Series Review: Psyren 2007-2010


It has been a while since I have actually written a legitimate book review, but after finishing this series for the second time I couldn’t help myself. Since I have become a school teacher my time spent writing these reviews has regrettably been limited but I have realized that writing my feelings here, even if hardly any one sees them, helps release a lot of tension and pressure I build up everyday. That being said, I would like to commence with my review of the widely popular and in many ways overlooked series written and drawn by Toshiaki Iwashiro.

First serialized in 2007, Psyren is a shonen manga series centering on multiple people transported to a horrific future where the world has been completely destroyed and inhabited by unimaginable monsters. The trick is, they are only transported there when summoned by Nemesis Q who forces them to participate in a “game” meant to discover the reason behind that gruesome future. The story begins when the main character Ageha Yoshina watches an old classmate Sakurako Amamiya disappear before his eyes. Determined to find and save her, he accepts Nemesis Q’s phone card and after finishing a long survey finds himself in the formidable future. As he finds and rescues Sakurako and discovers his unborn PSI abilities that gives him and any who have been exposed to the future earth’s atmosphere awakened powers, he and others become determined to fight and change their formidable future.

I remember reading this series when I was perhaps nineteen. I went through it incredibly fast and was fascinated by Iwashiro-san’s incredible plot and characters. From the beginning, it was impossible to truly grasp what would happen in the story. Even the main character, who many no doubt expected to become an all powerful character like Ichigo from Bleach or Goku from Dragonball Z, was fully aware of his limitations and struggled to become stronger. Did he become the most powerful person in the entire universe? No. Not really. Yes, he became powerful but his power lay in something far more infinite and complex. This was a power born from an intense desire to protect others, especially Sakurako whom he had loved since childhood. Incredibly, they not only were able to prevent the horrible future but ensure that the future they had traveled to so many times, eventually broken off as a different reality, be saved and protected.


Let’s talk about the plot. The question that many of you are probably thinking is “How is Psyren any different than any other manga we have read or seen before?”. To be honest it is difficult to explain that. To put it simply, it is brilliantly clever in its dialogue and execution. Is that cliqued and not a very well supported answer? The plot flows with pristine beauty and flawlessly relays important clues and information without being too vague or obvious. To be honest, the minute you start reading it is likely that you will be hooked until the end. The reason? For me, it kept me asking questions. In my eyes Fullmetal Alchemist is the only manga that surpasses its breadth and depth. I know when I have struck gold when a story grasps me from the beginning and fills me with such joy at its conclusion. This is a story that MEANS something. It reaches into the vast human imagination.


I still haven’t been able to fully understand the characters (which is a good thing). Ageha, though initially your typical hotheaded hero bound and determined to save everyone really stepped beyond his stereotypical role. To put it bluntly, he grew into himself. He held incredible pain yet it didn’t seem to hold him back. Through most of the manga it is never even discussed. It is unclear until the last volume why he was so determined to find and save Sakurako and stay by her side. By the end it is expected that he will be become the most powerful being that saves the world almost single handedly. NOT SO! He doesn’t even kill the man responsible but fulfills the wish of Nemesis Q and saves him from becoming a monster. Sakurako also puzzled me because her personality was so erratic and unfocused till the end. One minute she was cold and calculating, the next she was a bubbly teenager. Her unstable grasp on her emotions was a result of her broken family life and involvement in Psyren but, to my delight, she is able to overcome such pain because of Ageha.

As for the other characters like the strong Hiryū Asaga, who had come to Psyren to save a childhood friend, Oboro Mochizuki, who is just plain crazy, and even Kabuto Kirisaki who overcomes his cowardice by assimilating his fear with his powers they are all genuine and entertaining.


Again, the plot’s execution was nothing short of brilliant. Mysteries slowly unfold and reach toward a future that not only means stopping the mass execution of most of the human race, but also the conversion of those responsible. To me, it means more when villains are shown to be more than mindless evil tyrants. They had a purpose that reached beyond mere greed for power and dominion. Rather, they were human beings deluded by their emotionless warped perception of human existence born from years of torture and seclusion. I empasized with them, however I was still able to acknowledge that their actions were nonetheless twisted and evil. Did that make them irredeemable? The story never truly says. Personally, I think this story shows that scientific experimentation on human beings never goes well. (Especially if you rebuild your laboratory more than once even after the first one had been completely destroyed by a previous patient.) You would think they have learned their lesson by then.

