Japanese Film Studies Essay

Japanese Film Studies


The Japanese film industry stretches over a time span of over 100 years. From silent movie production to animated movies, referred to as anime in Japanese, the film industry evolved. Particularly in the fifteen year war time period. It was particularly during the fifteen year war time period when Japanese cinema shifted its focus on to much more crucial cultural issues. In fact from 1920’s right in to the Second World War, film became a plausible tool in Japan. The cultural life in the war time in Japan was eloquently spoken up on by influential figures such as the diplomats, the bureaucrats, corporate executives and scriptwriters and directors worked towards producing films that mirrored the cultural surroundings in Japan during the war time.

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The 1950’s saw the birth of highly credible directors, such as Akira Kursowo and blockbuster hits such as Tokyo story, rashmun and seven samurai came up to the forefront of Japanese cinema. The most popular one was perhaps Gojira, known formally as Godzilla, an anti-nuclear yet horror film. In a nut shell, from 1950’s onwards the Japanese cinema was in full bloom as mirrored in the awards received by Hirokazu Koreeda earned film festival awards for his movies Distance and Nobody Knows. Also Shohei Imamura won the Golden Palm, the sole two time fourth recipient. Furthermore, Takeshi Kitano received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film festival. Also Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon won the academy award for most excellent movie in a foreign language. (Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto Pp. 475)

Japanese movies focus on themes prevalent in the society. Corporate crime especially at high levels of society, as quite prevalent in the Japanese society is mostly an integral theme of the movies. Also, Japanese pop culture is given a large amount of limelight in the movie industry. (Wikipedia Pp1) The movies that will be covered in this paper are the bad sleep well, Kill Bill Volume 1 and the anime, Perfect Blue. How they have infused these themes as well as how they differ will be the prime focus of the paper.

Theatrical performance in The bad sleep well, Kill Bill and Perfect blue:

The bad sleep well directed by Akira Kurosawas, Kill Bill Vol. 1 directed by Quentin Tarantino and the anime, Perfect Blue directed by Satoshi Kons have earned popularity world over. The underlying themes range from theatrical performances to corporate corruption and Japanese pop culture. The parallel theme which is dominant in all of the three movies is the theatrical performance.

Theatrical performances constitute a significant part of the Japanese pop culture. The Japanese popular culture is an assortment of the orthodox artistic and literary traditions.  The prior aim being entertainment, Japanese popular culture has become an inherent aspect of movies. The Bad sleep well for example commences with a superficial performance, more inclined towards a theatrical, show than a movie. The melodramatic scenes of The Bad Sleep well have been paralleled with Shakespeare’s dramas by various critics. The elements of catharsis, anxiety, and apprehension as well as those of suspense and intrigue constitute a large portion of the film. While the movie addresses the authentic issue of political corruption, yet it has been presented in such a manner that detaches it from the reality of the theme. Each act is articulated in such a fashion which emphases the aura of theatrical-ness. A lot of symbolism is prevalent in the movie which is quite in line with the symbolism present in Shakespeare’s dramas, specifically Hamlet. The reiteration of the elevator in the opening scene directs the viewer’s attention to the prospect of a stage performance that would follow. Throughout the movie, the element of suspense and tragedy is kept alive, credit going to the camera angles and the light effects. Perhaps these elements of drama such as suicide, murder, fake ghost and insanity have led the critics to classify the bad sleep well as an adaptation of Hamlet, by Shakespeare. (Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto Pp 477)

The same theme of theatrical performance follows in Quentin tarantinos movie, Kill Bill Volume 1. The movie is renowned for the thrill the action and bloodshed in the movie provides the audience. Martial arts are the highlight of the movie which is centered around the revenge the bride seeks from her boss, Bill who attempted murder on her and her groom. The element of the samurai swords in the movie, a prevalent Japanese pop culture, not only serve as keeping the viewer involved but also provides a comparison to the Asian cinema. Since the plot of the movie is regarding the revenge the bride seeks, the violent streak runs high throughout the 114 minutes of the movie. The sword fights with the bloodshed and monstrosity might appear to be too far-fetched, yet in terms of escapism for the Japanese viewer, whose entertainment was a basis for his release from the contemporary industrial society, the movie served the purpose.

