“In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, what level of meticulousness did he have to command, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things. You must also see the great films. You must read the great screenplays and study the film theories of the great directors.”
“Just like ordinary experience, except two inches off the ground. I knew it was made by someone who knew what life was about.”
Over the course of the three-week program, we touch on a range of thematic, stylistic, and aesthetic qualities of Japanese Cinema. In doing so, we also develop a technical understanding of the style and vocabulary of cinema, while simultaneously learning to recognize each film as a distinctive work of art. Along the way, we become better viewers of film and deeper thinkers about the cinematic art form.
Students may enroll in one, two, or all three of the seminar weeks. Each week presents a self-contained, individualized curriculum, and all three weeks taken together offer deep study into diverse facets of Japanese film. Participants are encouraged to view all movies before arriving on campus; copies of the films and a suitable viewing area are also provided by the college for students’ use before each class. If you need assistance viewing the films prior to arrival on campus, please contact Summer Classics at santafe.classics(at)sjc.edu.
Films are screened mornings and evenings. One afternoon session daily: 2–4 p.m. MDT.
Krishnan Venkatesh and Ron Wilson
2–4 p.m. MDT
July 11–15, 2022
During this week we study three samurai classics by the great Japanese director Kurosawa: Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), Sanjuro (1962). Although Kurosawa’s work ranged broadly among genres, he is best known for his vision of the samurai, usually embodied by the actor Toshiro Mifune. These films are all rich, poetic meditations on what it is to act in this difficult world, on how to live and how to die. Unforgettable for their action sequences, which are poetry in motion, these films are also of tremendous visual beauty and subtlety, while dripping with sardonic humor. The first three sessions are devoted to the epic Seven Samurai, and in the remaining two we study the shorter, somewhat quieter Yojimbo and Sanjuro. One big theme is the nature of the samurai—but not as a youthful ideal, for Kusosawa’s samurai is a world-weary, disillusioned older man with few ideals left. What is a hero without illusions?
David Carl and Krishnan Venkatesh
2–4 p.m. MDT
July 18–22, 2022
In the second week of our course on the history of Japanese cinema, we study three of the most influential films in one of Japan’s most influential film genres: horror. Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1965) is based on 19th-century Japanese folk tales. The four tales that comprise this film examine different aspects of the role of horror and fantasy in Japanese traditional and popular culture, encompassing the erotic, the family, and a range of social and power relations. Set in the 14th century during a historic period of civil war in Japan, Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) is a horror film that chronicles the impact of war on individuals and the relationship between love and both the real and fantastical horrors of violence in wartime. At the end of the week, we move from these classic examples of Japanese cinema that helped define the horror movie genre to Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998), a film that explores the end-of-the-century anxiety around media and technology. Combining elements of Japanese pop culture with the country’s rich history of ghost stories, Ringu helped reinvent the notion of cinematic horror and inspired a series of North American remakes and sequels that are still shaping and influencing our understanding of “scary movies” today.
Aparna Ravilochan and Krishnan Venkatesh
2–4 p.m. MDT
July 25–29, 2022
Although Kurosawa and Mizoguchi may be the best-known of the great Japanese directors, Ozu was the greatest—not only for his exquisite and understated visual sensibility and his carefully crafted stories but, above all, for his insight into familial relationships and his wisdom about the human soul throughout the stages of the life cycle. He is like an older, more contemplative version of Jane Austen, able to understand deeply both the very young and the very old, not only the marriageable. Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) is frequently named among the three greatest films of all time. In this session we study Tokyo Story, Late Spring (1949), and the enchanting silent comedy I Was Born, But … (1932). Our approach is to see the film, not just the story, and in the process become more skilled and sensitive watchers of film. We attend to some of the technical aspects, constantly asking how the films move us as films. Most importantly, we take a rare opportunity to study one of the 20th century’s greatest (and wisest) artists, one who quickly becomes a lifelong companion.
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