In a way, I am immensely glad that no one has tried to make this series into an anime. I would rather it stay the way it is. . . unless a legitimate company like BONES undertakes its animation. The art was incredibly well done. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a veteran artist like himself. I appreciate good art, though it may seem rather strange to call a Japanese “comic” series incredibly artistic.

I wholeheartedly suggest, especially if you are an anime or mange fan, to read this story. I believe it is a masterpiece. Will people disagree with me? Probably. I have my own personal standards and ways of determining artistic genius. These are extended, but not limited to, books like Les Miserable, movies like Nosferatu and even obscure Japanese manga like Psyren. It is my belief that in finding these beautiful masterpieces we are able to come closer to understanding the power behind inborn human genius and creativity.



Sakurako: Thank You.

Ageha: What for?

Sakurako: Thank you for being with me when I need help.

Ageha: I remember when we were in grade school. Mum died and you were with me when I was down. Consoling me always. It was you who chose to stay with me.

Thinking about this, I have actually loved you since then. But somehow I forgot the feeling. . . I . . . I started fighting others everyday and changed so much, before I met you again. Then that day when I chased after you after I heard you say “help” when you went away. . . and came to know psyren. . . I think I finally realized how I feel now. I loved and still love you. So let me protect you, Amamiya! You happened to be down now and its my turn to cheer you up!

Sakurako: . . . Yes.

Ageha narration: Since we connected at the hands Amamiya’s emotions were conveyed directly. . . . Amamiya kept crying. . . and I stayed with her still holding her hand. We said not a word more. . . we know our feelings.


Senior Thesis Part 3: Nosferatu (1922)


nosferatu1   Nosferatu2 (Original Promotional Poster, 1922: Murnau) 

Trained originally as an art historian, Murnau, considered by many like Lotte Eisner as Germany’s greatest film director, made only 22 films throughout his whole film career, a third of them lost like The Head of Janus (1920), a remake of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Though he did not direct nearly as many films as other German directors, his films remain some of the greatest silent film classics. Through Nosferatu, Murnau took Bram Stoker’s Dracula and used nature, which served as an eerie reflection of the melancholy atmosphere pervading Interwar Germany, to exemplify dark, hidden truths. Regarded by many as his most memorable film, it did not need Caligari’s effects or articulated sets. It is as effective today as its first appearance, not because it is terrifying but because it leaves with its viewers, as the film critic Béla Balázs put it, “a chilly draft from doomsday”.[1] With techniques and images that would be admired worldwide, Murnau “created the most overwhelming and poignant images in the whole German cinema”, intrinsically captivating and altogether haunting.[2]

Nosferatu3 (Hutter and Ellen’s house, filmed in Wismar, Germany)

Nosferatu opens in a small, pleasant village Bremen where his boss Knock, a secret follower of the vampire, commissions a young man Hutter to go to the castle of Count Orlac, Nosferatu, to negotiate a housing contract in one of the broken, abandoned buildings. Despite all the warnings he receives from villagers and his abandonment by his coach and companions, he stays at Count Orlac’s castle and is almost killed before he escapes and rushes home to save his wife Ellen. However, Count Orlac travels by ship to his village, kills all on board and wreaks havoc in the once happy town. Almost like a plague, Nosferatu claims countless victims in the village and its residents give in to despair. When Ellen sacrifices herself to Count Orlac, his own lust for blood defeats him and through her death she restores peace to the town.


