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Abstract

This dissertation examines the audiovisual aesthetics of contemporary East Asian art cinemas, with films by Kore-eda Hirokazu, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wong Kar-wai, and Kawase Naomi as my privileged objects of study. Collectively, their recent works present a new mode of filmmaking and an ethical position based on an expanded notion of “personhood” that sees various nonhuman entities as persons. Insofar as their shared rethinking of the constitutive boundaries between the human and the nonhuman is concerned, I submit that their artistic visions are best understood through the logic and language of animism: a worldview which sees every entity as potentially animate, soulful, and thereby personal. “Primitive” but by no means dated, animism as conceptualized in these films addresses pertinent and pressing issues of our time, not least against the backdrop of ecological crisis. In order to understand how the worldview of animism and film aesthetics mutually influence each other, I study the interaction between the human characters and various nonhuman others in a number of films by these filmmakers. Each of the four chapters in this dissertation is devoted to one type of human figure, whom I describe as “shamanic”: 1) children; 2) people with autism spectrum disorder; 3) martial artists; 4) former leprosy patients. Through the mediation of film aesthetics, these shamanic figures bridge the human and nonhuman realms in various ways that befit their respective mode of being and living. What emerges out of our engagement with these films from the perspective of animism is an original account of contemporary cinema as characterized by its metaphysics, stylistics, and the specificities of its human character’s subjectivity.

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