"How American Intellectuals Learned to Love Ozu," by Mindy Aloff, April 1994, The New York Times
In this article, Mindy Aloff investigates how American audiences have responded to Ozu since the 1950s, when his works became available in the United States. Aloff asks what attracts Americans to Ozu's body of film, and discovers a number of possible reasons. While Ozu's films are not widespread in the U.S., a few New York City venues continue to present his surviving films at special screenings. These screenings draw a diverse viewership with a variety of reasons for liking Ozu's films. Some identify Ozu with the New York City art scene, especially when he became noticed alongside revolutionary directors like Godard and Antonioni. Others cite the surprisingly powerful emotional impact of his artfully understated films as the main reason for their fascination with his work. Still others are attracted to the Western aspect of his quiet, simple films, which admittedly were influenced greatly by Griffith and Harold Lloyd. The simplicity and familiarity of his films rendered them accessible and engaging to the Western audience. The moralistic themes and subtle humor of Ozu's films are also universally appealing regardless of the era in which they are viewed.
This article is significant to my study of Ozu through his film Passing Fancy primarily because it discusses the western association of his films. It reinforces the idea that Ozu was not a unitary, uninfluenced figure in filmmaking, but a simultaneously impressionable and original director who adapted what he learned from western films to direct and write his own. It also helps us better understand the source of the humor in Passing Fancy. Comedies are said to typically not translate well across cultures--this is not the case with Ozu's comedies (Passing Fancy among them), which do not rely on the audience's prior understanding of Japanese culture of language to make their unsophisticated jokes and visual gags. It is in part the western association that so many have made with Ozu's work that renders it successful among foreign audiences.
While this article refers to a movement that began shortly after Ozu released Passing Fancy (1934), it may be useful for understanding the “Japanese” quality that many attribute to Ozu's films. Passing Fancy might be considered a precursor to the “monumental film” movement that Davis describes. It practices a number of the stylistic innovations that the “monumental” films later employed, among them long takes and slow camera movements. More importantly, it contains a mostly premodern narrative focused on traditional Japanese living. In this sense, we might understand Ozu's sensibilities expressed in Passing Fancy as setting or helping to establish a trend in which Japanese filmmakers made special effort to embody a “Japanese” aura.
Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, p.248-252 by David Bordwell, 1988
This chapter of David Bordwell's Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema describes how the details of Ozu's Degigokoro (“Passing Fancy”) unify the film's disjointed narrative. The narrative itself, which Bordwell contends is divided into two main stories, is loosely structured and driven mostly by Ozu's characterization of the two main characters, Kihachi and his son Tomio. The relationship between Kihachi, an irresponsible, simpleminded adult, and Tomio, a mature, intelligent child, is the primary story. The second storyline involves Kihachi's hopeless attempts to woo a girl while his son deals with criticisms of his father by his classmates. Bordwell notes that the film's other characters are fairly stereotypical and undeveloped; this simultaneous depiction of character depth and superficiality is a sign of Ozu's ability to combine unlike conventions in the overarching structure of the film. Bordwell then discusses the playful use of gestural motifs—scratching, swatting, poking—to characterize the different characters and their attitudes towards one another throughout the film. This sort of attention to detail, he contends, marks Passing Fancy a particularly realistic Ozu film. He goes on to argue, however, that the unrealistic, often misleading use of intertitles, spatial patterns, and unusual transitions for comedic effect prevent the audience from even greater immersion in the otherwise quite realistic film.
This analysis of Passing Fancy is important because it emphasizes the versatility of Ozu's techniques and rejects allegations that Ozu was overly repetitive. Ozu was not constrained to a mere realistic approach: his attention to details evoked realism, but he used other techniques that shattered the illusion of realism, often for comedic effect. He did not adhere very closely to particular patterns, and his film thus displays a sense of playfulness throughout a narrative that, in the words of Bordwell, “plays by its own rules, even if it changes them at will.”
Transcendental Style in Film, Chapter 2, by Paul Schrader, 1988
In this chapter, Paul Schrader characterizes the films of Yasujiro Ozu as fundamentally transcendental works and attempts to map Zen principles onto Ozu's filmmaking techniques. Schrader begins by qualifying Zen art as a form of transcendentalism for its spiritual focus and merging of sacred and secular spheres. Ozu, whose traditionalistic themes and style have led many regard him as Japan's “most Japanese” director, had an easier time adapting transcendentalist principles to film than many western filmmakers because its ideas were already fixed in oriental culture. To properly convey his themes in film, however, Ozu had to overcome opposing Western cinematic trends. Despite this reactionary aspect of Ozu's work, Schrader describes him as “cinema's consummate formalist,” more of a craftsman than an expressive artist: he consistently focused on the same themes, relied on the same actors and crew, and used the same types of shots and editing patterns throughout his films. Schrader draws parallels between this repetitive approach to filmmaking and the repetitive, ritualistic aspect of Zen art. Similarly, Ozu aims to capture the concept of “emptiness” or “the void” in the many silences, pauses, and slow contemplative scenes of his films, a preoccupation that has long informed Zen artwork. Finally, Ozu's family comedies and melodramas often deal with communication failure between man and his environment. These films consistently advocate oneness and unity in the face of our changing and unbalanced environment. Both of these ideas are central to Zen philosophy.
