The article explores the film theory written by the Japanese avant-garde artist Murayama Tomoyoshi (1901–1977). Murayama authored a robust yet understudied body of film writing, in the 1920s and 1930s. Although he had a prolific and stable activity related to film—in criticism, theory, screenplays, and even directing—he held an ambivalent opinion about the medium. For him, film could never fulfill art's political task due to what he saw as the ontological restrictions of the medium: its supposedly incorporeal and incessant display of images. However, he kept repeatedly returning to film, based on the fascination with a certain vitality that he saw in the moving image vis-à-vis other types of images such as photography. By reading his film essays in the larger context of his political engagements and his aesthetic theory, the article argues that the contradictions that animated Murayama's “problem with film”—his ambivalent attachment to the medium—reveal his adherences to the racial logics of the Japanese empire and offer a critical perspective on the broader political stakes of cinematic embodiment.

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