(Max Shreck as Nosferatu; Bela Lugosi as Dracula) 

The silent horror of actor Max Shreck’s Nosferatu does not share Bela Lugosi’s dramatic flair as Count Dracula. However, Shreck’s rendition provided a more poignant aftertaste.  As film critic Roger Ebert observed, “It doesn’t scare us, but it haunts us. It shows not that vampires can jump out of shadows, but that evil can grow there, nourished on death.”[3] These elements of horror slowly sink in, through scenes with the phantom carriage, the haunted ship carrying Nosferatu’s body, and most importantly Nosferatu’s assured steady approach. As Eisner described it, “the hideous form of the vampire (approached) with exasperating slowness, moving with extreme depth” both awe-inspiring and an altogether terrifying figure.[4]

nosferatu5 (Ellen by the Sea) nosferatu6 (Forest outside Count Orlac’s castle) 

Murnau incorporated Expressionist styles through natural scenes to evoke terror. Most German Expressionist filmmakers, like Fritz Lang and Paul Leni, rejected nature and real life sets in favor of artificial ones. An oddity, Murnau nonetheless used real locations to great effect. Drawn to the natural landscapes he had enjoyed throughout his life, he perceived the many fine images nature had to offer and employed it almost as another character, affected as much as the people by Nosferatu’s company. By taking backgrounds like the forest outside of Orlac’s castle, the street in Hutter’s village, and the ocean and distorting them through lighting he portrayed the corruption of pure and beautiful places, as though a dark, shadowed world had overtaken them, breeding fear and death.

nosferatu7 (Nosferatu emerges from ship’s hull) 

In order to evoke the needed themes from his sets, Murnau employed camera techniques that would capture nature’s dark underbelly through shadows. He employed shadows as lifelike elements of the film to reveal the dark world that lingered alongside perceived reality. These shadows accentuated the story’s horror, especially when showing the subtle changes that came with Nosferatu’s appearances. Like in his later film Tabu (1931), “Murnau was to use the shadow as an element of foreboding”.[5] In Nosferatu, such shadows meant that death was imminent. For example, the closer Hutter came to Count Orlac’s castle, the darker the roads became and when Nosferatu’s phantom carriage came to take him to the castle, it seemed as though even the forest’s shadows elongated in reaction to the monster’s presence.

nosferatu8 (Shadow of Nosferatu almost overtakes Hutter) 

The chilling words Hutter read from a small vampire novel, “Beware that his shadowe weigeth not upon you like a terrible nightmare”, warned him too late of Count Orlac’s true nature.[6] Soon after, its darkness a replication of his true nature, Nosferatu’s shadow almost overcame Hutter, who lay paralyzed by fear, until Ellen intervened and drove the monster away. Just as Cesare’s shadow portrayed Alfred’s murder, so did Nosferatu’s presence come coupled with his shadow’s distorted figure.

nosferatu10 (Nosferatu creeps to Ellen’s room)

Like in Caligari, all of the character’s movements were ripe with meaning. Murnau relied on embellished gestures and facial expressions, similar in other German Expressionist films, to emphasize most of his character’s emotions. For example, when Hutter opened his bedroom door and saw Nosferatu standing feet away, he forcefully closed the door and a look of complete horror slowly and elaborately spread over his face, tension and fear evident even from his eyes. As for Nosferatu’s design, because he essentially represents pestilence and death, his more animal like appearance provided such character that he did not need elaborated gestures or horrible grimaces. This allowed the natural decrepit horror of his presence speak for itself, advocating the other character’s extreme, negative emotions and their erratic movements.

nosferatu9 (Hutter opens bedroom door to corridor) 

Unlike in many earlier silent films like The Great Train Robbery (1903), the camera was an active participant in Nosferatu and the making of its incredible atmosphere. Rather than simply placing the camera in a locked position, “Murnau chose to employ the camera as a performer, whose movements were always logical and whose stillness always significant.”[7] Eisner recognized that “Murnau had a complete grasp of the visual power that can be won from editing, and the virtuosity with which he directs this succession of shots has real genius”.[8] To do this, Murnau positioned the camera to conjure illusionary perspectives. In the above mentioned scene, when Hutter opened his bedroom door, the door appeared large and a strong safeguard. However, once Hutter sees Nosferatu and runs to his bed the door grew thin and weak because of the camera’s changed position. These “extraordinary visual qualities which Murnau brings to (Nosferatu) and the atmospheric, imaginatively Expressionist backdrops he invokes,” conjured images of intense fear without having to rely on special effects used today in horror films.[9]

nosferatu11 (Lines of coffins with Nosferatu’s victims)

