HomeSamurai and Knights, Medieval and Early Modern Worlds East and West in Texts and Films: Inter-Cultural Echoes and Historical, Mythological and Aesthetic Perspectives

HomeSamurai and Knights, Medieval and Early Modern Worlds East and West in Texts and Films: Inter-Cultural Echoes and Historical, Mythological and Aesthetic Perspectives

Samurai and Knights, Medieval and Early Modern Worlds East and West in Texts and Films: Inter-Cultural Echoes and Historical, Mythological and Aesthetic Perspectives

Samouraïs et chevaliers à l’écrit et l’écran, cultures des mondes médiévaux et de la première modernité : regards croisés sur les enjeux historiques, mythologiques et artistiques

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Published on Wednesday, January 31, 2024


This international conference will explore the cultural differences, similarities and potential bridges between the eastern and western worlds as envisaged during the medieval and early modern periods, including their represention in art, texts and legends, poetry, and pictorial and cinematographic productions. Since the areas of investigation are expansive, Japan is granted a primary place as the pivotal axis for the eastern world. This does exclude Persia, India or China. The northern, English and Mediterranean European areas will primarily represent the occidental world.



The conference’s first section will examine time periods and the main chronological landmarks. It will focus on the major cultural, social, political and ethical values prevailing at the times. Though the expressions “medieval” and “early modern” are used for both the east and west, they bear different meanings according to the specific approaches adopted by historians or the various countries or parts of the world concerned. What does the expression “Medieval Japan” actually mean then?

By and large, the period concerned may be included between the Imperial or Heian era (710-1185) and the Edo era, when the Tokugawa dynasty (1603-1868) unified Japan after a long period of clannish wars. One may also speak of “samurai Japan” (1336-1573) or feudal Japan as social issues may be raised as well, and the expressions related to specific political and socio-cultural organisations, namely how the daimyos or warlords and their samurai-warriors imposed their law before the shoguns could impose their own, new order.

Addressing these questions thus implies investigating the shades of meaning conveyed by the very term “medieval” (and, one could also say at times, ‘medievalism’), as a concept connected to the historical and cultural events that represent the major landmarks of great social and human evolutions. The matter should thus be tackled in terms of cultural attitudes, a sum of values and ethics, rather than merely a matter of chronology. If the samurai were indeed seen as instrumental in war and as a caste of glorious warriors grounding their feats on basic virtues and values (honour, bravery, loyalty, and the sense of self-sacrifice), they also represented a social elite perfectly learned in high - brow cultural arts like the Noh drama. Their power gradually declined during the early modern period, notably the bakufu (at the very end of the Edo era, the limit of our area of investigation) until they finally disappeared as a caste in the Meiji or “Enlightenment” era, itself featured by the emergence of new social and cultural organisations.

Local artistic productions, texts, paintings or (historical, samurai or jidaigeki) films, give us echoes and provide us with many viewpoints on such periods, namely the sengoku jidai or the Warring States period (1467-1573) and the pre-Edo one (1573-1600) in jidaigeki masterpieces like Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood / Castle of the Spider’s Web, The Hidden Fortress, Kagemusha, Ran, or Kenji Mizoguchi’s Crucified Lovers, Ugetsu. The Edo, later period is also often represented in films (Mizoguchi’s famous Chûshingura / The Forty-Seven Ronin) as well as eighteenth-century prints.

This section will also address the medieval and early modern western worlds, the question of knights and knighthood and their related history, myths and legends, their representations in paintings, engravings or films (Excalibur, John Boorman), as well as the main spiritual and ethical values, which defined the spirit of knighthood and which perhaps were not entirely dissimilar to the samurai spirit beyond the most obvious material differences.

The second part will address the artist’s sense of history via a biographical and aesthetic approach. It will analyse how the artist of the past or today, the poet (haiku), the novelist or tale-teller, the play- writer, the painter, engraver or printer, and the filmmaker (the screenwriter or the director) is able to impart their own perception of the history of his time or of the past; it will also consider the ways they choose to represent their experience and vision of the world by means of their own artistic language. Various modes of representations may allow artists to convey subtle ethical variations. Historical perspectives may be differentiated, for instance between those that appear resolutely topical and local (Seppuku, Masaki Kobayashi) and those that convey more general or universal viewpoints (Kurosawa, his Shakespeare & Western adaptations).

