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Dear Cinematographers,

 

It can be seen in the films of Takeshi Kitano and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, among many others. Hausu, Ran, violent Cop, Hana-Bi, Cure - even Charisma, Ju-On, Ringu, and Pulse (Kairo) - and many others all have the same, distinctly Japanese '80s, '90s aesthetic - and not simply on account of the costumes and set decoration. It is a late night TV special kind of look, with faded tones. Other than that meager description, I cannot further elaborate - the aesthetic is too subtle. Therefore I must ask you who are greatly more experienced than I - was it by means of the cameras, lenses, and filters, or was it primarily the film? I would sincerely like to know for a feature on which I am presently working.

 

Sincerely Grateful,

 

Kurt Cassidy-Gabhart

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I remember someone posted here last year talking about the special contrast look of 90's films, and a lot of the answers had to do with the film stock itself. Kodak (and other companies) releases a new formula/version of their motion picture film once about every 5 or so years?

 

Check Kodak's film stock chronology to see if any of your favorites match up.

https://www.kodak.com/bd/en/motion/About/Chronology_Of_Film/1980-2000/default.htm

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Some of those movies might have been shot on Fuji film instead of Kodak stock. I don't have an answer for this other than in the past, Japanese color cinematography tended towards underexposing the film stock for a "thinner" look, softer colors and blacks, more grain. This was apparent in the first major Japanese color movie, "Gate of Hell" (1953) directed by Kinugasa -- critics noted that the color was very different than the Hollywood high-keyTechnicolor look of the time. And if you look at "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970), same Kodak film stock for the whole movie used but the Japanese scenes were shot by Japanese crews, and those scenes have a grittier, softer look to them compared to the brighter, slicker American-shot scenes. Some of that is the difference in lighting but it is also due to differences in exposure, the Japanese footage has a thinner negative (something that 20th Century Fox complained about). Back then, with movies released from dupes and prints shown in drive-in theaters, the studios tended to want a dense negative with bright highlights.

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Japanese color cinematography tended towards underexposing the film stock for a "thinner" look, softer colors and blacks, more grain. This was apparent in the first major Japanese color movie, "Gate of Hell" (1953) directed by Kinugasa -- critics noted that the color was very different than the Hollywood high-keyTechnicolor look of the time. And if you look at "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970), same Kodak film stock for the whole movie used but the Japanese scenes were shot by Japanese crews, and those scenes have a grittier, softer look to them compared to the brighter, slicker American-shot scenes.

Is there any correlation or connection between the modern American low-sat art house look and the way the Japanese handled color/exposure in the 50's/60's? Or is what we see today minimalism uninspired by that older method?

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I doubt 50’s/60’s Japanese color cinematography is much on the minds of modern directors and cinematographers. But foreign cinema certainly had an effect on 70’s U.S. filmmaking.

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TBH I think the low sat/low budget art house "look" is alot more to do with Log gammas being available in pretty much all camera,s. .. but not alot of people knowing how to grade it or deal with it in post... there are many DP,s who have shot log and seen their work in the finished edit looking exactly as they shot it !!.. google it on the inter web .. so much so that its actually become a "look".. by attrition.. and being associated with being edgy and arty ..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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