Cinema at the City's Edge
Film and Urban Networks in East Asia
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU
Series: TransAsia: Screen Cultures
This volume is the outcome of a conference held at the University of Washington in April 2006. The conference was made possible by generous grants from the East Asia Center and the Institute for Transnational Studies at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington. We are grateful to the staff at these centers, and ...
List of Contributors
Introduction: The City’s Edge
The city’s edge is the place where the urban environment encounters its limits, a site where existing conceptions of the city are challenged and redefined. More than any other regional network of cities, the built environments of East Asia have pushed toward the vanguard of a new urbanism. The pace and scale of the transformation of cities in East Asia beggar even the essential vocabulary ...
Interlude 1: Arriving in the City
The film camera is a stranger to the city; to belong, it looks for a surrogate carrier. Much depends on the identity of that carrier, through whose eyes we will see the city. Is she a passerby or a local dweller? A stranger or a returning exile? A vagabond or a savvy traveler? An architect who sticks to blueprints or a jack of all trades who spontaneously creates her own spaces?
Part I - The City Vanishes
1 - Affective Spaces in Hong Kong/Chinese Cinema
Writing about Paris in the early twentieth century, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke notes that “the city sucks images out of you, without giving you anything definite in return.” It is as if a radical disconnection between image and city has taken place; the first in a series of other disconnections. Rilke’s precocious insight, I would argue, is even more applicable to Asian cities today. More and more, it seems, images of the Asian city, even as they proliferate and ...
2 - Ghost Towns
Anyone looking into the way Asian cities cooperate with cinema in the representation of the present must start with two unavoidable critical texts: Fredric Jameson’s 1989 “Remapping Taipei” and Ackbar Abbas’s 1998 Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance.1 Whereas before World War II cinematic modernism was in league with Joyce, Döblin, and Dos Passos in rendering cities visible through “symphonic form,” postmodern writers and filmmakers find the ...
Interlude 2: Workspace
Slavoj Žižek has written that sites of mass industrial production only appear in Hollywood films during the decisive moment when James Bond is captured and taken on a tour of the villain’s lair, with its half-completed tool of world domination on display and legions of uniformed workers scurrying around the shop floor as they build it. Bond then manages to escape and eventually to blow up the factory and its workers, and even the surrounding island, if necessary. Work environments, especially the spaces of large-scale industry, are as ...
Part II - A Regional Network of Cities
3 - Taipei as Shinjuku’s Other
Japanese cinema since the 1980s was noted for its apparent decline, and only recently was its recovery recorded with the performance of several popular films in the domestic market.1 Parallel to the recovery was Japanese cinema’s artistic achievement by independent filmmakers who emerged from television and video sectors. Miike Takashi is among these directors whose quick, efficient workmanship helped accumulate an impressive repertoire and establish a cult ...
4 - City of Youth, Ocean of Death: Taiyōzoku on the Edge of an Island
The relationship between the city and cinema has been an important topic in studies of cinematic modernity. Regarding the increased significance of the city due to the inception of the sound era, Anthony Sutcliffe writes, “[T]he definitive arrival of sound in 1929 confirmed the credentials of the big city, as par excellence the home of noise, as a neutral or even positive setting for feature films.”1 This is amply manifested in the outpouring of a series of American musicals extolling ...
Interlude 3: Neon
Neon lights beckon us toward a future city seen from another era. In films like Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966) the neon sign, multilingual and cosmopolitan, uprooted and floating above the banalities of the street, presents a vision of the city to come, a spectacular space where light is dedicated to the cause of commerce. Littered with brand names, it speaks a commercial lingua franca founded on a handful of keywords like “shopping” and “new.” Glimpsed in close-up, these neon signs are more than the backdrop for the tale of ...
Part III - The City of Media Networks
5 - Transfiguring the Postsocialist City: Experimental Image-Making in Contemporary China
Shanghai in Sixty Years (Liushi nianhou Shanghai tan) is a long forgotten futuristic comedy made in the besieged Shanghai of 1938. According to an extant synopsis, at the beginning of the film two men find themselves suddenly in a Shanghai of 1998, following an evening out in the dancehall cut short by their annoyed wives, who promptly placed them “in the doghouse,” in the attic. They fall into a long sleep. In the dreamscape they find themselves in a ...
6 - Noir Looks and the Flash of Transgression: Trauma and the City’s Edge(s) in A Bittersweet Life
When we talk about the city in terms of the edge, do we imagine a physical demarcation separating the inside from a periphery outside and beyond? Or is the edge simultaneously “out there” and contained within the city itself? Such ambiguity circumscribes Seoul, which appears to possess the guise of what Rem Koolhaas calls a “Generic City” but whose patina is redolent of something different.1 This apparent a-historicity is deceptive insofar as its complex history ...
7 - Technology and (Chinese) Ethnicity
It is striking how Chinatown pervades imagining of the future. Asia-Pacific figurations, notably expatriate Chinese enclaves, are pronounced in popular images of urban settings, especially when dystopic. Children of Men (2006) renders a future London choked with snarling rickshaws, immigrants, traffic jams, and insurgents. This is a world of overcrowding, decay, and abrupt violence. Illegal immigrants are called “fugees” (refugees), though faces ...
Interlude 4: In the Name of the City
Many movies include city names in their titles. The gesture of declaring an identity between the film and the city not only grounds the film but also shackles it to its location. Understanding the film, it is implied, requires intimate knowledge of the locales it describes.
Part IV - The City Is Elsewhere
8 - Imaging the Globalized City: Rem Koolhaas, U-th
This essay examines the imaging — and the imagination — of the Globalized City. The Globalized City is not quite the same thing as the Global City, but both terms acknowledge that globalization is transforming urban life in profound ways. What is it like to live and work in urban space under the new order of globalization? How is it different from life and work in the cities of the old international order — for example, the national capital, the ...
9 - At the Center of the Outside: Japanese Cinema Nowhere
Among the unique features of individual cities, aside from the features that define each place, is the speed with which any city can become at once a singular and global place: a space defined by an indeterminate quality that renders it the only possible place where it is and everywhere else at the same time. A city and the world at once, in an instant, defined by a temporality of place that constitutes the taking place of places. Somewhere, singular and always everywhere, ...