The Aesthetics of Shadow

Lighting and Japanese Cinema

The Aesthetics of Shadow

Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 64 illustrations Published: March 2013

Author: Daisuke Miyao

Asian Studies > East Asia, Media Studies > Film

In this revealing study, Daisuke Miyao explores "the aesthetics of shadow" in Japanese cinema in the first half of the twentieth century. This term, coined by the production designer Yoshino Nobutaka, refers to the perception that shadows add depth and mystery. Miyao analyzes how this notion became naturalized as the representation of beauty in Japanese films, situating Japanese cinema within transnational film history. He examines the significant roles lighting played in distinguishing the styles of Japanese film from American and European film and the ways that lighting facilitated the formulation of a coherent new Japanese cultural tradition. Miyao discusses the influences of Hollywood and German cinema alongside Japanese Kabuki theater lighting traditions and the emergence of neon commercial lighting during this period. He argues that lighting technology in cinema had been structured by the conflicts of modernity in Japan, including capitalist transitions in the film industry, the articulation of Japanese cultural and national identity, and increased subjectivity for individuals. By focusing on the understudied element of film lighting and treating cinematographers and lighting designers as essential collaborators in moviemaking, Miyao offers a rereading of Japanese film history.


“Film-history texts can often be dull, lack real insight beyond a litany of factual information, and plod along to foregone conclusions, structured as simply a lecture, where content overrides form. Daisuke Miyao's The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema isn't only an exception to these rules, but establishes a benchmark for which contemporary film-history research should aim…[H]e achieves this, at least in part, by structuring his scholarship as more of a thriller, than merely the standard (and soporific) fact-upon-fact approach.” — Clayton Dillard, Slant Magazine

“The book is grounded by exhaustive research; Miyao captures the debates surrounding shifts in lighting trends impeccably, … [it has an] interdisciplinary applicability to the fields of film, cultural studies and art history. The work articulates such a detailed understanding of cinematography and lighting practices that it would also be of great interest to cinematographers and related film practitioners.” — Jessica Balanzategui, Media International Australia

"In conclusion, the central thesis of this book problematizes much of what has been published in English on early Japanese cinema to date. As such, the work is a welcome addition to existing studies by Joanne Bernardi, Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano, and Aaron Gerow." — Isolde Standish, Journal of Japanese Studies

"This is a solid work, creating an insightful and persuasive argument for the relationship between a particular aesthetic and a particular ideological environment." — Timothy Iles, Pacific Affairs

"[Miyao] provides an... abundance of detail, but the overall approach is revelatory, culminating in a chapter about Japan's most celebrated cinematographer, Miyagawa Kazuo..." — Jasper Sharp, Sight & Sound

 "Miyao’s approach of paying near obsessive attention to the technological aspects of filmmaking allows him to offer a reinterpretation of Japanese film history that is of concern not only to devoted specialists. In fact, it allows him to unveil the very process of aesthetic change."  — Mats Karlsson, Asian Studies Review

"The Aesthetics of Shadow is an important contribution to the scholarship on cinema and modernity in Japan.... Anyone with a basic knowledge of Japanese film history will find the book accessible, but specialists in particular will welcome this study as an important and comprehensive new reference, especially as it pertains to Shochiku and Toho." — Diane Wei Lewis, Monumenta Nipponica

"The Aesthetics of Shadow is sophisticated and superbly researched, breaking new ground with the richness of its historical detail. Daisuke Miyao's innovative approach opens up the field beyond the usual focus on genre, stars, and key authors. It will serve as an example for the writing of histories outside of Japanese cinema." — Frances Guerin, author of A Culture of Light: Cinema and Technology in 1920s Germany

"The Aesthetics of Shadow tracks through Japanese film history with an eye on the cultural and technological underpinnings of aesthetic change. Many people have written on the aesthetic transformations of Japanese film in the first half of the twentieth century, but no one has done it with such close attention to the material basis of cinema. It is a refreshingly new approach to Japanese history. Daisuke Miyao delivers a lively and fascinating account of cinematography in the first half century of Japanese cinema." — Abé Mark Nornes, author of Forest of Pressure: Ogawa Shinsuke and Postwar Japanese Documentary


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daisuke Miyao is Associate Professor of Japanese Film/Cinema Studies at the University of Oregon. He is the author of Sessue Hayakawa: Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. What is the Aesthetics of Shadow? 1

1. Lighting and Capitalist-Industrial Modernity: Shochiku and Hollywood 15

2. Flashes of the Sword and the Star: Shochiku and Jidaigeki 67

3. Street Films: Shochiku and Germany 119

4. The Aesthetics of Shadow: Shochiku, Tohu, and Japan 173

Conclusion. The Cinematography of Miyagawa Kazuo 255

Notes 283

Bibliography 329

Index 365
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5422-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5407-9
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