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Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire
Japan Memoirs of a Secret Empire
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2004     2hr 50min

Studio: Paramount Home Video Release Date: 10/20/2005


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Movie Details

Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Documentary
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 04/27/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 2hr 50min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The things we don't know about Japan...
Pistachio Disguisey | Dallas, TX | 10/31/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

In hindsight, and after watching this documentary, it's pretty easy to see how we got into the Great Wars against Japan. It's also pretty easy to see how we could have avoided them with a little cultural understanding.

As usual, PBS puts together a well researched, balanced report. As a bonus, it lacks the usual bias that most documentaries seem to inherently possess, and offers very little in a way of "directorial opinion".

I did, however, feel that it relied to heavily on visuals at times, especially on the section covering the Meiji period. I would have preferred a little more detail, especially concerning the upcoming culture wars (not covered in this documentary).

That being said, the visuals themselves are nothing to complain about, and the art direction is excellent. And the music! What a great score for a documentary!

Bottom Line: Recommended, especially for those seeking an intro into Japanese history and culture."
Good Visuals Undercut by Eurocentric Focus
Andrew Arvesen | 04/29/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I picked up this video for use with my 8th Grade class. We do a unit on Japanese literature of the Medieval and Tokugawa periods and I used Episode 2 as an introduction.

I loved the visual style of the film. It is striking and dramatic, with re-enactment footage helping the viewer to visualize the clothing, etiquette, and lifestyles of the period. A great deal of valuable information is covered in a compressed period of time without being difficult to understand. So far so good.

However, the film has a very "Eurocentric" attitude right from the get-go. Before Episode 1 even begins, the voice-over announces that Japan was a world completely the opposite of Europe. The rest of the film continues to hammer this idea of Japan as "other." Although the film quotes generously from primary sources about the period. most of these sources are European missionaries. The implication is that we can only understand the strange Japanese culture by reading the memoirs of Portugese Jesuits who spent a few months there. This ignores the fact that Japan at the time was certainly just as accomplished a literary culture as any in Europe, with plenty of authors writing compelling works showing much greater understanding and insight about the culture than European visitors could offer. The film also seems obsessed with the fate of the Christian religion in Japan. This is an interesting story, but it is really only significant to the country's history when discussing the final uprising of the Christians which led directly to the Shogun closing Japan off from outside visitors. Meanwhile, important topics like Shinto, the Emperor, and Zen Buddhism are barely mentioned.

One section that does use a Japanese primary source is the valuable discussion in Episode 2 of travel during the Tokugawa period. The film uses the journal of a Japanese woman, describing the special difficulties women faced in traveling around Japan. This was interesting and enlightening. It was also good to see a woman's perspective in the middle of such a male-dominated tale of power struggles and war.
Overall, I give the film a middling review. The visuals and wealth of information presented is good, but the distorted, Eurocentric focus is a real drawback."
Gwynn | Pennsylvania, USA | 05/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This was an excellent documentary! Absolutely great! It was a good long length, so you definately get your money's worth. The quality was very good, it was accurate, and informative, and definately interesting and entertaining to a certain degree. The only flaw I found in it was that there were a number of repeat shots of people, but it wasn't a big deal. Very good choice, whether you are just interested in the Samurai, or you have a research paper to do. Great all around."