This article is useful because it highlights the paradoxical nature of Ozu's work: Ozu was reactionary in his techniques, rejecting many western film conventions, but only so that he could express Japanese fundamentalist ideas. Schrader holds that many of these reactionary techniques were in fact based on traditionalist techniques that guided Zen art. This no doubt helped Ozu earn his reputation as Japan's “most Japanese” director, but it also complicates any notion that classifies his work as distinctly conservative or traditionalist. Passing Fancy exhibits this contradiction nicely. Artistically it is very unlike western films, focusing on pauses, repetition of the same motifs and shots, and inviting the audience’s detached contemplation (much like the Zen art that Schrader claims informs it). It uses these new techniques in order to focus on the traditional Japanese home and quietly lament the encroaching modern world.
The Problem of Japaneseness in Ozu, by Daniel Hui, April 22, 2000
In this blog Daniel Hui challenges film critics who have called Ozu Japan's “most Japanese” director. This designation is problematic because it is based on a number of flawed presuppositions that are required to characterize Ozu's work as especially “Japanese.” First, it ascribes a distinct Japanese national identity to film, an originally western phenomenon. Because film form was developed in the west, Hui argues, it cannot be well defined in Japanese terms. Secondly, the classification of Ozu's work as particularly “Japanese” requires that this Japanese cinema be defined by older Japanese artistic forms (kabuki theater, Zen painting, etc.) that are only marginally applicable to film. Here we find another limitation: the “Japanese” qualities of these older arts could only be analyzed and defined in western terms, since it was exposure to the west that forced Japan to define its own culture. Finally, the “Japanese” designation mistakenly assumes that as an auteur, Ozu exercised unchanging control over the artistic expression of each of his films. Hui argues that Ozu was not so unimpressionable—his early films, for example, were strongly influenced by the sweeping changes to reflect Hollywood production that were occurring in Japanese film studios after the Kanto earthquake of 1923. Attempts to unify Ozu's body of films often oversimplify the director's range of work, ignoring the films that are clearly influenced by Hollywood films or inconveniently diverge from his typical style. Moreover, Ozu's tendency to establish norms within his films and then purposely undermine them renders such a “typical style” even harder to define. Ozu may have tried to construct a unified body of work, Hui states, “but this body is fractured, irregular, and impossible to read.” All critics seem to agree, however (Hui included), that Ozu's films attempt to represent “everyday life.” Hui contends that this focus on the everyday, not some abstract artistic construction, is ultimately what accounts for the “Japanese-ness” that so many claim to detect in his films. Because Japanese life changed over the course of Ozu's career, Hui concludes, so then did Ozu's films.
This article not only contradicts notions that Ozu was a fundamentalist/traditionalist director, but undermines my attempts to classify him at all. In suggesting that Ozu created a dynamic body of film with many influences rather than a repetitive, thematically and stylistically static one, Hui rejects the “consummate fundamentalist” description posited by other Ozu scholars. Hui goes to claim that a unifying theme characterizing all of Ozu's work is impossible to locate given Ozu's unclear assessment of his own films and his tendency to break from his own established patterns. Unfortunately, this approach was the aim of my research—I had hoped to use Passing Fancy as an indicator of Ozu's traditionalism or progressivism as a director. There may be hope for my project, however, in the one area that this article is consistent with others: its acknowledgment that all of Ozu's films represent everyday life. Hui notes that Ozu's films change to reflect the changing of everyday Japanese life. This is certainly a key idea in Passing Fancy, where a stubborn, uneducated father struggles to keep up with the changing world. In this sense, Ozu might be best described not simply as focusing on traditional aspects of Japanese life; rather, he focuses on contemporary life, and adapts his style to reflect its changes.
Ozu's Anti-Cinema, Chapter 3, by Yoshida Kiju, 1998
This chapter of Yoshida Kiju's book Ozu's Anti-Cinema deals with the amazing thematic consistency demonstrated throughout Ozu's expansive body of film. Yoshida remarks that this consistency is particularly surprising given the tumultuous era in which they were directed. Ozu was not isolated from the events and circumstances of the day either: he served in the military twice, once as a soldier at the beginning of Japan's invasion of China in 1937 and again as a director for the Information Department of the Japanese military in 1943. Somehow, however, he kept his wartime and postwar films strikingly unrelated to the social and political context of war and postwar Japan. For instance, in 1939 and 1942, times of intense war fever and militarism in Japan, Ozu directed quiet family dramas (There Was a Father) and urban comedies (The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice). Indeed, The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice was deemed so inappropriate to the national wartime milieu and unconducive to the war effort that it was forced to stop production and was not released until 1952. In these sorts of family dramas and comedies, Ozu repeatedly made the same social observations, often about the unconscious acceptance of family roles, the meanings of family ritual, and the inherent disorder of the world. Yoshida maintains that Ozu's simple, consistent presentation of these themes was an attempt to make honest order of the chaotic world as he perceived it. He rejected hidden meanings and considered symbolic likening of images and ideas to be horribly banal and disingenuous.
