saw Japan defeated and enter into a period of US occupation which lasted until 1952. Cinema under the Americans was closely controlled. They established the Civil Information and Educational Section (CIE) on 22 September 1945 only a month after entering Japan, emphasising just how powerful a tool cinema was seen to be in the occupation ethos. CIE films, in a similar fashion to their earlier Kokusaku Eiga counterparts, exalted the beliefs and opinions that the occupiers believed the new and peaceful Japan needed to embrace. For Japan to participate in international society the Japanese people must be made to understand ‘the basic political ideals of law and democratic representative government, respect for the individual, respect for national sovereignty and the spirit of self-government. The entertainment media and the press should all be used to teach these ideals’ (Hirano 1992: 38).

Films demonstrated to the Japanese people the apparent pleasures of democracy compared to the older system of imperial rule and the American lifestyle was presented as a model of success and happiness. In terms of older cinema, the occupiers destroyed over 230 films from the wartime period that were ‘deemed to be dangerous relics of the military era’ (Hiroshi Komatsu in (p.18) Nowell-Smith 1997: 421). The occupation government issued an edict stating thirteen areas for which films were forbidden to show approval. Films would be prohibited if they were deemed to offer, ‘approval of suicide either directly or indirectly’, were ‘anti-democratic’, ‘chauvinistic and anti-foreign’ or ‘nationalistic’ (Hirano 1992: 44–5). One of the key points the occupiers wished to convey was the new standing of women. In 1946 women were allowed to vote for the first time and the most important element in terms of gender relations, the 1947 Japanese constitution contained the forbiddance of ‘discrimination in political, economic, or social relations because of creed, race, sex, social status or family origin’ (direct quote from Article 14 of the Constitution). Films such as No Regret for Youth (Waga Seishun ni Kuniashi, 1946, Kurosawa Akira), Victory of Women (Josei no Shōri, 1946, Mizoguchi Kinji) and Morning of the Ōsone Family (Ōsonneke no ashinta, 1946, Kinoshita Keisuke) all offered visions of strong independent women fighting against the odds. Despite this, as will be examined in closer detail in the chapter on Kawase Naomi, women remained marginalised in all aspects of society especially film production.

Two elements that the CIE were particularly concerned about was the portrayal of ‘revenge as a legitimate motive’ or ‘feudal loyalty or contempt of life as honourable or desirable’. With this in mind, the occupiers took particular offence with regards to the average filmic representative of the jidai-geki genre. The use of swords in films such as the classic tale of Chūshingura (The Loyal 47 Ronin), were seen as being against the ideals that the occupation government wanted the Japanese people to embrace and for the duration of the occupation this genre suffered.

Despite these restrictions cinema in this period flourished. The major studios competed on all fronts and this competition resulted in a large number of films getting made. Cinema continued to be a hugely popular pastime as it presented an ideal method of escape from the harsh reality of occupied Japan. Despite problems such as strikes, ideological disputes and financial turmoil inside the production companies, cinema continued to boom and the studios flooded the market with comedies, musicals and haha-mono (mother) melodramas. These genres did not contravene any of the occupation government’s concerns and managed to provide people with a few hours away from the hardship of postwar Japan.

The end of the occupation in 1951 heralded the beginning of the ‘Golden Age’ of Japanese cinema. The mid-1950s saw 19 million cinema tickets per week (p.19) being sold in Japan (see Thompson and Bordwell 1994: 462), and by 1959 there were over 7,400 cinemas in Japan with a record-breaking peak of over a billion cinema admissions in 1958 (see Ritchie and Schrader 2005: 177). A number of the most illustrious names in Japanese cinema made some of their best and most enduring works during this period. Kurosawa impressed international audiences with Rashamon in 1950, followed by notable successes such as Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai, 1954), Throne of Blood (Kumonosujō, 1958) and Yojimbo (1960). Mizoguchi received a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for Sansho the Bailiff (Sanshō Dayū, 1954) and just two years earlier his classic The Life of Oharu (Saikaku Nichidai Onna, 1952) had seen him share the award with John Ford. Ozu delighted domestic audiences with Late Spring (Banshun, 1949), Early Summer (Bakuchū, 1951) and Tokyo Story (Tōkyō Monogatari, 1953) and his films from this period are deemed to be the best examples of his quietly emotional directorial style. Kinoshita Keisuke’s Carmen Comes Home (Karumen Kokyō kaeru, 1951) and A Japanese Tragedy (Nihon no Higeki 1953) gained him popularity and his anti-war sentimental melodrama Twenty-Four Eyes (nijū shi no hitomi, 1954) has continually been voted Japan’s favourite film. Naruse Mikio, Ichikawa Kon and Gosho Heinosuke were also directors who achieved fame during this period. The five major studios (Tōhō, Shin-tōhō, Daiei, Shōshiku and Tōei) presented the audience with a seemingly never-ending supply of melodramas, kaidan (ghost stories), shomingeki (lower-class) drama, musicals, haha-monos and comedies. Free from the occupation edicts jidai-geki experienced a come-back and 1954 Honda Ishiro presented the enduring icon of Godzilla (Gojira) to the world.

