This dissertation takes an unusual path to trace the visions of postwar Japanese cinema: a popular film form known as jidaigeki. Set prior to Japan’s Meiji Restoration of 1868, jidaigeki, or “period films,” are often left out of consideration in English scholarship on how postwar Japanese cinema responded to rapidly expanding global changes in the postwar world; its often confined geohistorical space and limited distribution circuit has not stimulated consideration of its connection with the present. I argue that jidaigeki is best understood as expressive of a search for the present and of a point of engagement beyond this spatiotemporal confinement. Building on hitherto untapped archival sources, this dissertation reveals the extent to which filmmakers, critics, and cultural policy makers of different social backgrounds and ideological orientations, turned to jidaigeki’s problematic relation to pastness in order to interrogate their historical present. Through a series of close analyses, I show that the films themselves were the processes through which such an interrogation was carried. The four chapters of this dissertation are organized around the key moments in the postwar history of Japanese cinema in which jidaigeki presented a distinctive mode of engaging history. In Chapter One, “Embedded Film, Embodied Reception: Tsurumi Shunsuke’s Autobiographical Film Criticism,” I discuss a unique challenge that jidaigeki presented Tsurumi for envisioning postwar modernity and democracy in Japan. Chapter Two, “Calico-World in Rainbow Colors: 1950s Toei Jidaigeki,” traces the development of the production culture of the newly-established Toei Company in the 1950s. I focus on the reception culture among young girls and its impact on the aesthetics of Toei jidaigeki. Chapter Three, “Engaging Aesthetics: Kudo Eichi’s Great Killing (1964),” addresses a notable shift in the aesthetics of jidaigeki films that occurred in the early 1960s. My fourth chapter, “Reorienting Jidaigeki: Matsumoto Toshio’s Shura (1971),” challenges the view of Shura as Matsumoto’s retreat to the premodern past by offering a genealogy of the relationship between jidaigeki and Japanese avant-garde practices of the 1960s.