The dance of death coupled with the fencing and the most awe-inspiring 40 minutes of sword fight at a Tokyo restaurant, combined with the music and camera angles all bear witness to the elaborate theatrical performance, much like the bad sleep well, provide a heavy dose of action and thrill for the audience. While many viewers may find the movie too harsh to digest, yet the infusion of all of Tarantino’s movie themes and its execution quite definitely portray a drama which is one of a kind. (Ellen Datlow et al, Pp 134)

The animated movie, Perfect blue is perhaps the best example of Japanese pop culture. Featuring the life of a pop artist who drops out of the music band and yearns to make fame through acting, this animated movie stays close to reality in its story, thus making it all the more believable. The movie is primarily psychological in context, stressing on the mental and physical trauma the pop icon has to undergo for fame and success.

The most dramatized acts of the movie is the strip stage followed by the rape scene in this movie.  The performance in this part of the film, even though having been shot through an anime lens, is of a high caliber stage performance with the intrusion of harsh reality, stages again very significant Japanese pop culture theme. Like Kill Bill and The Bad Sleep Well, emotions run high in Perfect blue as well. Thus, through out the three movies, theatrical performances has been given utmost priority and effort at making of prototyping a melodrama are prevalent in all three films.

Depiction of Japanese Corporate Corruption:

Apart from pop culture, the three movies: kill bill, the bad sleep well and perfect blue also have a similar theme of corruption running side by side. In fact, the bad sleep well is perhaps the very first movie in Japan to target such a crucial issue of corporate corruption. The bad sleep well has a predominant theme of political corruption and theatrical performance. Kurosawa took adaptations from many Shakespeare’s plays and this one is considered a loose adaptation of hamlet. However, in terms of content the book provides a lot of food for thought for the viewer and paves room for analysis of the political scenario and how much of a positive deal that was for the layman.

It is a known fact that corruption in Japan exists at high level of society, particularly in the politicians, the bureaucrats and the corporate executives. Produced in 1960, the time when Japan was undergoing political upheavals, the bad sleep well mirrors all those yet avoids pinpointing directly to matters. The bad sleep well talks about corporate corruption, when the protagonist’s father is convinced to commit suicide which opens up the way for the other officials to gain the status. Thus, throughout the movie the plan of the protagonist to take revenge against the assassins comes in to the limelight. The plan unveils in front of the audience while also emphasizing on the theme of appearance and reality in corruption and criminals. The movie does not focus on the how’s of corruption but the execution and consequences. Similarly, kill bill volume 1 by tarantinos also sheds light on corporate corruption, with the attempted murder on the bride by her boss, Bill. Kill bill also Shows how corruption exists in the elite of the society outlining their power and unquestionable authority under which the common man is crushed badly. Perfect blue again talks about corruption, depicted in the protagonists struggle to earn herself the fame of being in the mainstream. This corruption has been articulately portrayed in her being sent off to a strip stage, highlighting how producers exploit the newbie’s in the industry.

The portrayal of corruption in the aforementioned movies adds a tinge of realism in to the plot of the movie. Being an industrialist country, the new people in any industry let it be politics or media are very much prone to exploitation by those in power. It enforces the ideology that power comes with thirst and greed and the hamartia of being selfish. In politics this is mirrored in the corruption in money matters by politicians; in the capitalist environment it is seen in the exploitation and placement of barriers for others to excel; in the media it is mirrored in the self fulfillment prophecies of high ranked producers. While the movies might depict them in a different manner, the inherent flaw of the Japanese society is articulately been tried to be presented for the viewer. (Chie Nakane, 120) For example, Kurosawa’s movie, the bad sleep well right from the name reflects the theme of corruption. Outlining the selfish nature of the officials who through their corrupt ways acquire momentary ease. The name Kill Bill outlines revenge against Bill, the corrupt corporate executive. The title of tarantinos movie outlines the distaste of perhaps the common man towards the unjust and one sided rules of the society. So it is right to assert that while perfect blue may not be representing theme of corruption through its title, the other two nonetheless have allusions to what might follow in the movie in the very title; something that is an integral part of the Japanese society. (Chie Nakane, 125)