Initially made as a horror film, Nosferatu is one of the greatest reflections of Germany’s fearful state of mind. Images of the once happy streets of Bremen poisoned by Nosferatu’s imminent arrival, beautiful forests turned dark and oppressive, and the beautiful sea turned into a raging storm by Nosferatu’s haunted freight really symbolized Interwar Germany. Scenes like the procession of the dead through Bremen’s streets adhered to the Germans’ inability to escape from an environment they could not control. “The undertakers’ mutes dressed in top hats and skimpy frock-coats moved slowly over the crudely hewn cobbles, black and stiff, bearing, two by two, the slim coffin of a victim of the plague” harkened too the many victims brought home from the War and the sorrow that permeated throughout the interwar period.[10] Kracauer believed Nosferatu, in one instance a Count and another a monster, symbolized tyranny overcome only by purity and youth. Effectively, Ellen became “both the victim of the vampire’s desire and the means of the vampire’s destruction” signifying that love would overthrow tyranny at great sacrifice.[11]

nosferatu12 (Nosferatu looks at Ellen through window) 

After its release, critics and audiences worldwide loved the film, however Stoker’s family sued because Murnau was unauthorized to use Dracula’s story. The court ordered the studio to destroy all copies of Nosferatu, though the original prints survived. Ironically, Nosferatu popularized Stoker’s story and built Murnau’s image as a prestigious director, despite copyright complications. Later German Expressionist film directors, though they did not share Murnau’s love of nature or simpler sets, employed similar themes and tactics. Paul Leni, whose first and last German film, Waxworks, followed Nosferatu as one of the greatest examples of exemplifying a story’s mood through stylized Expressionist sets.


[1] Balázs, Béla, Der richbare Menach. 108. Quoted in Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler, 78.

[2] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 97.

[3] Ebert, Roger. “Nosferatu”, The great movies. New York: Broadway Books, 2002, 332.

[4] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 102.

[5] Eisner, The haunted screen, 133.

[6] Murnau, F.W., dir. 1922. Nosferatu. Films Art Guild.  Accessed May 26, 2014,

[7] Parkinson, David. History of film: Second Edition . ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 2012, 60.

[8] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 103-04.

[9] Hunter, Allan. Movie classics, 151.

[10] Eisner, The haunted screen, 101-02.

[11] Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, 79.

Senior Thesis Part 2: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Caliigari2 (Original Movie Poster, 1919)

Caligari’s writers Janowitz and Mayer’s pasts equaled the tragedy and horror portrayed in their story. Before he served as an infantryman in World War I, Janowitz witnessed the rape and murder of a young girl, which haunted him for the better part of his life. Mayer worked multiple jobs from a young age to support his three younger brothers, since their abusive father committed suicide and underwent multiple mental examinations while serving in the army because army psychiatrists believed he showed signs of instability. The famous film theorist and sociologist Seigfried Kraucuer observed in his analysis of the German psyche that these two men, bitter about their experiences in the war, shared a hatred of authority and believed that Caligari “might lend itself to powerful poetic revelation”.[1] Thus Caligari in its raw form embodied their vision of authority which idolized “power . . . to satisfy its lust for domination, (and) ruthlessly (violated) all human rights and values”.[2]

[1] Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: a psychological history of the German film. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947, 64.

[2] Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler, 65.  

caligari1 (Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari)

While Janowitz and Mayer envisioned Caligari’s experimental potential, Pommer and others in the studio liked its inexpensive budget, the studio constrained by the fallen German economy. Originally, Pommer invited Fritz Lang to direct the film but Lang was already working on Die Spinnen (1919) and declined their offer. He nevertheless highly contributed to the film when he suggested they insert a prologue and epilogue to make the film easier for the public to accept. Overall, the bizarre sets and plot would be justified as a projection of a lunatic. Robert Wiene, whose father went slightly insane near his death, eventually became the director and implemented this small change, to the writers’ dismay. Thus, the overall intent of Caligari changed into “the elaborate invention of a fantastic world seen through the eyes of a madman”.[3]

[3] Eisner, The haunted screen, pg. 20.

caligari2 (Cesare captures Jane and carries her onto the roof. Actor, Conrad Veidt and Actress, Lil Dagover)

