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Tadao Sato is an authority on Japanese cinema and somewhat of an intellectual outsider in Japan. The translator’s (Gregory Barrett) introduction to his fascinating book, Currents in Japanese Cinema (1982), says that he never went to college and began writing when he was working for the phone company. Most of the essays are from his first book, The Intellectual History of Japanese Film (Nihon eiga shiso-shi). Thus, he doesn’t have the baggage that most Japanese intellectuals have who have written about film. He has more of a common man approach to film. However, it is noted that he is progressive and critical of feudalism. This means he has an ambivalent attitude toward the traditional culture of Japan.The first chapter Sato explains the origins of the two types of leading men in Japanese cinema that originated in Kabuki (and alter perpetuated in shimpa dramas): tateyaku and nimaime. Sato describes the tateyaku as characters that are noble, idealized samurai. However, because these men were steeped in Confucian morals which placed no value on romantic love-they put their loyalties to their lord above those of any woman. Sato cites Toshiro Mifune as an example of this type of leading man. The second type of lead nimaime is described as being handsome and strong and pure in heart, but not necessarily clever. Often this type of character gave the impression of being frail and helpless. Sato discusses these types through time and suggests that Tatsuya Nakadai is an example of the fusion of the two types of leading man in his role in Masaki Obayashi’s The Human Condition as influenced by foreign films, which is the emphasis of the second chapter. In the third chapter, Sato discusses “Developments in the Period Drama Films.” This starts with the new heroes: the nihilistic hero, the free spirit hero, and Musashi Miyamoto. Then he goes onto discuss bushido and modern yakuza films. In chapter four he discusses film heroines: their occupations, the unfortunate woman, beautiful women, women and karma, as well as women and freedom. “Japanese War Films” are the focus of chapter five: “”National Policy Films” that were required during the war effort and after defeat, “The Postwar ‘Conversion.’” Sato focuses on Akira Kuroswawa’s films in chapter six, “The Meaning of Life in Kurosawa’s Films.” The following chapter, seven, focuses on ”The Family”: “Kurosawa’s Fathers,” “Ozu’s Fathers,” and “The ‘Home Drama’ Genre.” Chapter eight looks at “The Villain”: “The Change In His Image” and “Transfigurations Of Evil.” A discussion of “Cinematic Techniques” is the focus of chapter nine. So naturally Sato begins with “Mizoguchi,” then “Ozu,” and “Eye Behavior In The Films of Ozu and Naruse.” Sato looks at “American-Japanese Relations in Film” in Chapter 10: the two themes are “The Bomb” and “The Rashmen Genre,” (rashmen is a derogatory term applied to Japanese women who become the mistress of a Westerner). “The book ends with chapter 11: “Developments in the 1960s” and chapter 12: “Developments in the 70s.” In chapter 11 he discusses “The Background: Hani and Masumura,” “The Rebel and the Criminal: Oshima,” “Evanescence And Humor: Suzuki,” “Sex And Violence” and ends with “Cinematic Guerrillas.” The book includes two useful Appendixes, I: “A Chronology”-with important event sin Japanese cinema highlighted throughout the years and II: “An Interpretive Biography”-in which translator Barrett highlights important events in Sato’s life that reflect his views on Japan and cinema in light of his political thoughts and other events in life that influenced his thinking.Sato is particularly valuable because of his extensive knowledge of Japanese, culture, history and films in general. He makes many interesting insights into the films of leading Japanese directors. I believe he was one of the early supporters of Seijun Suzuki as well. It’s a pity more of his writings have not been translated into English, I found his book on Mizoguchi also very informative and useful in understanding that director’s oeuvre.

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