The 1950s had not been as kind to Korean cinema. The end of Japanese colonisation had not heralded freedom for the small nation. The period immediately following the Japanese defeat saw the Korean peninsula become a divided and occupied territory, the Americans below the 38th parallel and Russian influence and military activity above. There was limited film stock in the country and most of the films that were shown in South Korea during this time were American imports. The Korean filmmakers were generally divided into those who supported the anti-communist military government and those that leaned towards supporting the Communist North. Many of the latter would later defect to North Korea in the early part of the 1950s. The American military government abolished the Chosŏn Film Regulations but then replaced them with some of their own. Censorship continued but the Korean film industry did try to establish itself in its own right. Colour arrived in the cinema and Hong Sŏnggi’s The Women (p.20) Diary (Yŏsŏng Llgi) became the first Korean colour film in 1949. There were some Korean commercial successes from this period, most notably Hurray! For Freedom (Chayu Manse, Ch’oe In’gyu, 1946) whose anti-colonial, anti-Japanese and highly nationalistic approach delighted the audiences. Any developments the film industry had made, however, would soon be obliterated by the Korean War.

Starting in 1950 and continuing for three years the Korean War left no person or part of the country untouched. The Communist and anti-imperialist North supported by the Chinese and the Russians faced the rabidly anti-communist American and South Korean army. Families were divided, cities were razed and the conflict was used by ‘both regimes in the North and South to eliminate their political enemies and strengthen their political bases’ (Lee 2000: 103). An armistice between the two sides was declared in 1953 and thirteen centuries of a united Korea was ended with the division of the nation, very much in place to this day.4 Bruce Cummings notes that the South Korea of the 1950s was ‘a terrible depressing place, where extreme privation and degradation touched everyone: cadres of orphans ran through the streets … beggars with every affliction or war injury … half-ton trucks full of pathetic women careered onto military bases’ (1997: 303). The war had destroyed nearly all South Korean filmmaking equipment and a huge proportion of the early Korean cinema. The cinema would need to start practically from the beginning and by the mid-1950s South Korean cinema was attempting to totally rebuild itself.

A series of measures were put in place to try and aid the industry. In order to compete with the American products that were imported into South Korea, South Korean films were exempt from tax in an effort to revitalise the film industry. These methods succeeded and the Golden Age of South Korean film was born. This Golden Age, lasting from 1955 to 1972, saw Korean filmmakers produce a prolific volume of work that was as ‘historically, aesthetically, and politically significant as that of other well-known national film movements such as Italian Neorealism, French New Wave and New German Cinema’ (Ablemann and McHugh 2005: 2).5 This was the most productive and profitable period of Korean film to date. South Korea became one of the most active cinematic industries in Asia with over 200 films a year being produced from1968 and 1971 (see Kim 2002: 25). Cinema attendance was at a record high and domestic films were produced in remarkable numbers. Films such as Madame Freedom (Chayu puin, 1956, Hyeong-mo Han), A Stray Bullet (Abalt’an, 1960, Hyun Mok Yoo) and (p.21) The Housemaid (Hanyō, 1960, Kim Ki-young) achieved huge levels of popular success.

During the 1960s Japan was beginning to consider in greater depth and with a new critical insight Japanese development since World War II. This will be examined in greater depth in the chapter on Fukasaku Kinji but it is important to note here that concurrent with the stream of popular studio-based genre films, the 1960s also saw directors who began to call for a new type of film that could challenge generic structures and aesthetics. The Japanese nūberu bāgu, or ‘new wave’, personified by directors such as Hami Susumu, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Masumura Yasuzō, Shinoda Masahiro, Oshima Nagisa and Imamura Shōhei began to demand more artistic licence from the rigid structures of the studio system. They broke stylistically and politically with their predecessors and offered challenging and unique films such as Cruel Story of Youth (Seishen Zankoku Monogatari, 1960, Oshima Nagisa), Gates of Flesh (Nikutai no Mon, 1964, Suzuki Seijun) and Double Suicide (Shinjū Tneno Amijima, 1969, Shinoda Masahiro). Films such as these offered a nihilistic, angry, unsentimental vision of post-war Japan – a ‘counterculture repudiation of both militarism and humanism’ (Nygren 2007: 17). Many films of the ‘new wave’ focused on those marginalised by this new and modern Japan. Women, prostitutes, the mentally ill and members of the various subcultures that began to spring up in the ‘new Japan’ were all examined. The noble army officer was no longer the hero and now films were focused on the anti-hero; often violent and tortured individuals who were unable to connect fully with the world around them. Standish notes that the characters from the 1950s to early 1960s films are often marked by a desire to rebel and this rebellion ‘marks the point of departure on the hero’s quest for an authentic identity, which will lead him to an alternative society and sense of connectedness based on homo-social structures’ (2005: 293). A new generation was emerging that felt disconnected from the traditional structures and ideals of that nation, and cinema became a method through which they began to express their dissatisfaction.