This article is a significant study of Ozu's auteurism because it demonstrates how he was a simultaneously progressive and conservative director. Ozu was thematically quite conservative, choosing to deal with traditional ideas like social structure and family relationships rather than the more contemporary ones posed by Japan's expansionism and militarization. However, Yoshida suggests that Ozu could be considered a progressive because his films so blatantly ignore their socio-political context and focus so heavily on domestic relationships that they seem to be peaceful antiwar statements. This could explain why Passing Fancy, a film released in 1933 and coinciding with growing Japanese militarization and expansion, makes literally no reference to the events of the “outside world” and remains so squarely focused on the quiet domestic relationship of a father and son in an unnamed Japanese town.
"Against Modernism, in Favor of Tofu: Three Silent Comedies by Ozu" by Clifford Hilo, May 2008
In this essay, occasioned by the re-release of three Ozu silent comedies (Passing Fancy, Tokyo Chorus, I Was Born, But..) on DVD, Clifford Hilo reflects on what made Ozu such a unique director. He attempts to reconcile two contradictory perspectives on the director: the western notion that Ozu was the definitive Japanese modernist, versus the Japanese perspective that he was Japan's most traditional director. Hilo contends that Ozu was neither modernist nor strict traditionalist. Rather, his stylistic idiosyncrasies that many took for “modernism” were simply intended to preserve a fluidity throughout his simple, lighthearted films. The free-flowing, loose form of Ozu's films, he offers, is “more about film pleasure than the hard disruption of forms devouring themselves.” The beauty of Ozu's work is in the details. In this sense, Hilo considers Ozu akin to a comic strip writer such as Charles Schultz for his ability to capture the essence of an image in its minute details. He also notes the western influences that have found their way into Ozu's films, among them the skillfully-conveyed social humor of Ernst Lubitsch, the sight gags of Chaplin, and the charming child-based humor of Hal Roach's Little Rascals. Hilo concludes by remarking that although the drama of Ozu's films was always uncomplicated and close to home, Ozu drew deeply from his repertory of detailed images and simple jokes to drive “the larger gears of melodrama.”
This commentary helps us understand Passing Fancy, one of Ozu's later silent comedies, by noting the trends that run throughout his other dramatic family comedies. In particular, it refutes the notion that Ozu was Japan's consummate modernist filmmaker by explaining how his idiosyncrasies served the intended continuity and playful simplicity of his films, not a progressive artistic sensibility. Many of these are evident in Passing Fancy, among them the use of low-level, direct shots interspersed with quick inserts to draw attention to comedic details. As Hilo argues, each one of these techniques ultimately maintains a sense of uncomplicated narrative continuity.
"The Production of Modernity in Japanese Cinema: Shochiku Kamata Style in the 1920s and 1930s" by Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, May 2000
In this chapter, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano discusses a Japanese film style known as katamacho and its implications for the Japanese conception of modern mass culture. First she stresses the need to draw a distinction between two Japanese words for modernism (“modanisumu” and “kindaishugi”), something that previous scholars have failed to do. “Modanisumu,” she explains, entails a sort of levity, cheerfulness, and novelty, while “kindaishugi” suggests “both positive and negative connotations created by European rationalism.” Our use of the word “modernism” for characterizing Japanese film is further complicated by the fact that most discourses on Japanese/western relations are dominated by Western perspectives. Marciano then describes how the plural meanings of “modernism” are equally deployed in Japanese katamacho film. The katamacho film Our Neighbor Ms. Yae, for example, uses the progressive, light conception of modernism (“modanisumu”) to subordinate certain other aspects of modernism (“kindaishugi”) that threaten the Japanese social order. Katamacho films often appear modern in their use of subjective gazes in the style of other forms of mass modern culture. Marciano contends that this is a result of a sort of inferiority complex among Japanese filmmakers who were attempting to break away from the stereotype that Japanese cinema was a poor imitation of western films and a “low form” of modern culture. Katamachi-style film in particular seemed to align itself European culture to improve the reputation of Japanese film.
This article is helpful to my research because it helps characterize the types of films that were being released simultaneously to Ozu's Passing Fancy and other silent comedies in the 1920s and 30s. Because Japanese films tend to express different attitudes towards the various facets of modernism, we should not expect Passing Fancy to exhibit a sort of distinctly progressive/modern attitude over a distinct conservative/traditionalistic one. Rather, we may interpret Passing Fancy as perhaps having multiple, perhaps even opposing attitudes towards modern ideas and the west. The film seems adopt this more complicated attitude: in one instance, for example, the main character's son falls very ill from overindulging in western sweets; he is only cured, however, by advances in modern medicine.
