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The Aesthetics of Japanese Film

By replacing the term aesthetics with the term aesthetic consciousness, Iwamoto contemplates the tradition of aesthetic consciousness in Japan, and different ways in which reflection on beauty and expression of beauty are included in films, products of modern society. Aesthetic consciousness in Japan is expressed in either works of art or in customs and reflections on life. Both manifestations have changed throughout history, but old tastes do not disappear; together with the new one, they circulate deep in human consciousness. Apart from that, there is an undoubted influence of other Asian countries (especially China and Korea) on Japanese culture, which melted and preserved versatility of races and cultures.
Iwamoto distinguishes two parallel traditions from which Japanese culture and film draw their typical components. The Japanese aesthetic consciousness in high culture is expressed in categories of high-class, refinement, ephemerality and particular sense of beauty in choice of one’s own death. The other, anti-aesthetic consciousness manifests itself in the world of popular culture (in old paining genres manga and giga, traditional performance form rakugo, kabuki theatre etc). Practical mind-set of those popular forms chooses grotesque instead of high-class, ferocity instead of sensibility and stability instead of ephemerality. Anti-aesthetic consciousness satirizes traditional aesthetic consciousness and destroys it violently, and it is most obvious in Shohei Imamura’s films in which he concentrates on human vitality, showing, from a distance, power of life and insatiable yearning in trivial human comedies. Imamura is, at the same time (together with Kurosawa) a typical representative of ’film of outburst’ in contrast to ’film of suppression’ (Ozu, T. Kitano).
In the period of mass production (from 1920s to 1960s) Japanese films were divided into various genres, among which was historical costume drama jidai-geki, which expresses traditional aesthetic consciousness and visualizes the ancient way of life as a ’lost beauty’. That traditional moral and aesthetic consciousness have blossomed for a short period in a genre called yakuza. Nevertheless, the question remains open, what kind of aesthetic consciousness is expressed by contemporary Japanese film, from which the genres of jidai-geki and ninkyo/yakuza have disappeared.

Kenji Iwamoto

On Contemporary Japanese Film
Representation of Culture and Society in Japanese Film

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