THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI: How Japanese cinema influences and reinforces Japanese culture

Cinema is a great window into the social, norms and cultural values of any culture. This has been true since the beginning of the actual era of movies, and not magic lantern shows which were too short to be of any real story telling value. Japanese cinema is wide spread in the nation, but I could not track down any one area where most of the Japanese Film Industry is based like Hollywood here in America. There are many different kinds of Japanese films, the ones that we are most familiar with as Americans are their Horror films like the Ring and the Grudge, their Kaiju monster films like Godzilla and their Anime like Akira. But there are other kinds of Japanese films that can teach us a lot about Japanese culture.

Two very large categories of Japanese cinema are Jidaigeki (Period Films), and the Yakuza based Ninkyo eiga (Chivalry films) and finally Japanese Science Fiction. The first real hit films that my research has uncovered were mainly Jidaigeki films about Samurai and their battles during Japans earlier years. These also seem to include many martial arts films from Japan so long as they are set in Sengoku, or Edo period in Japan. In fact there seems to be a lot of media in general based on Jidaigeki as shown in many Japanese video games, and other pieces of pop culture. This may be because of all of the traditional stories, and legends that come from the period in ancient writings, the ancient castles all over Japan and kabuki theater. A similar phenomenon of this in america would be Western films, or even Revolutionary War films. Many of these films focus on the warrior spirit, and a samurai’s choice between his duty and his feelings and what is the proper course of action: for the good of one or the good of many. These ideas and antagonisms are also at the core of the Japanese character, the individual’s status versus that of the group, the importance of duty and even the stoic samurai etiquette can all be seen rooted deep within Japanese culture, and its norms.

In the later Yakuza films that begin to appear in the 1960s actually bring this Samurai tradition into the modern era with Yakuza members struggling to sort out whether their personal feelings or their duty should be the ultimate dictator of their actions. They began as the spiritual successors to the old Samurai ways in the films but would later diverge into two different versions, one honorable and noble the other ruthless and vicious. This second type are considered based in real life occurrences and show a darker side to the national identity of Japan. They seem to portray a power by any means side to Japanese society that also seems to be brought to life in their cut throat business world.

This builds an interesting dynamic and ultimate tension between the behaviors exhibited in these films. At first the main characters are honorable men who struggle between their desires to put themselves before the group yet as Yakuza films became more popular these strong male role models became more gritty, violent and cut throat and more enamored with their own personal gains than anything else. This shows two contentious views of what a man should be and how they should act and it would be very interesting to see how they are resolved in everyday Japanese culture, probably the only way to discover this would be to actually sit down with a number of Japanese people (for this example probably males) and question them about what they believe to be the proper values a “strong” or “good” or even “successful” person has.

I arrived at this decision for a topic probably from my past with a lot of Chinese marital arts films, like Iron Monkey and the Drunken Master, Godzilla (THE ORIGINALS) and the like. I adored those films as a child. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and the like so when I thought of cultural impacts of a population as a whole I thought back to what impacted me as a child, and had impacted generations before me: Cinema the original source of mass media outside of Radio. Plus many conventions are shown and represented in Cinema, many earlier films come about because of legends and stories which are part of any cultures cultural background. So as something I knew next to nothing about Japanese Cinema it seemed like the most logical choice.

Examples of Influential Japanese Cinema

Also I found a good list of Link-shells on this website:

Thats all from me!


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