"Silent Ozu" by Catharine Russel, Cineaste Vol. 33 No. 4 (Fall 2008)
In this essay Catherine Russel focuses on Ozu's silent comedies and identifies a number of thematic trends that run throughout them. Ozu continued to work in silent film well after sound film had become prominent in Japan in 1931, so that by the time he adopted sound he had developed many of his own visual conventions, particularly the frequent use of use of low camera angles and detailed inserts. With these uniquely styled early silent films, Ozu helped to establish the Japanese shomin-geki genre, which dealt with ordinary middle class people. Many of these films offer various representations of fatherhood, using the economic background of the Great Depression, the tumultuous political situation of the time, and the encroaching modern world as context for challenging the lost, working class protagonist fathers trying to support their families. Each father must do so while caught up in the various hierarchies and obligations of Japanese society. In I Was Born, But..., for example, a father tries desperately to please his boss but loses the respect of his young sons in doing so. While Ozu's films typically contain well developed male characters (mostly fathers and sons), Russel criticizes the early films for a simultaneous trend of inexpressive female roles. Finally, she notes the repetition of suburban locales in Ozu's silent comedies, largely composed of cramped alleyways and undeveloped, telephone-pole-lined lots. She views these semi-developed areas as a sign of the steadily-approaching modern world about to collide with traditional Japanese sensibilities. Ozu's repeated focus on the everyday aspects of these suburban locations allow his films to affect the feel of familiarity that they are so well known for.
A number of Russel's points distinguish her essay from other commentaries and prove relevant to Ozu's Passing Fancy and through this, assist our understanding of Ozu himself. First, that Ozu was late in adopting sound film—he still used intertitles in Passing Fancy in 1933--certainly suggests his comfortability with the older form of filmmaking, if not his artistic conservatism. Second, Russel situates Passing Fancy in context of Ozu's other silent comedies, and then describes how the narratives and themes of these comedies reflect Japan's historical circumstances. Russel's focus on the various fatherhood-related themes that carry through Ozu's comedies is particularly useful in understanding the tenuous relationship between the main characters of Passing Fancy, a poor laborer and his son. Understanding the film's background in the Great Depression and Japan's modernization, we better recognize that Passing Fancy's sympathetically-portrayed father, who is so ill-equipped to confront the changing times, is intended provoke the audience to lament modernization and with it the end of Japanese simplicity that Ozu embraced in his films. This also suggests an old fashioned sensibility on Ozu's part.
"Ozu, Sound, and Style" by Matt Hauske. date unavailable.
In this article Matt Hauske examines how Ozu's editing patterns changed over his period of directing. Specifically, it discusses the remarkably consistent shot length in his films, and explains that the stylistic choices accompanying this shot consistency remained even after Ozu adopted sound film. The introduction of sound film resulted in an almost universal doubling of average shot length in films. While Ozu's films experienced the same effect, the editing patterns and style of his silent films carried over to his sound ones. Ozu himself admitted that his sound films retained the style of his silent ones. Hauske suggests that Ozu's editing style resisted the changes that new technology seemed to insist upon because Ozu continued to work primarily in family dramas and comedies. To Ozu, who valued narrative clarity and simplicity above all else, these types of films required lengthy shots and heavy use of intertitles. Ozu's characteristic use of long takes and depiction of dialogue suggests that Ozu was in many respects ahead of his time, even though he adopted sound technology much later than other directors. Hauske also notes that Ozu often makes it clear in his silent films that he's aware of the potential for sound technology: scenes where characters react to off-screen sources of sound seem to be playful reminders of this awareness. Hauske concludes by speculating about the reasons for Ozu's remarkable editing consistency in his films. Perhaps Ozu's greatest reason for very consistent shot length and editing patterns, Hauske posits, is the opportunity it affords to play with audience expectations and subvert Hollywood editing norms.
Hauske does not deal with Passing Fancy specifically, but as one of Ozu's later silent comedies this article seems applicable to it. Particularly interesting is Hauske's suggestion that Ozu's silent films were quite advanced for their heavy use of dialogue and lengthy shots. In Passing Fancy Ozu demonstrates a proficient use of both to further the narrative. By Hauske's assessment, then, Ozu proves to be a progressive director for his innovative editing work in his silent comedies. Perhaps even more important, however, is the idea that Ozu used very consisting editing simply in in order to subvert it; in doing so, he would often undermine the audience's expectations and diverge from the classical western editing that he admired so much.
In this article Cathy Young acknowledges common complaints against fan fiction but offers that the practice may not entirely deserve the stigma that has been attached to it. While Young concedes that there are many, many poor-quality fan fiction stories circulating the internet, she disagrees with broad generalizations that the practice constitutes intellectual laziness or theft. In many works of fan fiction, she argues, there is a significant degree of creativity and effort; some fan fiction is arguably quite good. She refers to one Australian fan fiction writer who has done significant historical research to write a sequel to the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film, in which she develops the film's characters in original and unexpected ways. The challenge in many other fan fiction pieces, Young continues, lies in inventing new circumstances or alternate universes for underlying works and adapting existing characters to them. Because fan fiction is available to virtually anyone on the internet, the best works tend to receive the widest readership. Young also maintains that rewriting and appropriation is not an old practice, but one that has resulted in significant artistic works throughout history. She cites Goethe's Faust as based on an older work by Christopher Marlowe; likewise, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a classic retelling of an story, and it continues to be reworked in new ways. The only way to vindicate fan fiction and entirely erase its stigma, she concludes, is to continue encouraging high-quality fan fiction that will raise standards and draw in more talented writers.