Since the 1970s there have been huge changes in the cinemas of both Japan and South Korea. The 1970s and early 1980s saw Japanese cinema struggle in the face of the arrival of mass-marketed television and declining ticket sales. By the 1970s a number of prominent studios had collapsed or had turned to the production of soft porn. Known as Pinku Eiga, or pink film, these low-budget sex narratives accounted for forty per cent of domestic production by 1965 (see Standish 2000: 268) and this trend would continue into the 1970s. Despite the (p.22) downturn, Japan still remained one of the key producers of cinema throughout the 1980s. It was during that decade that feature-length animation pictures based on Japanese comic books (Manga) emerged. Although animation had been domestically popular in Japan since the 1940s with propaganda films such as Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei (1945, Mitsuyo Seo) being greeted with great enthusiasm by Japanese audiences, films such as Nauisica of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika, 1984, Miyazaki Hayeo) and Akira (Otomo Katsuhiro, 1988) became popular on a global scale. Since then Studio Ghibli has achieved critical and popular success world-wide with film such as Howls Moving Castle and Spirited Away.

V-Cinema (straight to video) would transform the production and distribution of low-budget cinema by directors such as Miike Takashi and the tremendous success of Japanese horror films, exemplified by the work of Hideo Nakata, which, together with the critical success of films by directors such as Kore-eda Hirozaku and Kitano Takeshi, has resulted in Japanese cinema maintaining its place on the national and international market. In South Korea the legacy of the war lived on and, as will be examined in the chapter on Im Kwon-taek, South Korean cinema would struggle under decades of military dictatorship. It would be only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that South Korean cinema would come to global attention. Despite the economic crisis that hit East Asia in 1997 South Korean cinema would grow from strength to strength, as this book will explore in relation to four of the directors who have contributed to the critical and popular recognition of South Korean film. The relationship between Japan and South Korea has also undergone some subtle changes in the last few years. The legacy of the events of the Japanese occupation and World War II continue to mark the interaction between the two nations as the conflict regarding comfort women illustrates. What has taken place is, however, ‘the entry of Japanese popular culture into Korea but to an even greater degree the advent of Korean popular culture into Japan’ (Chua et al. 2008: 251). The success of Japanese television shows, music and art in South Korea has in turn led to South Korean culture and cultural products gaining unprecedented admiration in Japan. Although both nations maintain unique identities and still continue to struggle to resolve their past experiences on a socio-political level, the interaction between the two nations on a media/cultural level has never been so strong.

The next two chapters will offer an examination of the Japanese director Fukasaku Kinji and South Korean cinematic stalwart Im Kwan-taek. They both (p.23) began working in the 1950s and their careers highlight many of the important developments in their respective film industries since that time. Through the chapters on the individual directors, together with the work of the respective individuals, the history and background of the South Korean and Japanese film industries will be explored further.

At this stage perhaps it is appropriate to just say a few further words about North Korean cinema. This isolated, mysterious and extremely secretive nation is one of the last bastions of radical communist thought and as a result there is comparatively limited information about this country or its people. Whilst it remains a relatively unknown cinema, for those interested, Hyangjin Lee’s excellent overview of Korean cinema provides several interesting insights into North Korean cinema. He states that there are three major genres that can be seen: ‘films on the revolutionary tradition of class struggle’, ‘films on the Korean war and unification’ and ‘films on the development of the socialist economy’ (2000: 42–4). As with the cinema of Soviet Russia, the cinema produced in North Korea is totally controlled by the state and seeks to enforce the dominant ideology of the regime. Whilst South Korean cinema has gone from strength to strength in the last few decades, North Korea has made no notable contribution to cinematic history. This may change as the political and cultural situation of North Korea alters; however, the death of Kim Jong-il and the succession of his young son Kim Jong-un has not heralded an improvement in relations between North Korea and the wider world. Events such as public missile testing, the bombardment of Yeonpyeong and the sinking of ROKS ship Cheonan means that the state of the North Korean film industry has been ignored and it seems unlikely that North Korean directors will any day soon share the acclaim that is given to their southern counterparts.



(1) Although these terms are not without debate (see Thornton 2007), they serve as a general background structure and as the cinema in Japan developed into an established and vertically integrated industry they served to offer an easy way of classification.

(2) For more information on the cinema of this period see High 2003, Thornton 2007 and Baskett 2009.

(p.24) (3) Yamanaka Sadeo has been often cited as the father of the Japanese humanist film. His films often debunked national myths such as the Bushido code. In the era of military-based nationalism this was not appreciated and he was sent to the Chinese front and died there in 1938 (see Buehrer 1990).

(4) From this point on this book will only deal with the cinema of South Korea. There is a limited overview of North Korean cinema at the end of this chapter.

(5) Unlike theses other movements however, the Korean Golden Age has been neglected by English-Language scholarship with a few exceptions such as Abelmann and McHugh’s collection.