SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Chen Yan ‘ Report on the 12th SGRA China Forum “The Potential of Exchange of Japan-China Movies” ‘


Forty years have passed since the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed. This May, the “Film Co-production Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” became effective. Though we expected further progress in cooperation in the production of movies between both countries, it has been a cold winter for the movie industry in China. There have been fears about the Chinese government checking tax payments by people in the movie industry severely in order to reorganize the movie industry. As the SGRA China Forum was held in such an atmosphere on November 24, 2018, it moved us very deeply.


The Forum was held in the Yifu Public Hall of Renmin University of China under the theme “Potential of Exchange of Japan-China Movies”. Different from past China Forums, the theme of movies is very popular now. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to understand the histories of movie exchange from specific viewpoints not only for researchers and movie fans but also the young who know names such as “Takakura Ken” from listening to their parents’ conversations.  


During the Forum, we focused on searching for the potential reconstruction of histories of East Asia from various viewpoints and tried to clarify the historical aspects of cultural effects or interference. We also emphasized the importance of the construction of historical and general viewpoints in East Asian cultural exchange. Based on these aims, starting from the planning stage, we invited specialists in each field in order to understand the impact of Japanese movies on China and vice versa. And we could materialize for the first time the so-called “Listening Comparison (聴き比べ)” between two specialists of the Japanese and Chinese movie histories, inviting Prof. Karima Fumitosi (Honorable Professor, The University of Tokyo) , Japanese specialist for the history of Chinese movies and Mr. Wan Zhongyi(the chief editor of “People’s China”)Chinese specialist for Japanese movies.


Prof. Chen Quijia, Vice President, School of Liberal Arts、Renmin University of China, representing the co-organizers, gave an opening speech. As a fan of movies he has been conducting research on Japanese Manga-animation for ten years, and has expectations for such a theme. Ms. Imanishi, representing the Atsumi Foundation, followed and explained the details of the Forum. Prof. Karima introduced criticism in detail about the introduction of Chinese movies into the Japanese market, under the title “What did Chinese movies produce for Japan, the past, present and future”. Recently, by new “contact” by increasing number of Chinese tourists to Japan, contents of anti-Japanese drama which handled Japanese army are being criticized. People say “we will not be cheated because we know the real Japan now.” Japanese side also came to know the real China through seeing Chinese tourists in Japan. Since a very long time ago when we could not have any chance to “contact”, movies have been playing such a role in creating impressions of each other.


In fact, the first Chinese Movie Week took place in Japan in 1977. At that time, Chinese loved Japanese movies passionately. On the other hand, when Japanese people saw Chinese movies such as “Dongfang hong (東方虹)、”Eternal Glory to the Great Leader and Teacher Mao Zedong (especially the scene of the funeral ceremony of Zhou Enlai), which reflected the atmosphere of the time, they were shocked.  After this period, however, Japanese audiences got to know another China, which was not broadcast by the news but rather through movies along the flow of time. Prof. Karima has stimulated also his interest in China through his work on subtitling Chinese movies at screening parties. During the period, from the latter part of 1977 to 1980, this image that “the common people in China lived a poor life (especially in farming area), but they persevered to live strong” became solid in the minds of Japanese audiences. He presumes that Chinese movies, which describe present Chinese society, did not become popular in Japan because of the strong preconceptions of Japanese viewers.       


The cinematic style in movie pictures in China at that time influenced Japanese movie directors like Mr. Nagisa Oshima, and people in the movie world in both China and Japan began to talk very often and communicate with each other. For example, Mr. Oshima’s point of view, from the non-sufferer perspective stimulated Chinese movie director Chen Kaige. Chen came back to story-telling and went on to produce “Farewell My Concubine,” which was a masterpiece of the 1990s. Japanese companies, which were involved in the production of Chinese movies directly by having Japanese engineers, started their own movie companies in China. Japanese actors also began to be active in China. The biggest change in the co-production of movies during these 40 years, besides the fact that they changed the location of movies to China, was that the depiction of relations between Japanese and Chinese in movies became very non-discriminatory and intimate.  Historical viewpoints by Japanese movie directors gave Chinese movies a new means of interpretation and opened up new possibilities. The “Film Co-production Agreement between the Government of Japan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China” was signed this year. Prof. Karima expects that exchange and cooperation between the Japanese and Chinese movie industries will develop further.       