Young's argument is interesting—and serves the purposes of my research—because it praises the democratic aspect of fan fiction, whereby anyone can write, but only the best fan fiction tends gets popularized by recommendation throughout fan circles. This counters the argument that fan fiction lowers the bar of entry to writing and allows all sorts of “artistic” drivel to be seen by all. Rather, the fact that so many people read and review this sort of work means that the best writing will be praised and that bad writing will be discouraged and improved. By extension, all creative fan endeavors that reach wide circulation from today's technology may be likely to increase in quality and effort, as the public has greater opportunity to comment on it.
This letter, posted on a website that monitors the “legal climate” on the internet, contains a cease-and-desist order to a Texas fan fiction website manager responsible for displaying adult fan fiction based on the Harry Potter series on her website. The law firm that issued the order, Theodore Goddard, represents Christopher Little Literary Agency and J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels books. The attorney who writes the letter explains that the sexually explicit fan fiction, which posted on the site in question has concerned (i.e., distressed) clients Rowling and Warner Brothers (the studio behind the Harry Potter films), who wish to preserve the integrity of the Harry Potter franchise. While the firm acknowledges that “innocent” fan fiction does not upset Rowling and Warner Brothers, the sexual material on the website in question threatens the integrity of the Harry Potter brand and could quite easily be accessed by children, especially given the Harry Potter's popularity among youth. The attorney requests that the material in question be removed from the internet and not be disseminated in any other way.
This letter significantly complicates the argument that fan based creative activities do not harm underlying work. Here, works of fan fiction with erotic themes are seen as a threat to the integrity of the work that they are based on. Illicit fan fiction's potential to tarnish the reputation of original work could harm the market of underlying work and could thus disqualify fan fiction from fair use protection. This consideration must therefore be reflected in arguments that attempt to defend fan fiction, particularly by those who wish to legally commercialize it. If anything, the existence of illicit, market-harming fan fiction—with no aims of legitimate parody—proves that a generalized, sweeping concession allowing fan fiction is inappropriate. Rather, fan fiction writers must individually decide whether to consider their work fair use; in the meantime, cease and desist letters such as these will continue to make up many writers' minds for them.
Chapter 4 of Henry Jenkins's book deals with fan cultures, fans' newfound means of expression afforded by new technology, and the changing relationship between fan cultures and the “culture industries” to which they are inextricably connected. Although new iterations of technology always seem to alarm the entertainment industries with the degree of control they give fans over content, the difference today, Jenkins argues, is the degree of “visibility” that the internet has given to fan culture; with the internet, fans can show their home-made digital videos and fan fiction to anyone in the world. This trend of widely available fan appropriation of content has vexed the culture industries and driven them, Jenkins argues, to one of two responses: the “prohibitionist approach,” whereby the industry attempts to subjugate fan activity, or, less often, the “collaborative approach,” where industries attempt to actively include fans in the development and promotion of content. Jenkins examines George Lucas's Star Wars franchise as a heavily fan-dependent, cross-media cultural phenomenon whose mixed responses to fan activities reflect the confusion of the larger culture industry. Lucas first encouraged fan fiction, then tried to eradicate it, and then set up a website to contain it—with the stipulation that everything posted on it would become the property of Lucasarts. Lucas has likewise attempted to regulate fan films, sponsoring Star Wars fan film competitions but prohibiting works that proposed new, “non-canon” stories set in the Star Wars universe. Such mixed messages sent by mainstream content creators have confused fans, but have not—and ostensibly never will—successfully end their attempts to participate in the work that they love. Jenkins concludes by asserting that the interests of mass culture industries like Star Wars are identical to those of the fan base that supports them--fans want the franchises they support to succeed just as much as the men and women who created them do. He predicts that the franchises that recognize this mutuality will flourish, while those that stubbornly cling to copyright privileges and commit themselves to quelling fan creativity will decline.
Jenkins makes the unique argument that the “visibility” of today's fan culture is at stake, not its expression; fans will continue to privately engage with the works that they love, even if companies force them to do so “underground.” He warns, however, that such a prohibitive policy will ultimately harm culture industries which depend so heavily on the support of their fans. Jenkins's article is significant in my studies because it focuses on American fan culture; he does not refer to foreign fan phenomena like dojinshi, where Japanese cartoon companies abide the sale of infringing amateur manga and have accordingly grown in popularity and profit. However, the benefits of American fan activity that he itemizes are incredibly similar to those of the Japanese system: both have fostered artistic innovation, raised new professional artists, and promoted the underlying material. The great difference between the two is the widespread acceptance of dojinshi and the generally negative (or, at best, schizophrenic) corporate reaction to American fan activities. If western companies were to follow Jenkins's rationale and regard their fans as collaborators and creative participants, rather than mere consumers, Jenkins contends (and I agree in my paper) that a cooperative and successful industry akin to Japan's dojinshi system might appear.
