Meet our Fellows
Sainsbury Fellows: Lauri Kitsnik
I was very lucky to be offered a fellowship at the Sainsbury Institute immediately after completing my doctorate at Cambridge in spring 2016. Since moving closer to the East Anglian coast, I have had ample time in the laidback atmosphere by the Norwich Cathedral to prepare my dissertation for publication as well as commencing a new research project.
My initial background is in literary studies and while I have spent years studying and teaching Japanese cinema it seems inevitable now that my interests soon began to gravitate towards the textual aspects of film culture. I am particularly intrigued by the attention that screenwriting and screenplays have received in Japan not only as a preparatory phase in film production but as a practice in its own right. This trend was at its most prominent and visible in the 1950s, commonly called the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Leafing through film journals from that period, one cannot avoid noticing full texts of screenplays (or shinario in Japanese) that take up a third or so of each volume. While usually coinciding with the film’s premiere, scripts often ended up appearing a little earlier, perhaps suggesting that Japanese film-goers were little bothered about getting to know the twists of the plot before actually seeing the film. At the same time, this practice suggests that there existed a wide and skilled readership among the general public that could visualise screen images out of a text.
One of the notable consequences of this fascination with screenplays was that screenwriters were beginning to be held in high regard for their contributions, almost at the same level with film directors. One can easily come across a number of studies focusing on the style of individual screenwriters, or scenario authors (shinario sakka). My project, then, is also about providing a fresh way to look at authorship in cinema. Besides receiving critical acclaim, the writing profession seems to have been quite lucrative in those days, especially if one was employed by one of the major studios. There are numerous accounts of how writers were sent to laidback travel resorts away from the bustle of the metropolis. In such ‘regular inns’ (jōyado) they could engage with their work uninterrupted; the pace was leisurely and all expenses were paid by the company. Many writers indeed took advantage of this, sometimes staying months in these places without producing much work and pleading writer’s block.
There were exceptions to this, though. Shindō Kaneto, one of the most celebrated screenwriters in Japan and the focus of my next research project, could finish a screenplay in the matter of weeks or even days. Shindō first provided scripts for filmmakers such as Kinoshita Keisuke, Mizoguchi Kenji and Naruse Mikio but then set up an independent production company and started directing himself. As if this was not enough, Shindō wrote widely on film theory and history, effortlessly merging several roles in the field of cinema. In a way, he was an active agent as well as witness to everything that Japanese cinema went through during the second half of the 20th century. In this capacity, his work also mirrors a number of issues relating to societal change and can serve as a gateway for addressing such recurring themes in the postwar Japanese cinema as war trauma, social discrimination and relationship between sexuality and politics.
During the first months of my fellowship, I have had the chance to present on both of my projects to different audiences. In September, I expanded my screenwriting project by including a gender aspect in a paper that I presented at a seminar at the Centre Europeén d’Etudes Japonaises d’Alsace (link to the full text in Japanese). Recently, I have delivered invited talks at the University of East Anglia, School of Oriental and African Studies, Nissan Institute (Oxford) and the University of Cambridge.
I am now very much looking forward to appearing in front of my home audience as part of the Third Thursday Lectures Series on 16 March. Later this spring, I will have more engagements in Edinburgh and London (Japan Society). Finally, I would like to welcome everyone with an interest in 1950s Japanese cinema to a symposium held at the Sainsbury Institute in 8-9 June 2017.
The symposium is free and open to students and scholars interested in the subject. Registration is required as seats are limited. Please contact Sainsbury Institute to express your interest.
Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow