There are other reasons to be cautious about explaining Japanese artistic practices as direct continuations of time-honored customs. The artistic concepts purportedly shaping all Japanese art (wabi, yugen, iki, mono no aware) often turn out to have complex and ambivalent histories, during which they were redefined for various purposes. More generally, a great many “distinctively Japanese” traditions, from emperor worship to the rules of sumo, were devised in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by elite factions forging new national identities for a modernizing society. We are not in the habit of explaining contemporary Hollywood style by reference to northern European Renaissance painting, so why should ancient aesthetic traditions be relevant to twentieth-century Japanese film? Someone may respond that whereas we have lost touch with premodern customs and ways of thinking, the Japanese have retained a living relation to theirs. Yet this idea itself is no less an invented tradition, with sources in twentieth-century Japanese ethnology and cultural theory.

— David Bordwell,