In this article Salil Mehra discusses the practice of dojinshi, or Japanese fan-made derivative comics, and its implications for copyright law in both Japan and the United States. He investigates the economic and social incentives fueling both sides of the dojinshi movement, making particular effort to understand the Japanese system in context of American copyright concepts of fair use and economic efficiency. He divides his dissertation into four parts, focusing on the ubiquity of comics in Japanese culture; a comparison of Japanese and American copyright law; the Japanese comic industry's tolerance of dojinshi's infringement; and the implications of this tolerance. After briefly discussing the artistic and economic history of manga and anime comics, Mehra compares American and Japanese copyright law and precedent rulings, specifically in regard to cartoon character copyright. He even attempts to evaluate dojinshi by the four factors of fair use analysis and court precedent involving cartoon character infringement, and finds that dojinshi would not pass by American standards. The similarity of the two copyright law systems, he offers, suggests that the grounds for a legal action against dojinshi are certainly evident should the comic industry choose to pursue it. The fact that the industry generally has not taken filed complaint against dojinshi artists, however, indicates that there are rational incentives for tolerating dojinshi. Mehra notes that culturally, Japan is a less litigious nation than the United States, and winning copyright cases are typically not nearly as lucrative as American ones; this is likely a deterrent to lawsuits in the manga industry. Furthermore, mainstream comic artists might tolerate dojinshi in order to appease their fan base--an artist could ruin his reputation among fans by filing a lawsuit against a loyal, albeit infringing, fan. Discussing commercial reasons to not litigate, he posits that dojnishi ultimately promotes the original work and raises new artists that can eventually enter the mainstream system with ideas of their own. He closes by calling for a reevaluation of the American notion that greater protection yields more or better intellectual property, as well as acknowledgment that a system akin to dojinshi may promote innovation and benefit collective industry.
Mehra's article is unique in its attempt to reconcile dojinshi with Japanese Copyright Law. His investigation of court precedent in cartoon infringement suggests that dojinshi is indeed a unique situation. By comparing Japanese and American copyright laws and demonstrating how alike they are, he proves that the creation and sale of dojinshi is not simply allowed in Japan because it has weaker copyright laws than the U.S.--other factors (cultural, economic, etc.) must account for the dojinshi phenomenon. Mehra is also unique among dojinshi scholars for making pains to demonstrate that the industry's tolerance of dojinshi has as much to do with the legal atmosphere of Japan as the commercial benefits of allowing the practice to continue. Furthermore, he emphasizes that with the dojinshi system, individual artist's interests are sacrificed for the collective good of the manga industry. In other words, an individual artist must agree not to protect his work from infringing artists in order to maintain the system that benefits the industry. This is all important for my paper because I investigate whether the fan policies of entertainment industries in Japan are transportable to the United States. The comparison of American and Japanese laws and cultural circumstances is thus critical to determining my argument.
In this article Nathaniel Noda discusses fan-based creative activities and their relationship to the copyrighted works that they draw from. He focuses specifically on the practices of “fan subbing” and “dojinshi,” but emphasizes the application of his findings to other derivative creative efforts (or “fan-based activities”), including the writing of fan fiction. Fan subbing, or the fan-based copying, translation, and circulation of Japanese cartoons, has been considered a key factor in popularizing Japanese animation in the west. Dojinshi, the fan-made and fan-sold cartoons that reuse characters from mainstream commercial manga, has proven to promote its underlying work and cultivate new artists for the professional manga industry. Both practices are technically illegal, but have been allowed due to their admitted benefits to the industry and, perhaps to a lesser degree, their ensconced position in our culture. Noda goes beyond other scholarly fan-related essays by arguing that the tacit agreement affording these fan-based activities is not enough, and that American fair use doctrine should be refined to acknowledge and protect the public benefits and incentives for authorship that fan-based activities provide. First he develops a formal definition for “fans” and uses it to form the two criteria for determining something as a “fan-based activity:” the activity complements the underlying work, but does not compete with it; secondly, a fan-based activity promotes the economic and creative incentives of the copyright holder whose work they are fans of. Noda then proposes that two changes be made in the traditional judicial interpretation of fair use to accommodate these innovative, arts/progress-promoting works. First, he posits that the first factor of fair use be refined so as to distinguish whether a work’s purpose is competitive or complementary. This, he suggests, would better align fair use analysis with the original aims of copyright law, and weaken the “commercial vs. noncommercial” distinction that never acknowledged that a commercial, complementary work (like these fan-based works) could actually, in some cases, benefit the author. Secondly, he offers that the fourth factor be applied to also evaluate a work’s benefit to the potential market of the underlying work. This is a much more nuanced, balanced evaluation of a work’s benefit to author and society than the traditional application of the fourth factor, which only looks for instances where a work could hurt an underlying work’s market.
