Revival van de Japanse Film
by Tom Mes
It sometimes seems as if every country has its reigning Japanese cinema expert. In Europe, such names as France's Max Tessier, Italy's Maria Roberta Novielli loom large. Tony Rayns is as ubiquitous and influential a presence now as he ever was, and not only in his native England, though on the literary front he has been oddly less prolific than as a curator. Belgium's Luk van Haute operates largely within the Dutch-speaking world, in which he is as famous for his translations of the works of such literary giants as Haruki Murakami and Yasunari Kawabata as for his writings and other activities related to Japanese film.
Unlike similarly concise introductory volumes by the likes of Tessier and Donald Richie, Van Haute's Revival van de Japanse film is entirely devoted to present-day Japanese cinema. While the fact that it is written in Dutch means its audience is inherently limited, this doesn't deter from the fact that Van Haute's decision to focus on contemporary films should be applauded. Perhaps one could even call it courageous, particularly in the light of the almost contemptuous tone with which certain established historians of Japan's cinema treat (or ignore altogether) the country's more recent cinematic output.
Written in a pleasant, sometimes almost colloquial style, Van Haute's 92-page work takes an inevitably selective approach to the subject. However, the selection he made is at times very intriguing. While stalwarts like Sogo Ishii, Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa are all represented, there's also room devoted to independent producers like Kenzo Horikoshi, influential organisations like PIA and Image Forum, acting coach Toshi Shioya and female pink film director Yumi Yoshiyuki. Although including two women (Naomi Kawase and the aforementioned Yoshiyuki) among the six profiled directors can't really be called a proper reflection of the role of female directors in Japanese cinema today, the inclusion of Yoshiyuki is refreshing and allows the author to delve a bit deeper into the workings of the pink eiga industry, which still takes up a large percentage of the country's annual cinematic output.
Also offering an attempt to explain the titular revival through its socio-economic and political background, Van Haute's short but welcome book is indispensable to any Benelux resident with even the faintest interest in Japanese cinema.