Wesleyan University

Ryan Cook "A New Urban Uncanny in Postwar Japanese Avant-Garde Film and Art" April 25, 2014


This talk will explore the golden years of Japanese horror cinema in the postwar years, before the horror film boom of the 1990s, in relation to the flourishing avant-garde of the era. The 1990s horror boom in Japan, accompanied by parallel developments in Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand, can be seen in many cases as a product of the urban environment. Ghost stories explored city spaces haunted by memory - often neighborhoods or buildings in decline, if not already in ruins. The city these films encountered was a global city in recession, and globalization itself was arguably a subject of the most globally representative film of the group: Ringu. The case was different the last time that horror films (or "kaiki eiga") flourished in the Japanese cinema, during the heyday of the postwar studio system. Postwar kaiki films often drew on the Edo period repertoire of tales set in the countryside, or along the roads leading in and out of the early modern capital. These films were made during a period of intense urbanization, rebuilding and growth, and inherited the attitude of a modern city that had banished ghosts from its gates. By the 1960s, and in the midst of Japan?s high growth period, it was arguably the films and art of the avant-garde that most actively engaged with the lived space of the metamorphosing city, and in the process salvaged alleyways, side streets, plazas and "underground" rooms in which an often strange and monstrous environment encroached upon the official geography of "prosperity." This talk will trace the outlines of that uncanny postwar city imagined by experimental artists.

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