Lights, Camera, Action: Irrational Cameras & Japanese Cinema

Over the last decade, scholars of American and European cinema have attempted to categorize the emergence and contours of a new kind of cinema that is fundamentally distinct from cinema in its historical development. There have been corresponding discussions in Japan. In each case, a large motivating factor has been the rise of digital technologies and their effects on images—their production, distribution, exhibition, and consumption. Scholars and critics have sought to highlight these changes as they connect to larger social, economic, and political forces, especially in terms of neoliberal capitalism, and the ways the resulting forms portend a splitting off of cinema from its traditional grounding in the human. This shift has been characterized variously as “chaos,” “post-continuity,” or “irrationality," all of which fall into a broader rubric of "post-cinema."

One site where this split has emerged is in genre cinema, including horror and action cinema in particular. Within these popular genres, elements that might have once characterized avant garde films—including a complete disregard of the rules of continuity—have come to the fore as popular entertainment. Since continuity rules foregrounded psychological and narrative motivation, as well as coherent references in time and space, this new popular cinema seems bereft of reason. With this talk, I want to discuss some elements of Japanese horror and action cinema as they pertain to the characterizations of “post-cinema” and the function of “irrational cameras” in particular. I will speculate that a reflection on the historical development of Japanese cinema, while attending to its current arrangements, will trouble some of the assumptions and claims guiding discussions of contemporary “post-cinema.” The hope is that in so doing, we can illuminate the need to expand and reframe universalist claims towards a post-cinema in helpful ways.

Author: Philip Kaffen