Noda distinguishes himself from other fan culture scholars by urging that existing copyright law be revised to protect fan activities. He is also very specific, proposing criteria for deciding what constitutes fan activity and therein explaining why it is necessary to protect: it is innovative work that does not negatively affect underlying work. He then makes a compelling case for refining fair use evaluation, and is practical in suggesting how to implement it. Rather than attempting to force the change through legislative reform, an effort which would likely fail, Noda argues that the necessary change simply entails a refinement of interpretation at the judicial level. This is a departure from a number of other proposals, including suggestions that a dojinshi-like tacit agreement be attempted, or that publishers collaborate with fans to publish fan fiction anthologies. Because of its specificity and clarity, Jenkins's argument is the strongest one I have read for reforming and standardizing fan policy in entertainment businesses.
In this article, Daniel Pink presents a number of insights into the world of Japanese manga, focusing specifically on the practice of dojinshi, or the fan-based creation and sale of derivative manga, and its apparently unchallenged transgression of Japan's well articulated copyright laws. Pink investigates why publishers tolerate the sale of dojinshi, work that borrows the characters of official manga, in markets across Japan. He proposes several reasons for the stable relationship between manga copyright holders and the infringing party. First, dojinshi is practiced by many manga readers; allowing it keeps the fan base happy, and even nurtures new artists that eventually enter and sustain the mainstream manga industry. Secondly, dojinshi tends to promote the sale of manga that has inspired it. Finally, by monitoring trends in dojinshi sales, the mainstream industry can conduct a sort of free market research. Publishers' acknowledgment of these benefits of dojinshi results, Pink explains, in an unspoken agreement between publishers and dojinshi artists, whereby artists may sell their derivative work provided they only print limited editions of their work and do not attempt to compete with the manga from which they “borrow.” Pink offers that this approach to dojinshi—a tolerance and unspoken agreement that benefits both parties--is a viable business model for handling intellectual property, one which companies in the United States might do well to adopt.
This article explains the genius of the Japanese manga industry's intellectual property policies by showing how it successfully reconciles clever business with strict copyright law by simply choosing not to litigate. The industry's leaders recognize the benefits of fan infringment. They also understand that fans want the freedom to continue practicing dojinshi too much to risk it by attempting to compete with the mainstream market. They further realize that attempting to amend Japan's Copyright Law would be tremendously difficult and ultimately unnecessary as long as the current system works. The industry's initial response to dojinshi, that of watchfulness instead of hasty litigation, appears to have paid off. This recurring idea in my research has led me to contend that the tacit agreement resulting from the manga industry's watchfulness may ultimately be the most intelligent way to conduct business in a world governed by strict copyright laws that would be difficult to change.
Sean Jordan opens this blog with a common sentiment about fan fiction: that it is “lazy” and generally “bad.” He is not concerned here with evaluating the merits or shortcomings of fan fiction, however, but with the opportunities that the internet has created for the dissemination of fan fiction. Fan fiction is technically illegal, but is generally tolerated provided its creators do not claim copyright or attempt to sell their work. Here Jordan compares ordinary fan fiction to Japanese dojinshi, where such fan fiction is allowed and often taken quite seriously to create polished knock-offs of original manga. The problem with either type of fan fiction today is that the internet allows any fan author to show his work to anyone else in the world, giving them just as much power as an original author to promote his/her work. Fan fiction artists today could potentially distribute and sell fan fiction on a large scale while evading publisher scrutiny. Jordan muses on the potential legal steps that could be taken to prevent internet-enabled fan fiction from becoming such a massive infringement business. He envisions a system in which the publishers themselves print and distribute fan fiction, keeping the profits for themselves but granting the fan fiction writers exposure for their work. This would make a lucrative business out of a phenomenon that can hardly be prevented anyway: the demand for fan fiction is significant, he argues, no matter how bad it is. He concludes by pointing out the painfully obvious point that authors would likely object. If the authors could be persuaded to let fan fiction writers borrow and rewrite their intellectual property, then the system would work quite well.
This blog is significant in my research on fan-created derivative work for three reasons. First, it emphasizes the problem that modern technology poses by allowing anyone to show his/her work to anyone else in the world. Creative fan work may once have been tolerated because it was generally practiced at home and in small circles of fans; today, fan fiction is so widely available that it poses a more tangible “threat” to original authors and artists. Second, the article reflects an important popular sentiment regarding fan fiction, that it is lazy and generally quite “bad.” This stigma is likely to discourage original authors from allowing the commercialization of fan fiction, for fear of tarnishing their own reputation. Finally, the blog opines that a dojinshi-like system would likely not work in the west because authors prefer to have absolute creative control of their work than to see it emasculated by undiscerning fans, even if a good deal of money could come of it. This opinion opposes applied rationale of Japanese system, where the practice of dojinshi is now so entrenched that the manga industry accepts it and attempts to reap whatever benefits may rise from it. In this sense, it contradicts (or at least complicates) my argument that Japanese fan policies could be successfully imported to the U.S..
