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Home / Film / Interviews / The Lost Treasures of Japanese Genre Filmmaking: Jasper Sharp discusses his upcoming Miskatonic Institute talk (exclusive trailer)

The Lost Treasures of Japanese Genre Filmmaking: Jasper Sharp discusses his upcoming Miskatonic Institute talk (exclusive trailer)

The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies London are all set to put on another amazing talk this week (Thursday 16th February, 2017), this time hosted by Asian genre expert Jasper Sharp. Sharp’s talk Lost Treasures of Japanese Genre Filmmaking promises to provide a fascinating look into some of Japan’s most overlooked genre features. Here is what the press release has to say about the talk:

Very little of Japan’s vast cinematic output has made it onto foreign shores, perhaps not too surprising given that its industry stretches right back to the genesis of the medium and turns out on average about 500 titles a year. Genres such as sci-fi, horror and fantasy have generally been well represented abroad, but the boom in J-horror films in the wake of titles such as The Ring (1998) and Audition (1999) have crowded out discussions about how and when the fantastique first took root in Japanese cinema.

In this illustrated talk Jasper Sharp will explore the out reaches of Japanese fantasy cinema, from the embryonic trick films of “The Father of Japanese Film” Shozo Makino through oddball homegrown sub-genres such as the prewar “ghost cat” (bakeneko or kaibyô) films and the ama cycle of sexy pearl diver films such as Girl Divers at Spook Mansion (1959), some long-lost Japanese takes on the movie monsters of Universal Studios, the pink film-horror of directors like Tetsuji Takechi and Kinya Ogawa and much, much more, all peppered with a liberal amount of clips of some truly bizarre titles that remain either unseen or unseeable to modern audiences outside of the country.

Diabolique Magazine caught up with Sharp to ask him about the presentation. Read on to find out what he had to tell us and then check out the exclusive trailer below for a taste of what’s on offer.

Diabolique: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

 Jasper Sharp: I’ve been writing about Japanese cinema for almost 20 years now, and set up the Midnight Eye website with Tom Mes back in 2001. I lived in Japan for 3 years so got to see a lot of films that were never released in the West. Anyway, Tom and I co-wrote The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film in 2004, covering this wave of new titles and directors that became more known with the arrival of DVD – around the late-90s, the common wisdom was that Japanese cinema’s best years were long behind it, so we wanted to show otherwise. Then I wrote Behind the Pink Curtain, published in 2008, in which I took a more systematic approach looking at the structure and history of the pink film industry and detailed the most important films and filmmakers from the field and also the related area of Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno films. Then I wrote The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, which covered the whole history of Japanese film, including animation, documentary silent films etc. During this period I’ve been working as a journalist too, and a film programmer for numerous film festivals, most recently the Asia House Film Festival, and also I co-directed The Creeping Garden with Tim Grabham – nothing really to do with Japanese cinema, but a “weird science” documentary that’s coming out on Bluray from Arrow Films in March.

Diabolique: What has inspired your talk? 

 Jasper Sharp:People seem to be very interested in Japanese cinema, because some of it is pretty crazy stuff, but in terms genre films, I think the success of Ring and the ensuing J-horror boom has really blinded people to a lot of horror, sci-fi or fantasy films from the country. The whole discussion around these films tends to be about linking them to folklore and tradition and so films that don’t fit into this framework have been overlooked. Also, Japan’s output over the past century has been huge, so only a tiny fraction of Japanese horrors have ever been released in the West. A lot of writing about them only goes back as far as the 50s, but they were making ghost films as far back as the silent era.

And there’s the other problem in that a lot of Japanese films from the prewar period are lost, so I wanted to look at this early period and show how there was Hollywood influence even in this period – even though the films no longer exist, we do have stills and posters for a lot of these, be they the 1930s King Kong rip-offs or early sci-fi serials like Shudder of the Strange Electric Death Ray from 1939. Many others are just long-forgotten or have never seen before in the West, but I will have clips for some of these.

Diabolique: What can people expect to take away from it?

 Jasper Sharp: I hope to introduce them to a lot of fascinating new and unfamiliar titles, and look at what kind of thing the industry was doing at the time the films were made, going right up to the 70s, but I really want to show how there’s always been some sort of dialogue between Japan and Europe and America in terms of the films they were making.

Diabolique: Tell us a little bit about the key films you have picked and why?

 Jasper Sharp: There are many, looking at Japanese vampire or werewolf or invisible man films, and also I’m going to focus on some real oddities, like the Shintoho ‘girl diver’ movies from the 50s, titles like Girl Divers from Spook Mansion, and also adaptations of Japanese writers like Rampo Edogawa and Junichiro Tanizaki – specifically Takechi Tetsuji’s sex-horror hybrids based on Tanizaki’s writing (much to the disgust of the author, I might add!)

Diabolique: Finally, what are some of the underlying themes you will be exploring?

 Jasper Sharp: Horror and fantasy are just such natural genres for cinema in the way that you can use film to create completely illogical, irrational worlds. If our whole film culture was lost and completely forgotten and we had to start again from scratch, or if the technology of cinema was invented in any country, any society or any culture, I think horror would still remain one of the fundamental types of visual storytelling.  I think we all have preconceived ideas of what generally constitutes a “horror movie” as a whole, but I think looking at the history of the Japanese fantastique might give a broader picture of what can be done in the field and how Japan’s own horrors have evolved within their own culture and history, at the same time, hardly existing in a vacuum uninfluenced by foreign films

The talk will take place on Thursday 16th February, 2017, at 7-10pm at The Horse Hospital, London. Tickets are available here.  

About Kat Ellinger

Kat Ellinger is the Editor-in-Chief of Diabolique Magazine, and the co-host of their Daughters of Darkness podcast. Her writing has appeared in the pages of Fangoria, Scream Magazine (UK) and Gothic culture magazine Carpe Nocturne. She has recently worked a number of liner notes for cult home video label Arrow Films, as well as appearing on camera for them, written for Senses of Cinema and is currently working on a book on Daughters of Darkness (1971) for the Devil's Advocates Series (Auteur).

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