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“Un-cinematic” and Clean: Japanese Film as Viewed by the 1920s Soviet Press

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Soviet film director Sergei Eisesnstein, formulated some of his most influential ideas in filmmaking through his study of traditional Japanese arts. His lifelong fascination with Japanese culture and its alleged disposition for montage generated a number of in-depth, thought-provoking investigations, aimed at elucidating the theoretical underpinnings of Eisenstein’s work. This paper focuses, instead, on the historical and diplomatic circumstances surrounding Soviet intellectuals’ understanding of Japanese cinema. Eisenstein’s Za kadrom (“Beyond the Shot”) was written as an afterword to Naum Kaufman’s Japanese Cinema (1929), published as a brochure for the first “Japanese Film Exhibit” held in Moscow and Leningrad in the summer of 1929. The exhibit was a symbolic continuation of the collaborative efforts by VOKS (the All-Union Society for the Cultural Ties with Abroad) and the Shochiku film studio to organize the famous Kabuki visit in the summer of 1928. Both the Kabuki tour and the theatrical release of Japanese films were acts of cultural diplomacy, albeit with different political undertones. While the media coverage of the Kabuki visit was chiefly directed abroad, the writings on the “Japanese Film Exhibit” were targeted inwards, at the domestic Soviet audience, creating notably different veins within the official coverage of Japanese film and theater in the 1920s Soviet press. The study of 1920s Soviet media and archival materials documenting the organization of the first Japanese film screenings in Moscow and Leningrad revealed a particular set of linguistic and rhetorical strategies deliberately adopted by Soviet intellectuals in order to present Japanese cinema as an ideologically non-threatening, exotic object of fascination. Soviet writers also worked to present Japanese film as a powerful model for resisting the West, one that may be instrumental in achieving the political and economic objectives set by the Soviet film industry. In their assessment of Japanese films, their production and distribution practices, Soviet intellectuals often wrote of the concept of “cleanliness,” which testified to the cultural and ideological difficulties they experienced in formulating a more nuanced, historically contextualized vision of “Japanese cinema.”

About the Author

A. A. Fedorova
HSE University
Russian Federation


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For citations:

Fedorova A.A. “Un-cinematic” and Clean: Japanese Film as Viewed by the 1920s Soviet Press. Russian Japanology Review. 2021;4(2):94-112.

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