Asian Cinema Origins: Adam Douglas

Editor’s note: In the last episode of the VCinema Podcast, we discussed our Asian film origins, the titles that got us into cinema of that region. In this short series of articles, our lead writers talk about their early Asian cinema experiences.

On Saturday afternoons, having run the gauntlet of cartoons from 6 to 11, and having sat through a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, it was finally time. Time for a monster movie. I liked all kinds of monster movies, whether they be Universal or Hammer, classic or current. Of course, I didn’t know anything about anything really—I was only 5 or 6 years old—but I knew what I liked. And what I liked the most was Godzilla. What a good time it was. I would stomp around the room, mimicking Godzilla’s giant footsteps, and cheer as he battled foes like Megalon, Gaigan and Kamakuras. I laughed at the antics of Minira, I bided my time while Mothra was on-screen (and still do), and gasped at the sheer power of King Ghidora, whose three busy heads always reminded me of scurrying rats.

Godzilla was my introduction to Japanese cinema, whether I realized it or not. It would be another eight years before I saw what I knew going in was a Japanese film: Tampopo (1985). Itami Juzo’s film is still remarkable, but to my 14-year-old eyes it was a bawdy, unclassifiable revelation. With a narrative structure prone to distraction, an obsessive focus on food, and a directorial style that favored close ups of smiling faces, I was unmoored from my usual calm seas of matinee science fiction films and cast into uncharted waters. Despite the fact that I was seeing the movie in a theater called the Kabuki, in San Francisco’s Japantown, the people on the screen still seemed a million miles away. I didn’t even know you could buy ramen in a non-instant form at the time. Tampopo was also a crash course in Japanese culture and manners; I particularly remember the scene in which a lesson on how to eat noodles quietly is disrupted by a slurping foreigner.

My appreciation for Japanese film (and Japan in general) has come a long way since my childhood but my love for these two still remain.