This article focuses on the practice of literary rewriting, where characters and plots of existing literature are developed into new works. It defends the recent body of literary rewrites as a genre unto itself, but warns that its practice is threatened by oversimplified copyright doctrine. The author first discusses 3 modern literary theories that complicate notions of originality and in doing so challenge copyright's authority to bar rewriting. The ideas of “the death of the author,” “the anxiety of influence,” and “marginality” in literature destabilize the concept of authorship and suggest that rewriting is a necessary method for creating new, valid works. It cites Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone as a rewrite of Gone with the Wind which acts on the literary theory of marginality by giving a voice to slaves from the world of the original novel. The novel's allowance as parody, however, is an oversimplification of its nuanced commentary. This parody-based fair use qualification ends up limiting works of rewriting that don't necessarily criticize underlying work, but take new perspectives and shed new light upon it. The article further argues that rewriting always occurs in respect to significant “canon” work. The existence of literary rewriting simply identifies works that have been already been rewarded with success; it does not inhibit innovation or bar progress.
This article is significant for its support of rewriting as a valid means of expression that propagates new ideas, rather than opposing it as a lazy practice that inhibits innovation. Although rewritten work does not always parody underlying work, it is innovative because it offers new and original (to the extent that the word may be used) perspectives on older works. Furthermore, rewriting tends to identify original works by copying only those works that are considered significant, or “canon,” enough to be worth updating. The article does not refer to Japanese dojinshi. However, a similar understanding of rewriting appears to guide the response to dojinshi in Japan, where original characters are rewritten into new situations or altered in a way that changes our understanding of original work. The idea that work can be fair use without being parody has become a major theme in my research and supports the argument that certain types of creative fan endeavors should be protected as fair use.
In this article Henry Jenkins discusses the series of events that gradually elevated Japanese animation to prominence in the Western market. He suggests that Japan's allowance of early fan piracy was able to promote international expansion of the cartoon business when its own publicity efforts could not. Early attempts to broadcast Japanese animated cartoons in the US were rebuffed by censor groups who considered them inappropriate, and Japanese cartoons largely disappeared from American television. When videotape recorders became available, however, it became common practice for Japanese and American animation fans to tape their favorite shows and exchange them, circumventing both copyright laws and the limits of television broadcasting. In the US, many of the Japanese tapes were exhibited at science fiction fairs around country, and fan clubs sprang up to collect and translate these foreign cartoons in a practice called “fansubbing.” As Japanese animation gained popularity, some fan groups actually won the rights to distribute Japanese cartoons in the US and began the first legal distribution companies. Eager to see more work imported, fans collectively agreed to stop circulating pirated shows that had been licensed, so as to avoid competing with the official legal cartoons and encourage growth of the foreign market. In addition to fansubbing, fan clubs worked to translate and explain the unfamiliar cultural elements of Japanese cartoons to American viewers. They also worked to identify Japanese cartoons that could be commercially successful in the US. This has resulted in the introduction of new animated genres in the western market, and massive global growth in the industry from 1994 to 2004.
A few ideas here are central to my research. Jenkins remarks that the Japanese industry's tendency to not interfere with fan practices has largely encouraged its own international growth and innovation. The industry has followed a similar policy domestically, too, largely supporting fan-made cartoons (called “dojinshi”) and using them to promote official work. Moreover, this article emphasizes the commercial advantages of thoughtfully monitoring a trend before taking action for or against it, as the Japanese animation industry has done. The industry has pleased its consumer base and ultimately strengthened itself by exploiting a form of piracy that it could not completely control anyway. In Japan, apparently, new technology is not considered inimical to business, a philosophy that western entertainment businesses might do well to embrace.
This spring 2007 ComiPress article (a translation of Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun) reports the official apology of a dojinshi artist to Shogakukan, a publishing company that accused him of infringing the copyright of the manga intellectual property Doraemon. The artist also agreed to return a portion of his profits to the publisher. The amateur artist had allegedly sold over 13,000 copies of Doraemon—The Last Episode, a dojinshi manga which he claimed was the “final” installment to the Doraemon manga series. The manga was apparently highly regarded for its art and story, both of which seemed true to the original series. The original Doraemon series was never actually “concluded” because its author, Fujiko F. Fujio, died in 1996. Shogakukan considered the massive scale of the dojinshi comic to be infringing on its rightful market. An official for Fujiko Productions, the studio that handles Doraemon manga today, claimed that while the company allowed dojinshi sales among “dojin circles" (fan groups), the sales of the amateur manga were too significant to ignore.
This article documents a significant breach in the tacit agreement typically honored by both dojinshi artists and the mainstream manga publishing industry. The dojinshi author's incredibly widespread sale of his infringing work appears to prove that the industry's tolerance of dojinshi sales is misguided. However, Shogakukan's handling of the issue suggests otherwise. The publisher did not immediately file a lawsuit, but rather complained to the infringing dojinshi artist. The artist, in turn, acknowledged his mistake and was willing to pay the company damages settled out of court. Rather than bringing the issue to court in a drawn-out, protracted lawsuit, the parties involved reached an agreement to maintain the balanced system that benefits both sides.