From page to screen to page again: writing and reading Japanese film scripts

External event - Swedenborg Society

Monday 24 April, 2017
6:45pm BST

The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St), London WC1A 2TH


Dr Lauri Kitsnik (Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow)

About the Event

Japanese cinema has often been explored from the perspective of auteur directors and film masterpieces, but much less attention has been paid to another significant aspect of filmmaking – scriptwriting. However, in Japan, scriptwriters have long been recognised as important figures in the Japanese film industry and film scripts (shinario in Japanese) have played an important part both in cinema’s production and reception.

In this talk, Dr Kitsnik will discuss the historical representation of screenwriters as film authors by looking at their working methods and writing spaces within the studio system. He will also address the appearance of a new kind of reader that was prompted by the abundant publishing of film scripts for a wider audience since the 1950s. Consumed in this manner, scripts arguably complement as well as contest screen viewing experience while proposing alternative film histories.

Dr Kitsnik is particularly intrigued by the attention that screenwriting and screenplays have received in Japan not only as a preparatory phase in film production but as a practice in its own right. This trend was at its most prominent and visible in the 1950s, commonly called the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Leafing through film journals from that period, one cannot avoid noticing full texts of screenplays that take up a third or so of each volume. While usually coinciding with the film’s premiere, scripts often ended up appearing a little earlier, perhaps suggesting that Japanese film-goers were little bothered about getting to know the twists of the plot before actually seeing the film. At the same time, this practice suggests that there existed a wide and skilled readership among the general public that could visualise screen images out of a text.

One of the notable consequences of this fascination with screenplays was that screenwriters were beginning to be held in high regard for their contributions, almost at the same level with film directors. One can easily come across a number of studies focusing on the style of individual screenwriters, or scenario authors (shinario sakka). Dr Kitsnik´s project is also about providing a fresh way to look at authorship in cinema. Besides receiving critical acclaim, the writing profession seems to have been quite lucrative in those days, especially if one was employed by one of the major studios. There are numerous accounts of how writers were sent to laidback travel resorts away from the bustle of the metropolis. In such ‘regular inns’ (jōyado) they could engage with their work uninterrupted; the pace was leisurely and all expenses were paid by the company.

Lauri Kitsnik (MA Tokyo, PhD Cantab) is Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Fellow at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures in Norwich. His interests include world film history, comparative film theory, adaptation and screenwriting. His work has appeared in the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, Journal of Screenwriting and Women Screenwriters: An International Guide.

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