Roland Domenig - Assistant Professor at the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna, Austria
The metaphor of the “birth of cinema” (eiga tanjô) enjoys great popularity in Japan, as the long list of books that carries it in their titles suggest. Most Japanese film histories follow an evolutionary model in their descriptions of Japanese cinema’s development. After its “birth” (respectively importation) and its “cradle years” as primitive side-show cinema matured and developed into the “seventh art”.
In this presentation I will address the problems that this teleological model poses - with respect to the rich and diverse traditions of moving images projected on screen in Japan that predated cinema and that are indiscriminately subsumed under the category of “pre-cinema” as well as with respect to the so-called “early cinema” which in Japan differed considerably from that in the United States or in European countries.
Finally, I will question whether we can speak of “cinema” or “eiga” at all when we speak about the moving picture production of the first two decades of Japanese film history.