The point of departure when putting together this yearʼs Retrospective was the publication "The Aesthetics of Shadow. Lighting and Japanese Cinema" by Daisuke Miyao, Associate Professor at the University of Oregon. What fascinated you about his research on Japanese film history, and how did you collaborate?
Daisuke Miyao is interested in cinematic light and investigates Japanese film history from an aesthetic point of view. For him, lighting design is also part of Japanese cultural history, and he describes it as a phenomenon that has its origins in Japanese society. At the same time, he points out a number of connections to American and European cinema.
In discussions with our colleagues from the MoMA in New York, we pursued the connections drawn by Miyao further in order to develop this yearʼs Retrospective together. What happens when lighting is no longer a preexisting condition, when technology allows film artists to intentionally model the set and characters to their specifications? We pose this question when looking at certain genres and from various thematic angles, and at the same time, we want to highlight the complex, reciprocal nature of influences on a transnational level.
Our selection of films is an opportunity for audiences to view them from a very specific angle – an opportunity based on the sensitivity of the viewer, and one that will hopefully allow a fresh viewing experience.
Skilfull Production through the Use of Light
"Bright and cheerful Shochiku cinema" was the slogan in the 1920s for the Japanese film studio Shochiku, one of the oldest film studios worldwide. With this slogan in mind, what was the lighting style typical to early Japanese film? And how did it come about that Shochiku invited Japanese filmmaker Henry Kotani, then living in the US, to modernise filmmaking with lighting effects and reflectors?
In the 1910s and early 1920s, a kind of mainstream-lighting was prevalent both in Hollywood and in Japan. According to Miyao, production in early Japanese film was always oriented toward the traditions of the Kabuki theatre. Regarding light, this meant equal lighting across the entire stage and the eschewing of shadow, to a large extent. The three-point lighting developed in Hollywood was also practiced in Japan in the 1920s. And there were attempts to break away from that using more expressive lighting styles in both countries – not only in the duality of light and shadow, but in every form of intentional atmosphere creation using light.