The Spectacle of Transnational Cinema

The effects of globalisation upon the film industry has popularised the concept of transnational cinema, a move away from the traditional and unrealistic notion of national cinema that dominated the artforms early days. Degrees of transnationalism in film are fluid and difficult to define but can be theorized through an analysis of the complicated relationship between factors such as genre, cinematography, cast, crew, and cultural themes.

Reflecting the post-war relationship between Japan and the US, influence from the US-centric Western genre is evident throughout Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo, with the use of setting (wide open spaces, small isolated town) and the deep focus cinematography used to portray these spaces reminding me of images found in a prototypical Western. Utilising conventions from the genre to acclimatise international audiences to the samurai genre meant ‘Japanese specificities of culture, history, and aesthetics’ (Desser 1992, p. 146), (i.e. the giri/ninjo conflict), remained relatively faithful in the film. Further, the majority of the cast, crew, distributors and producers of Yojimbo are Japanese, which creates a sense of authenticity that appeals to both local and international audiences who often associate filmmakers nationality with the national identity of a film. Yojimbo re-packages the jidaigeki film into a form more palatable for Western audiences without overly simplifying the history and culture present.

Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) was co-produced between the US, China and Taiwan and although it was received well internationally it struggled to meet approval within a Chinese audience. Wu explains that criticism of the film mainly concerned it’s ‘insignificant and obscure source’ (2002, p. 69), ‘Lee’s attempt to pander to the taste and visual orientation of the West’ (2002, p. 69) and ‘the great discrepancy in the actors’ accents in speaking Mandarin’ (2002, p. 69). In a process of cultural translation, traditional Chinese values filial piety and obedience are transformed into individualism and feminism, themes more celebrated in the West as a way of appealing to an international audience. Additionally, Lee’s American-Taiwanese upbringing and screenwriter James Schamus’ American background led many Chinese viewers to reject the version of China presented in CTHD due to a perceived lack of authenticity.

As illustrated through a closer look at Yojimbo and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the difficulty in determining a transnational film comes from the complex relationships involved in the making of a film. In a society becoming more globalised it may be more efficient to simply regard films as a ‘hotchpotch of cultural traditions, ethnicities, histories, and landscapes dressed up by carefully designed commercial and political re-packaging’ (Yin & Xiao 2001, p. 42) rather than attempting a national label.


Desser, D 1992, ‘Toward a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film’, in Nolletti, A & Desser, D (eds), Reframing Japanese Cinema, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, pp. 145-164

Wu, C 2002, ’Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Not a Chinese Film’, Spectator, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 65-79

Yin, H & Xiao, Z 2001, ‘Hollywood’s Global Strategy and the Future of Chinese Cinema’ in V P. Y. Lee (eds), East Asian Cinemas: Regional Flows and Global Transformations, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, pp. 33-57

Comments on Blog Posts:


3 thoughts on “The Spectacle of Transnational Cinema”

  1. i liked your comment on the post war relationship between the US and Japan and how yojimbo played a role in representing current situations of the time. the film drew inspiration from american culture and made it its own. i believe this paved the way for future collaborative works between the two countries and in turn enabled the two very different cultures to share aspects of heritage and ways of living along with aesthetics within film and other forms of entertainment such as television and music.


  2. Thanks for your comment Jess,

    I agree, Yojimbo (and other samurai films from the time) did pave the way for the two cultures to ‘share aspects of heritage’. Moving beyond forms of media entertainment, other aspects of Japanese culture introduced through Japanese films from the post-war period (such as martial arts) became popular within the West and influence remains visible today. I think that since Yojimbo was released Western audiences have become more open to experiencing aspects of other cultured through film.



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