The third part concerns the roles played by mythologies as primary cultural landmarks for both the east and west, and whether they may be seen as strictly local or wider and more universal. It addresses bestiaries and the major mythological figures (spiders, wolves, foxes), witches and sorcerers, and major spiritual notions like Buddhism and the sense of the ephemeral and transience regarding human nature (mujô) or the various artistic hues and ways to apprehend landscapes and nature. Great human myths will be considered or how they may be fundamentally differentiated and / or connected: Shinto animism and Western transcendentalism, the Greek Fatum, The Renaissance Wheel of Fortune and the Buddhist Wheel of Life and Wheel of Being…

May one then still speak of cultural gaps or shocks? Beyond immediate differences, could bridges be established? Could common philosophical schemata and ethics (or “trans-ethics”) or universal forms of humanism be delineated?

One may thus consider:

  • Material aspects of the medieval and early modern cultures east and west: the artefacts, weaponry and armours, and cult objects, whether they are real and / or
  • The every-day rites and cultural or religious practices of the social classes or groups
  • Spiritual values or ethical ambiguities, namely concerning the samurai and the “ronin” (masterless samurai), the differences and/or similarities with the beliefs and values held by medieval knights.
  • The historical and legendary film set in medieval and post-medieval Asian contexts (India and China).
  • The ethical and aesthetic dimensions brought by the pictorial and cinematographic representation, notably how the legendary is construed or constructed and/or realistic reconstitutions, or both simultaneously.

Papers, in French or English, will not exceed twenty-five minutes. Oral presentations will be followed by a ten-minute discussion with the public.

A selection of papers may be published later.

Submission guidelines

Proposals (500 words maximum) with a short bio-bibliography (250 words maximum) indicating your affiliation and research interests should be sent to

by late March 2024

The Conference will be in Poitiers on october 16-17th 2025.

Selective bibliography

Addiss Stephen, Groemer Gerald and Rimer J. Thomas, Traditional Japanese Arts and Culture, Honolulu, University of Hawai‘i Press, 2006.

Ashkenazi Michael, Handbook of Japanese Mythology [2003], New York, OUP, 2008.

Aurell Martin et Pastoureau Michel, Chevaliers de la Table ronde, Romans arthuriens, Paris, Gallimard, 2022.

Bloch Marc, La Société féodale, 2 vol., 1e éd. 1939-1949 (1 chapitre en vol. 2), rééd. en 1 vol., Paris, Albin Michel, 1994.

Buchanan Judith, Shakespeare on Film, Harlow, Pearson Longman, 2005.

Campbell Joseph, The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, and The Masks of God : Occidental Mythology, New York, Penguin Arkan Series, 1962 & 1964.

Caron François, Le puissant royaume du Japon, 1636 : la description de François Caron, Introd., trad. et notes de Jacques et Marianne Proust, Paris, Chandeigne, 2018.

De Castro Xavier (éd.), La Découverte du Japon 1543-1552, Paris, Chandeigne, 2017.

Costantini-Cornede Anne-Marie, Kurosawa, Shakespeare and Others: Art and the Human Experience, Paris, Michel Houdiard, 2023.

Davies Roger J., Japanese Culture: The Religious and Philosophical Foundations, Tokyo, Rutland, Singapore, 2016.

Davies & Ikeno (eds.), The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, Tuttle, 2002.

Galbraith Stuart IV, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, London & New York, Faber & Faber, 2002.

Galbraith Stuart IV, Le Cinéma japonais, Paris, Taschen, 2009.

Ehrlich Linda & Desser David (eds.), Cinematic Landscapes: Observations on the Visual Arts and Cinema of China and Japan, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1994.

Ellisseff, Danièle & Vadime, La Civilisation japonaise, Paris, Arthaud, 1974.

Fujiki Hideaki & Phillips Alastair (eds.), The Japanese Cinema Book, London, Bloomsbury/British Film Institute Publishing, 2020.

Jackson Russell (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, 3rd edition, Cambridge, CUP, 2020.

Keene Donald (ed.), Twenty Plays of the Nô Theatre, New York, Columbia University Press, 1970.

Keene Donald (ed.), The Pleasures of Japanese Literature, New York, Columbia University Press, 1988. Kerr KAlex, Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan, London, Penguin Books, 2015.

