Japanese cinema has been influenced by a variety of arts and cultures such as german expressionism, western, books and theatre. These influences are represented through micro features and themes. I have decided to focus on the films Rashamon by Kurosuawa(1950) and Ugestu by kinji Mizoguchi (1953).
German expressionism was a big influence on japanese cinema in the golden age. For example both rashamon and ugestsu show dark themes, poverty, anger and war, which were main features of german expressionsm. This was presented through micro features such as shadows, low key light/high contrast. In the extreme establishing long shot the screen space is filled primarily with the surroundings: in the western genre this is a panoramic view of a desolate plain, mountain or valley, its been used in rashomon as the men are sitting in the background under the hut with the rain pouring down in front of them it is illustrating the barren, harsh environment an antagonist is set in; thereby explaining his psychological state effect of after the war. Continuous theme of death is introduced straight away in the dialogued used by the men in this scene, words such as “war” “death”in Rashamon. Also the framing of the characters portrays strong emotions throughout, this reflects the theme of losing faith in humanity. Both directors included over exaggerated facial expressions and body movements which links to theatrical influences.
Theatre is another influence of Japanese cinema – a lot of the acting in Rashomon and Ugetsu Monogatari is heavily theatrical and similar to stage productions from that time. In addition, many scenes are shot from one side, as if a real life audience is watching the film.Another theatrical feature in these films is the over dramatic acting, which is often played by the women – strong emotions and bold facial expressions make it seem more like a stage production.Theatrical ways of filming and diagonal have been used this reflects another typical theme of Japanese films, it shows the over exaggeration of characters acting and the use if close ups. It makes it clear to the audience what the actors emotion is. Low key lighting has been used this also reflects the sad mood. In middle sequence, Over the shoulder shots have been used to show the facial expression of the people in the background, and seeing from the persons point of view. The wind in the background and flowing through her wavy dress makes the scene more dramatic. The Medium represents no realism, and links with the grudge.Many silent films that were being made at this time were accused of relying too heavily on a ‘Bengi’ which was a story teller that sat and narrated the films, this is another theatrical feature. Shakespeare’s plays and literature in general have inspired cinema worldwide and Japanese films are no exception.Books is another influence of Japanese cinema both rashamon and ugestsu are influenced by literature, some directors were influnced by the way in which a scroll is layed out in a linear format linking to the continuity of some of his story lines within his films. Kurosawa grew up watching American Westerns, rather than traditional Japanese films. This inspired them to make Westerns when they became a filmmaker, such as Seven Samurai. The western themes are shown through features such as fight scenes and close-ups.
In conclusion, Japanese cinema has been influenced by many other art forms and cultures. The main ones we have explored are German expressionism, the influence of the Western genre, books/literature and theatre. Rashamon and Ugetsu show examples of this throughout, via micro features and macro features (e.g. lighting, framing). German expressionism added the low key/high contrast light and dark themes, which were shown in both these films. Western influences included violence and close-ups – a common theme. Scrolls in literature linked with the continuity of particular films, and some films were influenced by old stories and books.The theme of Theatre reflects this over dramatic acting, which is often played by the women – strong emotions and bold facial expressions to make it seem more like a stage production,theatrical ways of filming and diagonal have also been used.