Expanding Horizons Through Subtitles

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James Moyer, PhD, is thrilled that Moore students from across all disciplines take his Japanese cinema class.

“We have fashion students. I’ve had design students, fine arts, and that’s always valuable in terms of discussion,” he said. “Students from different fields are contributing from their own perspective and their own sensibilities.”

The Japanese Cinema and the Arts class has been offered at Moore for a number of years, and Moyer – a Liberal Arts assistant professor who has a master’s degree in philosophy with an emphasis on aesthetics, and particularly film theory – jumped at the chance to teach it. He uses the class to hone the students’ writing and speaking skills.

“I have them do a lot of writing in the course and the writing they do is terrific,” Moyer said. “Every time I’ve taught the course, the students respond with great sensitivity and insight.”

The course fulfills a humanities or an art history requirement. Students view 10 films over the semester, and study film technique, which includes editing, sound, cinematography, costumes and other devices. They also focus on Japanese aesthetics and modern Japanese history, mainly post-World War II.

“I want them to observe the kinds of things a casual observer would miss,” he said. “And often, as with powerful works of art, there’s more than one emotion going on, and I want them to try to pin that down with language, which is very difficult and is a practice unto itself.”

Nailing down the language is essential, he believes, and he says his students have told him that he requires much more written analysis than do teachers at other colleges.

“I think that being an artist is having something to say, in large part, and saying it in a new way,” Moyer said. “So the more ideas you come in contact with, through your reading, through your discussions, then the more likely it is that you’re going to have something to say.”

“These films are so attentive to design in the frame, and our students are very sensitive to design and the visual arrangement, and it’s just extraordinary what they observe each time I teach the course,” he said. “I always look forward to this class.”

Moyer finds that many who sign up think they are going to be watching anime, but he prefers to show live action films that use cinema’s photographic basis to reflect Japanese culture, history and society. Movies directed by Yasujirõ Ozu are among Moyer’s favorites, he said, because they meditate so subtly on the failings and buried feelings of human beings, and they erase the line between satire and sympathy. Moyer is presenting a paper on Ozu’s work in Paris in June.

This semester, the first film he screened for the class was the 1963 Akira Kurosawa film High and Low. At the end, some of the students applauded.

“That’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been teaching the course,” he said. “I think that’s a very good sign that the students are engaged."

Published on July 27th, 2017