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From Fiction to Film in Japanese Cinema

When filmmakers adapt a piece of fiction, they sometimes remain faithful to the plot and characters on the printed page. But more often, the story we see on the screen is quite different from the one told by the original author. In a new course she’ll teach next spring, Vassar Professor of Chinese and Japanese Peipei Qiu will ask her students to explore the ways some of Japan’s most prominent movie directors have handled Japanese fiction dating as far back as the 10th century in films that have been made over the past 100 years. And this summer, under the auspices of Vassar’s Ford Scholars program, Reina Miyake ’18 is helping Qiu prepare the material for the class.

Vassar Professor of Chinese and Japanese Peipei Qui and Ford Scholar Reina Miyake ’18

“In this course, my students will be looking at how film directors choose to tell a story, compared to how the original author did,” Qiu explains. “Did they stay true to the text or did they choose to tell the story in a different way? We will also discuss the Japanese narrative tradition in both written and cinematic forms.”

Miyake, an art history major and Japanese correlate from New York City, is using various databases in the library to find movie reviews and scholarly works on Japanese film and literature. She is also using computer software to extract film clips from about a dozen movies that will be viewed by the class. “I’m preparing materials for class discussions on how scholars and reviewers felt about the way directors treated pieces of literature in their movies,” Miyake explains.

Qiu says two of Japan’s most renowned directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, will be among the dozen filmmakers the students will be analyzing in the class. Kurosawa gained worldwide acclaim for several films, including Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985).  Miyazaki is an author and illustrator of popular manga stories as well as an anime film director. Miyake says she’s a big fan of his movies. “I admired him when I was growing up because many of his films are based on tales that glorified strong young women who were tested in some way,” she says. “Miyazaki resonated with me as a child; I felt a kinship with his characters.”

In addition to gathering material for the class, Miyake will create a PowerPoint presentation on Miyazaki’s reverence for nature in his movies, Qiu says. “Adding this assignment, having Reina create a critical discussion of environmentalism in Miyazaki’s films, helped her gain an ownership of the project,” the professor says.

Miyake says her work as a Ford Scholar has enabled her to learn research techniques that will help her in her studies here and perhaps in her post-Vassar life. “I’ve learned how to use a lot of the resources in the library, and understanding what Vassar has and how to find it will be helpful in future classes,” she says.

Working closely with Qiu all summer has also spurred her to consider scholarly research as a possible profession, Miyake says. “This is my first research internship, and I discovered I like to do this sort of thing,” she says. “I was nervous starting out, but Peipei gave me specific guidelines and deadlines for the work that really helped me.”

Qiu says she enjoyed watching her student learn to appreciate the rewards of undertaking and completing an in-depth research project. “I am very glad to see that Reina has developed a deep interest and great confidence in scholarly research through working on this Ford Scholars project,” she says. “This is a more important goal to accomplish than helping me prepare for this course.”

 --Larry Hertz

Posted Wednesday, August 17, 2016