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Desired Results of the Polarization of Japanese Cinema
Sho Miyake's Playback

Jinshi Fujii
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

The polarization of Japanese cinema has been talked about for a long time. On the one hand, there is the mass production of major movies based on the production committee method led by television stations and advertising companies and, on the other hand, there is an overproduction of small-scale films that are only shown on a single screen. The gap between these two sides has been increasing in recent years and it can no longer be said that the people inhabiting the cinema industry entirely grasp this situation. As proof of this, I offer the example of films by the director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who has created a major buzz, especially among young people, which were screened in Shibuya Auditorium this summer. These pieces will no doubt be ignored in the various top ten lists that are published at the end of the year because they do not fulfill the criteria of a "theatrical release" in the strictest definition. What is this current state of the Japanese film industry that is run on logic that is completely divorced from what the audience wants to see?

Ranking alongside Hamaguchi is Sho Miyake who is already known to his enthusiastic fans as the most talented moviemaker carrying the hopes of the next generation - In other words, he has mostly been ignored by mainstream film journalism. Miyake is at last making his theater debut with his new film called Playback. The realization of this film project that has been officially exhibited at the traditional Locarno International Film Festival is due to the fact the star Jun Murakami personally made this proposal to work together with Miyake after seeing his previous piece called Yakutatazu (Good for Nothing). It has to be said that such serious-minded actors already have great intuition and gave earnest consideration to films. (Incidentally, Ryo Kase also gave Yakutatazu as an example of a movie he had seen recently that had left a lasting impression on him in an interview.)

In Playback, there is an actor played by Murakami who is standing at the crossroads of his life with his 40th birthday imminent. This actor goes back and forth between the past and present, reality and fantasy. As in the title of the movie, this film, in which parts in the first half are boldly repeated in the second half, was shot entirely in monochrome. In addition, while this was completed as a digitally-shot piece, it was also released upon being converted to 35mm film. At the present moment in time when it seems that film is about to die out, I would like to consider the significance of attempting this trial with its many physical difficulties. The extent of the results of this can only be ascertained for yourself in an actual theater, but I can guarantee that this brings about a quality in the movie that exerts an influence on the production itself as well as the overall impression, with it not being possible to measure the amount of noise and resolution. The photography was taken by Hidetoshi Shinomiya who is already well-known in the independent film industry.

This must-see film will be screened in Tokyo in the Shibuya Auditorium from November 10. Together with the release of this film, two magazines will be running features on the piece; nobody and MIRAGE, which is published mostly by student volunteers in the Waseda University School of Humanities and Social Sciences. No matter how bad the situation looks, there is always hope as long as there are people working by themselves.

Jinshi Fujii
Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University (School of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Jinshi Fujii is in his present position after acquiring credits for a doctoral program at the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies in Kyoto University, and working as an assistant at the College of Arts in Rikkyo University. He specializes in film studies, especially Japanese film and contemporary American film. He is also active as a film critic.
His publications as an author and editor include Contemporary Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction (Jimbun Shoin) and Shinji Somai: A Film Director in the Japanese Post-Studio Era (joint authorship; Inscript). He has also carried out the joint translation of I Was Interrupted: Nicholas Ray on Making Movies (Misuzu Shobo).