Out of the Past: Jidaigeki, Modern Historicity, and the Aesthetics of the Present in Postwar Japan

Junko Yamazaki
Asian Languages and Cultures

Out of the Past explores the postwar revival of jidaigeki, a category of film that emerged in the early 1920s and that gradually came to refer to period films set prior to Japan’s Meiji Restoration of 1868. The revival of jidaigeki during the second golden age of Japanese cinema in the 1950s–1960s provides a unique opportunity to study cinema as a form of history-making beyond its ability to record and represent history. This monograph offers a two-fold analysis of jidaigeki as a form of history-making. First, it examines the history of jidaigeki’s aesthetics, analyzing various films to show how aesthetic ambition—or, “the aesthetics of the present”—expanded the political and social imagination available through the film medium. It shows how this expansion helped to shape reality in postwar Japan. Second, the monograph offers a genealogy of jidaigeki as a historical category in order to investigate its potential and limits for engaging history in general, and postwar Japan in particular. The book diverges from more conventional film histories by framing its central question around cinema’s historicity and asking what it means to write a film history.