Michael Kerpan wrote:It appears that you totally misunderstood what I said. I did NOT say that Richie and Anderson knew nothing. I said that, at the time they wrote, their American audience knew nothing about Japanese movies. And, despite their best efforts, their book did not create enough interest to generate any serious academic follow-up (this would come only decades later).
I also would say that Richie and Anderson, as "pioneers" starting from scratch necessarily had to do plenty of shooting from the hip. They also did not have the ability to re-watch films easily -- it would largely have been a matter of catch as catch can. Moreover, many older films would have been inaccessible then (for example most of Naruse's older films had no exhibition prints).
If one looks at the films of Shimazu, Uchida, Shimizu, Gosho, Ozu, Naruse, Mizoguchi, Yoshimura, Yamanaka et al -- one does not see any undue preponderance of hammy acting, rather one sees virtually none. It is not clear how many of the older films of these directors Anderson and Richie actually were able to see in the late 40s and 50s. Unfortunately, they often do not distinguish between films they actually saw and films (some already long lost) that they simply read about. Probably many of these older films remained essentially unavailable until the home video era -- and many more remained unavailable until even more recently.
The fact that there were tons of low-grade films made during the 20s through 50s in Japan (as many as in America) and that there may have been tons of "hammy" actors involved in making these tells us next to nothing about whether Japanese actors were, per se, hammier than American ones at a comparable professional level. If you have seen many dozens (or a few hundreds) of films made by the directors I mentioned above -- and consider the acting in these typically hammy, then you have a far different definition of hammy than I do.
Shochiku Films worked hard to inculcate naturalistic performance practices from the time of its creation in the early 20s -- and its norms spread to Nikkatsu (through Yamanaka) and to PCL/Toho through Naruse (and other Shochiku alumni). The low-grade films of these companies are not available (even if they exist), but the works of their more important directors simply show no natural propensity for Japanese actors to perform in a hammy fashion.
Well I'm glad you finally mustered an argument instead of a broad ad hominem dismissal. That's all I was asking for. Actually, you could have taken issue with Richie's assertion quite simply by pointing out the logical inconsistency at the heart of it: if the Japanese, as he argues, learn the arts of dissimulation within the family from a young age, it should follow that they would naturally be convincing actors, not obviously hammy ones.
The truth of the matter, as Schreck points out, is that there was a broad swath of acting styles in Japan, many of which (particularly the macho males and the Kabuki-inflected chambara) strike the uninitiated Westerner raised on a steady diet of naturalism as hammy and affected. Clearly there was less reason or tolerance for that sort of thing in domestic dramas.
It's worth pointing out, too, that the finished films are not always the best indicator of an actor's actual propensities. Great directors can coax decent performances even out of actors who, left to their own devices, would produce groan-worthy turns. Many of Richie's impressions came from the great amount of time he spent on actual sets in the fifties, and all the takes he saw that didn't make it to the final cut. Since very few of us have had the rare opportunity to be present at countless Japanese film sets during the fifties, I'm willing to give Richie the benefit of the doubt that there was *some* validity to his impressions at the time. I don't, however, buy into his explanation for *why* he saw what he saw.
I will say without equivocation, however, that the acting in prime-time Japanese TV dramas today is consistently awful and nowhere near the level even of run-of-the-mill American TV dramas like Law and Order. If you don't see that, I'm sorry.