Markus Nornes is a scholar of Asian cinema, and specializes in Japanese studies, documentary and translation theory. He arrived at University of Michigan in 1996. Much of his work has explored the history of Japanese documentary and its theoretical implications. He has also written about nonfiction production in other parts of Asia. Nornes has also published widely on the topic of screen translation.
Throughout his graduate work and into his career at University of Michigan, Nornes worked as a programmer on the international film festival circuit. As a Coordinator at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, he organized major retrospectives with complex, hefty catalogs. They include Nichibei Eigasen: Media Wars—Then & Now (commemorating the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, 1991), In Our Own Eyes: First Nations’ Film and Video Festival (1993), and Den’ei Nanahenge: Seven Transfigurations in Electric Shadows (for the cinema centenary, 1995). At UM, he regularly programs events by visiting filmmakers from China, Japan and Korea.
Nornes’ research centers on the cinemas of Asia, particularly the non-fiction form. His first book is a history of the first half-century of documentary in Japan. It examines the emergence of documentary, its exploitation by left-wing movements, and ultimately its cooptation by the government in waging war across Asia. He followed this up with a monograph following the life trajectory of director Ogawa Shinsuke. Ogawa left PR filmmaking in the 1960s to organize a powerful collective of young activist artists, leaving an indelible impact on both Japanese and Asian documentary. As with his work on Chinese documentary, Nornes is foremost concerned with the political and ethical complexities of producing documentary at times of social tension or political crisis.
Nornes also specializes in film translation. He has translated subtitles for Japanese films and written a monograph on the subject. In the course of uncovering the history of film translation from the silent to the digital eras, he delivers a polemic that calls for “abusive translation.” This is an approach to subtitling, dubbing and interpretation that accounts for the material qualities of language, celebrating moments of untranslatability and advocating for innovative translations that tamper with convention. He has brought this stance to his own subtitling of Japanese films.
Currently, Professor Nornes is working on a book about East Asian cinema and calligraphy. He also has projects on the pink film, Donald Richie, and a major multi-volume collection of Japanese film theory in translation.
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