Female Liberalism In Kill Bill and Perfect Blue:

An underlying theme of kill bill and perfect blue appears to be the downgrading of females in a patriarchal culture, while The Bad Sleep Well abstains to confront this issue. In kill bill the exploitation in the form of an attempted assault on the bride by her boss is seen while in perfect blue the same thing is reiterated. Only the characters and settings differ, in terms of female exploitation both movies are on the same track. However, in kill bill feminism is highlighted in the bride’s gory revenge from those against her. The samurai sword fight, a supposedly male form of violence is the key weapon of the bride. Also the revenge and violence of the movie defy the stereotypical views of the society of the fragile female.

In perfect blue, while individual woman is portrayed yet her struggle is also brought in to the lime light. The patriarchal society where a woman has to sell herself to gain fame and popularity among the masses is a strong theme of the plot. The rape of the actress by the men in the strip bar accentuated by the producers idea of judging her on this accord shows how females are treated more or less like objects of enjoyment. However, the female is elevated through the strong allusions to the psychological elements. The movie famous for being a study of psychological perspectives of those in the media breathes realism in to the plot. (Aaron H. Bynum Pp 26) The maturity life’s experiences provided for the young actress in deed serve as a plausible explanation for her actions and her gaining a sense of individuality and realizing her rights. All this outlines her dealings with the exploitation she was forced to face at the hands of the males of the society, in order to succeed and make her dream come true.


The movies discussed in this paper outline the pivotal aspects of the Japanese culture and society at large and generic issues as well. Also, these movies do not focus only on the depiction of Japanese as aliens as many movies intended too but rather focus on facts and issues surrounding the society. Corporate corruption and Japanese pop culture: two important themes which traveled throughout the three movies. Along with this, a much more generic theme of exploitation by the patriarchal society, a fact common not only in Asian societies but world wide even in the U.S.

Theatrical performances in all three movies are of pivotal importance as it provides entertainment for the audience. A majority of the Japanese population spend a great deal of their free time watching movies and television. Thus these movies provide them the entertainment as well as escapism from the industrialization and hard work surrounding those most of the time. Also, anime movies provide a relief from the normal day-to-day life movies. Furthermore, violence in a fashion which is both daunting yet alluring also provides ample entertainment for the audience. In ‘Kill Bill’ it is in the form of Japanese sword fighting, in ‘perfect blue’ in the form of female degradation and in ‘The bad Sleep Well’ in the manner of a planned murder.

The most significant element of these movies is the reality of the plot. While the cinematography differs and at times might appear to be much elaborate yet the realism of the themes underlying provides relief for most of the viewers. As long as they are able to relate to a particular aspect of the movie, the entertainment for them would be guaranteed.

Thus, it is right to assert that kill bill; the bad sleep well and perfect blue in their own regards serve the purpose of a public message and entertainment for the audience.


Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. Published by Duke University Press (2000) Pp 470- 477

Aaron H. Bynum. Perfect Blue: The Delusional Bind. Online Animation Magazine(2005) Pp 26 Retrieved from:


Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, Gavin Grant. The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Eighteenth Annual Collection: Eighteenth Annual Collection. Published by Macmillan, (2005) Pp 134

Chie Nakane, Japanese Society. Published by University of California Press, (1972) Pp 120-131

Manga Entertainment, Perfect Blue: Synopsis.(2008) Pp 1. Retrieved From:


Wikipedia. Cinema Of Japan. Wikimedia Inc. (2008) Pp1. Retrieved from