Caligari opens with the protagonist Francis sitting with an older man in a copse of trees. After his alleged fiance Jane walks by, Francis begins his horrific story of his dealings with the notorious Dr. Caligari and his exploitation of the somnambulist Cesare. At a carnival Francis and his friend Allen stop in a tent to see Dr. Caligari and Cesare, who then predict Allen’s death. When Cesare’s prediction comes true, Francis vows to find the killer and follows Dr. Caligari to an insane asylum. After Cesare almost kills and kidnaps Jane, Francis discovers that Caligari, who is really the asylum’s director, has gone mad because of his obsession with the real Dr. Caligari from an old legend in a book. From there, Francis and the asylum’s other doctors succeed in capturing Caligari and locking him in one of the asylum’s cells. After he finishes his story, however, it becomes apparent that Francis is really a patient in the asylum and the attendants lock him away once he tries to strangle the asylum’s director.

caligari4 (Francis broods in his room.  Actor, Friedrich Fehér)

Distorted and out of focus, accentuated by its painted shadows, offset angles and peculiar perspective Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig designed the backgrounds to provoke discomfort and fear. Incorporating Expressionist styles, they purposefully made the sets twisted, jagged and out of focus to accentuate Francis’s torn state of mind. Film historian and critic Paul Rotha noted “the set enhanced the dramatic content of meaning of the scene” and for the first time attracted “many people who had hitherto regarded a film as the low watermark of intelligence”.[1] Shadows gained a life of their own, heightened by low-key lighting, and symbolized the hiding place of secrets and truths. 

[1] Rotha, Paul. The film till now, a survey of the cinema,. London: J. Cape, 1930,  99.

caligari5 (Cesare drops Jane and flees from pursuers.)   

Caligari incorporated elements of horror to emphasize the film’s greater purpose: to lead the audience on a journey through the thoughts and world of a madman, where they would “share his distorted idea of the professor of the lunatic asylum in which he (the lunatic) and they (the audience) were confined”.[1]  This film technique, mise en scène (put into scene), meant that everything shown on the screen would, in theory, eventually lead its audience to discover the film’s meanings and truly experience its horror and distorted vision. Unlike French Impressionism, which focused more on cinematography and editing, through mise en scène all of the story’s elements interacted “graphically to create an overall composition. . .  (and) characters (did) not simply exist within a setting, but rather (formed) a visual element that (merged) with that setting.”[2]

[1] Rotha, The film till now, 96.

[2] Bordwell and Thompson, Film art, 354.caligari7 (Dr. Caligari) 

caligari6 (Cesare) 

Actors and actresses had thick makeup and elaborate dark costumes to match Caligari’s sets and employed overstated gestures and facial expressions to stress emotions and actions. This “Expressionistic distortion of gestures is the counterpart to the distortion of objects” and gave infinitely more meaning to the story.[1]  Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Cesare were the two most memorable actors in Caligari, well known by their performances in the aforementioned Reinhardt theater. They represented important components of Janowitz and Mayer’s vision of modern German society. Cesare “detached from his everyday ambience, deprived of all individuality, an abstract creature” compelled symbolically into servitude by Dr. Caligari was the true victim, representing the common man.[2] “The mysterious Dr. Caligari. . . (lacked) the merest shadow of human scruple (and acted) with the criminal sensibility and defiance of conventional morality”, an overwhelming demonstrative of depraved, oppressive authority. [1] Of course, because all these events came from a madman’s perspective the writers’ message fell short and favored a conformist viewpoint.

[1] Eisner, The haunted screen, 149.

[2] Eisner, The haunted screen, 25.

[3] Eisner, The haunted screen, 27.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Criminal in jail cell, Actor, Rudolf Klein-Rogge)

caligari9 (Francis about to strangle the asylum director)  

Caligari’s message and atmosphere was, as with any creative work, a product of its time.  As a reflection of Weimar Germany’s environment, it stood as an inclusive “expression of the German psyche’s fear that individual freedom encourages chaos and must hence be contained by the harshest of leadership”.[1] From the beginning of the film, Francis seemed to be the true hero of the story, fighting against an evil manipulator and trying to avenge the death of his friend. Nonetheless, Caligari showed that his self-propitiated vision of himself and the past, like the sets, lacked depth and proportion. In fact, Francis was a victim to his own delusions and completely disconnected from reality. Thus, Caligari in its raw power exposed the German soul, redolent of the German’s collapsing universe bordering between tyranny and chaos and the Germans’ “deep and fearful concern with the foundation of the self”.[2]

[1] Hunter, Allan. “The cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, Movie classics. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1992, pg (check this out in library).

