Geysers of Another Nature

The optical unconscious of the Japanese science film

Authored by: Anne McKnight

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Cinema

Print publication date:  August  2020
Online publication date:  August  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138685529
eBook ISBN: 9781315534374
Adobe ISBN:


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Filmmakers before and during the Pacific War focused on bringing to the screen invisible worlds that were perceived and framed in the discourse of science. The object of kagaku eiga (science films) was to make intelligible what the eye cannot see (me ni mienai mono) as technology accessed reality in new ways and shaped what Walter Benjamin termed an “optical unconscious.” Post-war films flipped the focus of seeing away from visibility to engagement. They queried: once the invisible world is represented on screen, how should it affirm or transform existing social reality? This chapter situates these films in terms of cinematic ideas and practices that were shaped by access to science and protocols of reporting, editing, exhibiting, and captioning, or paratexts and acts of linguistic interpretation that define boundaries and reference points for mass audiences. The chapter explores how kagaku eiga filmmakers and critics traversed this circuit from the 1920s to the 1970s and reveals a tension between two critical poles: those from the research world who thought that the image alone could broadcast “unseen worlds,” and autodidacts and commercial impresarios who thought that captioning was key in order for viewers to get the message.

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