In contrast to Prof. Karima’s presentation, Mr. Wang Zhongyi discussed the background of the movie world precisely under the theme “Japanese movies in China – Interfusion, Interchange, and Cooperation”, how movies expressed imagined sceneries of Chinese people and how Japanese movies influenced China.” In short, Japanese movies stimulated Chinese audiences and technical aspects of the movie world. The contents of Japanese movies left a deep impression on Chinese people. During the 1950s, in the early stages of the movie industry of New China, Japanese had already started taking part in the production of Chinese movies. For historical reasons, Shanghai movies were heavily influenced by America and movies in the North-East area inherited the tradition of Japanese movies. The most famous one was “The White Haired Girl” (1950) by Changchun film studios. In Japan, this film was opened to the public in the 1950s and Matsuyama Ballet produced the ballet version of it. Japanese documentaries about the effects of rapid economic growth such as social or environmental problems also made people in China consider these issues.


After conclusion of the Japan-China Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1978, the Japanese movie boom took root in China and Japanese movies are being talked about even now. Through Japanese movies, Chinese audiences came to know about fashion, sceneries, daily lives and social issues in Japan. An image of a hero in a Japanese movie, which could not be seen in Chinese movies, won the hearts and minds of Chinese audiences and a Japanese movie star, who was at the height of his popularity, was born in China. This was Ken Takakura. His movie,“Kimi-yo, Hunnu no Kawa-wo Watare”「君よ憤怒の河を渉れ」(no English title) has been shown on screens many times in the past forty years and continues to have much influence even today. The place where the film is set became a so-called “Pilgrimage to the Holy Land” for Chinese people. Hokkaido, which is where the film by Yoji Yamada, a very famous Japanese movie director, is set has also been featured in Chinese movies many times. However, Mr. Wang emphasized that “the Homeland” for Japanese is the Seto Inland Sea. So, if Japanese and Chinese companies jointly produced a film at the Seto Inland Sea, considering our common culture of “Nasake (sympathy)” the films would be a sure hit.  


Since the 1980s, events for cultural exchange for people in the movie world and films or dramas through joint production of both countries continued to be produced. “Bo-Kyou no Hoshi”「望郷之星(no English title)」 which was produced in collaboration with NHK and the preface of which was written by Deng Xiaoping, and “Daichi no Ko”「大地の子(no English title)」was based on a Japanese novel received good public response. Recently in the “Internet Era”, there have been a few cases where Japanese movies received an award abroad and became very popular in China first, and after that were released on the Japanese market. Prof. Wang said that we can expect further collaboration not only in movies and dramas but in stage productions, anime as well as games.


We had a panel discussion after the talks by the two professors. Prof. Li Daoxin, Peking University, Dr. Qin Lan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Prof. Zhou Yue, Beijing  Language and Culture University, Dr. Chen Yan, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Prof. Lin Shaoyang, the University of Tokyo took to the stage. Due to the limited time, they could not have a deep discussion but could share their own understandings and research on the cultural exchange of movies in Japan and China. Dr. Qin shared his educational experience in contemporary literature.


Prof. Zhou analyzed works by Koreeda Hirokazu, Japanese movie director and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chinese movie director. Dr. Chen examined the common market of Japanese movies and anime. Prof. Li, specialist in the history of Chinese movies, appreciated the lectures and remarked that “conversations between Japanese ‘geeks’ for Chinese movies and Japan experts in Chinese media people were very unique (curious) and were rich in content”. Prof. Lin talked about the cooperation between intellectuals in Japan and China, adaptation to Japanese of Chinese historical materials and the image of China in Japan.    


Since young students in their twenties who were present had never seen Japanese movies from the nineties or before then. they thought that Ken Takakura, a movie star in Japanese movies, was just an idol for their parents’ generation. Through this forum, however, they came to know the histories of exchange between Japanese and Chinese movies. Inspired by this forum, they may start to study Japanese and Chinese cultural exchange, one which for a new generation is based on Manga and anime.


I am looking forward to the future of exchange between Japanese and Chinese movies and to the exchange of academic research based on it.               


Photos of the Day


Refer to SGRA News (2019, January 10) in Japanese



(Chen Yan / Doctoral Course in Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo)



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale