The Cinema of Japan and Korea
by Tom Mes
The bookshelf marked "Asian cinema" is still a relatively understocked one. Aside from a seemingly inexhaustible market for entry-level anime guides, solid books on the cinemas of Japan and its Asian neighbours are still few and far between in the English language. For this reason alone British publisher Wallflower Press's new anthology of essays The Cinema of Japan and Korea is a very welcome addition, perhaps even more for its Korean section than its Japanese one.
Part of the publisher's ongoing series of books devoted to national and regional cinemas, The Cinema of Japan and Korea's choice to combine the films of these two nations seems an odd one (and could at least have done with a plural in the title). That Japan's rich cinematic heritage is worthy of a book in its own right is an obvious retort, as is the question as to why Japan and Korea should be put together in a single volume in the first place. But whatever the motivation may have been, the benefits are obvious, particularly for the Korean section: by giving it a piggyback ride on its more famous neighbour's well-established reputation, Wallflower and the book's editor Justin Bowyer have ensured a much wider exposure and support than a single volume dedicated solely to Korean cinema would likely receive.
The Cinema of Japan and Korea is made up of 24 essays on as many individual films (13 from Japan, 11 from Korea), written by a team of contributors ranging from the well-established to the relatively new, all from a variety of backgrounds (including yours truly and my esteemed co-editor on this website Jasper Sharp). While the selection of films on offer can serve as food for a potentially endless debate (no sign of Ozu, for example, and most films included are rather recent), the combined writing on offer proposes not only an excellent starting point for those wishing to explore the cinemas of these two nations in more depth, but also gives those in the know quite a number of new insights to chew on, and not just in discovering the other nation's cinematic history.
Certainly, each nation deserves a book of this kind in its own right, but this knowledge does little to minimise the value of the volume at hand. The Cinema of Japan and Korea is well worth considering for its Japanese half, and pretty much indispensable for its Korean section.