On my style of reviewing

Introduction

Even though I receive a lot of compliments (of directors, cinema-fans, and others) about my reviews, it is also not uncommon to receive comments about my reviews that are more critical. I always welcome these more ‘negative’ comments, as I always aspire to become better at writing and formulating my thoughts, but a lot of these comments miss the point of my endeavor. Therefore, I decided to write a statement explaining the aim of my work and how one can use my reviews.

This statement is not written in order to ‘correct’ those who are critical about my work, but to provide an explanation about the way I review and the (often difficult) choices I  need to make when reviewing Japanese cinematographic narratives.

Violated Angels (1967) by Koji Wakamatsu

Seeking a balance between reviewing and analyzing. 

Do I write reviews or do I write analyses? While it is not an easy question to answer, I conceptualize my style of reviewing as being in-between reviewing the film and analyzing the narrative from a psychoanalytic perspective. As a result, I prefer to call my review-writings review-analyses.

What do I analyze in my reviews? I do not only attempt to explore how the director frames, from his subjective perspective, the Japanese cultural context (specific cultural expressions, traditions, …), but how, for instance, the director approaches the tension between the cultural context (ideals, …) and (the birth of) subjectivity (desire, sexuality, …). Despite the diversity of topics Japanese (and non-Japanese) directors tackle in their movies, many of these films deal, in essence, with the same fundamental question: How do one relates to oneself, the other, and the Other? It is question that turns around the fundamental triangle of love, desire, and enjoyment.

Ugetsu monogatari (1953) by Kenji Mizoguchi

The fact that I seek the explore how a narration deals with the question of subjectivity within Japanese society often poses me for difficult decisions. How far do I go with spoiling certain elements of the movie? What do I leave unsaid and up for the viewer to discover? How do I offer an analysis without ruining the experience of discovering a movie for the first time?

The birth of the variety of notes. 

Adding notes – most common cine-notes and narrative-notes – is a way to mitigate the danger of spoiling a too much of the narrative. The notes, especially the narrative-notes, give me the freedom to add additional arguments for certain interpretations and go deeper in some of the themes the narrative touches upon. Even though I avoid as much as possible to write direct spoilers in these notes, the notes, in some way or another, always have the potential to spoil.

sworddoom01

These notes have another unintentional effect: they show, just like my analysis does, that I really have seen the movie. The notes and my analysis, in fact, allow me to avoid two pitfalls that professional critics as well as non-professional critics are often unable to avoid. The first pitfall concerns writing reviews that say ‘nothing’, writing reviews that one could write without having seen the movie. The second pitfall concerns writing from a sort of master-position, from a position of someone who knows and wants to show-off his knowledge. What I attempt to convey with my review-analyses is how the narrative has educated me. The ratings I give are in part function of the narrative’s ability to educate me on the complex question of subjectivity.

That being said, the notes are often difficult to understand for spectators who have not yet seen the movie – they often only attain meaning after having seen the movie. The same can often be said about the analysis-part of my reviews. In some cases, one needs to have seen the movie to really be able to grasp what I’m trying to formulate. So when should one read my review-analyses? Should one read it before or after seeing the movie?

Roningai (1928-29) by Masahiro Makino

How to use my review-analyses? 

While I think that my review-analyses are most meaningful after having seen the narrative, I do believe it possible for people to read my reviews as appetizers, as a way to aid the reader in their decision to see the movie or not.

I would recommend the readers who use reviews as a way to decide if a movie is worth seeing or not to read either my conclusion or the base-text as a whole – I take great care in making sure that the base-text, despite exploring the various themes of the narrative, is devoid of any real spoilers. If there are notes, and especially narrative-notes, avoid them at all cost. The notes are aimed at those readers who have seen the film and want to know more about my psychoanalytic reading of the narrative.

 

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