Le Fanu Mark, Mizoguchi and Japan, London, British Film Institute Publishing, 2005.

McDonald Keiko, Cinema East: A Critical Study of Major Japanese Films, East Brunswick, New Jersey, Associated University Presses, 1983.

Mellen Joan, The Waves at Genji’s Door: Japan Through Its Cinema, New York, Pantheon Books, 1976.

Mellen Joan, Les Sept samouraïs [trad. de Seven Samurai, London, BFI Publishing, 2002], Paris, Akileos, 2016.

Pastoureau Michel, La Vie quotidienne en France et en Angleterre au temps des chevaliers de la Table ronde, Paris, Hachette Littératures, 1976.

Prince Stephen, The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa: The Warrior’s Camera, 2nd ed., Princeton, Princeton UP, 1999.

Reischauer Edwin O., Histoire du Japon et des japonais : 1. Des origines à 1945 [trad. de Japan: the Story of a Nation, New York, Alfred Knopf, 1970], Paris, Seuil, 1997.

Richie Donald, The Films of Akira Kurosawa, 3rd expanded ed. with new preface, Berkeley & Los Angeles, California University Press, 1998.

Richie Donald, A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, Berkeley (CA), Stone Bridge Press, 2007. Sato Tadao, Currents in Japanese Cinema, New York, Harper & Row, 1982.

Sato Tadao, Le Cinéma japonais (2 vols.), Paris, Centre George Pompidou, 1997.

Silver Alain, The Samurai Film, 2nd ed., New York, Woodstock, The Overlook Press, 2005.

Souyri Pierre-François, Les guerriers dans la rizière. La grande épopée des samouraïs, Paris, Flammarion, coll. « Au fil de l'histoire », 2017.

Souyri Pierre-François, Samouraï. 1000 ans d’histoire du Japon, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2014, 2e éd. 2017.

Souyri Pierre-François, Histoire du Japon médiéval. Le monde à l’envers, Paris, Perrin, 2013. Souyri Pierre-François et Saeki Shin'ichi, Samouraïs. Du dit des heiké à l'invention du bushidô, Paris, Arkhê, 2017.

Souyri Pierre-François, et Rosa Caroli, History at Stake in East Asia, Venise, Cafoscarina, 2012. Suzuki Daisetz, Zen and Japanese Culture, Princeton, Princeton UP, 1959.

Suzuki Daisetz, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, New York, Evergreen Black-Cat Grove, 1964. Tessier Max, Le Cinéma japonais, 3è éd., Paris, Armand Colin, 2018.

Tesson Charles, Akira Kurosawa, Paris, Cahiers du Cinéma/Le Monde, 2008.

Tschudin Jean-Jacques, Histoire du théâtre classique japonais, Toulouse, Anacharsis Editions, 2011. Vincent Pascal-Alex, Dictionnaire du cinéma japonais en 101 cinéastes : l’âge d’or 1935-1975, Carlotta, GM Editions, 2018.

Walker Brett, A Concise History of Japan, Cambridge, CUP, 2015. Watts Alan, The Way of Zen, London, Penguin Books, 1957.

Watts Alan, Taoism: Way Beyond Seeing, Tokyo, Tuttle, 1997.

Yomota Inuhiko, What is Japanese Cinema? A History, New York, Columbia University Press, 2019. Yoshimoto Mitsuhiro, Kurosawa: Films Studies and Japanese Cinema, Durham, Duke University Press, 2000.

Zeami Motokiyo, “On the Art of Noh Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami”, in J. Thomas Rimer and Masakazu Yamasaki (eds.), Princeton, Princeton UP, 1984.


  • Hôtel Berthelot, salle Crozet - CESCM 24, rue de la Chaîne
    Poitiers, France (86)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Sunday, March 31, 2024


  • samouraïs, chevaliers, enjeux historiques, enjeux mythologiques, enjeux artistiques, écrit, écran, littérature, cinéma


  • Pascale Drouet
    courriel : pascale [dot] drouet [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr
  • Anne-Marie Costantini-Cornède
    courriel : amccde [at] gmail [dot] com

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Vanessa Ernst-Maillet
    courriel : secretariat [dot] cescm [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Samurai and Knights, Medieval and Early Modern Worlds East and West in Texts and Films: Inter-Cultural Echoes and Historical, Mythological and Aesthetic Perspectives », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, January 31, 2024,

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