Professor Arthur Miller

On Fridays, before diving into a discussion of representations of Japanese culture in film and animation, Asian languages and cultures professor Arthur Mitchell dedicates 20 minutes of class to check in with his students. A lively discussion follows with students joking with each other, sharing advice on how to get over a cold, and discussing ways to adjust to life at Mac. Nearly one month into the semester, this residential FYC has already bonded. “There’s a cohesion, and a sense that people like being in this environment together,” says Mitchell.

This course focuses on critically analyzing the stereotypical binary between the East and the West. Although that binary is often used as a framework for discussing films (and culture more broadly), Mitchell says it also limits students’ understanding.

Students view and discuss a wide range of films throughout the semester, from Kurosawa Akira’s Ikiru and Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story to the genre of anime with Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away and Anno Hideaki’s Evangelion. These films portray archetypes of the white-collar worker and the adolescent girl, as well as universal themes of family, love, death, and spirituality.

Today’s exercise prompts students to engage with this East versus West framework. On the whiteboard, students brainstorm ideas stereotypically associated with Japan, such as nature, simplicity, sentimentality, and filial piety. Under the West category, students add modernity, individualism, and consumerism. The discussion is casual, with students calling out for clarification on a few terms and sharing personal experiences.

The goal is for students to become aware of this binary, and to develop their own independent analytical voice that they can apply when thinking about other cultures. “Once you get rid of this framework,” says Mitchell, “you can look at these films and realize that there are tons of things you can analyze and think about.”

Livvie Avrick ’19 contributed to this story.

November 14 2018

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