[2] Parkinson, David. History of film: Second Edition . ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 2012, 58.

cropped-11264352_caligari_241540b.jpg (Cesare captures Jane and slinks into the shadows)

Caligari did not greatly influence world cinema, though critics worldwide admired it for its innovative story and artistic sets. However, because of its release German directors would incorporate Caligari’s Expressionist themes and techniques into future films through the 1920s and establish Germany as a respected film studio. For the next seven years, they created true artistic films, unique to the dark, imaginative German spirit. Of these films, came the first vampire movie, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.  

Senior Thesis Part 1: Background and History

(Note: I will be posting all parts of my senior thesis. It is a collaboration of my learning for my entire college career. I really just want to post it so that people will know what I have accomplished. Thankfully for you I will post it all in different increments.) 

warningshadows1(Opening Scene from Warning Shadows, 1923)

The German Expressionist film era in Weimar Germany existed from 1919-1927 as both an artistic film development and a reflection of the psychological condition of the country’s people. This movement manifested itself in the creation and reception of reputable movies including Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), Paul Leni’s Waxworks (1924) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). They incorporated dark, surreal themes embellished through light manipulation, stylized sets and backgrounds, embellished acting methods, and innovative camera techniques. These directors and others in the German studios used these tools to unmask the inner workings of the human soul and understand the true meaning behind the seemingly impenetrable mystery of reality. Whether it was early silent horror films like Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) or silent thrillers like Alfred Hitcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926) and his subsequent films, German Expressionist films’ influence on worldwide cinema was far-reaching, immortalized long after its short era had ended.

background1 (Otto Rippert, Homunculus 1916)background2 (Werner Krauss, The Student of Prague, 1913)

Though German films like Paul Wegener’s The Student of Prague (1913) and Otto Rippert’s six piece serial Homunculus (1916) already incorporated Expressionist themes, circumstances would not favor German Expressionist film until the end of The Great War. The detrimental effects of The Great War essentially pushed this movement into existence. Its imperial dreams crushed and national pride lost, Germany, which stood at the height of industrial and military power, was defeated at the end of 1918 and forced to take full responsibility for the war. The Treaty of Versailles’ conditions for Germany, which included massive war reparations of 132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion), a command for the German military to disarm, and multiple territory concessions fostered terrible economic problems, like hyperinflation in 1923. Historian and film critic Lotte E. Eisner observed “the German mind had difficulty in adjusting itself to the collapse of the imperial dream; and in the early years of its short life the Weimar Republic had the troublesome task of meeting outside demands (Versailles). . . while at the same time maintain equilibrium internally”.[1]

World War I, as historian Edmond Taylor observed “killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions, but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe”.[2] In addition, in the film Judgment At Nuremeburg (1961), one of the defendants Ernst Yanning surmised, “There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves.”[3] His statement, though spoken at the end of World War II, embodies the overwhelming feeling of despair that seemed to permeate Germanys’ people. These undeniable scars and psychological problems manifested themselves in the arts, especially in film.

[1] Eisner, Lotte H.. The haunted screen; expressionism in the German cinema and the influence of Max Reinhardt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, 9.

[2]Taylor, Edmond. The fossil monarchies: the collapse of the old order, 1905-1922.. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967, 306,

[3] Kramer, Stanley, dir. 1961. Judgment at Nuremburg. United Artists. Accessed May 8, 2014,

background3 (Albert Sterner, The Erlking , 1910)

Pulsing, deep questions on human moral and the mind grew from the melancholy environment of Interwar Germany, calling for solutions and explanations for the suffering brought by the First World War. Through the arts, more specifically Expressionism, the Germans released bottled up emotions and memories caused by the war at its aftermath. Their attraction to darker, supernatural themes culminated in the obscure and undetermined nature of Expressionism and its love of ghosts, visions, dreams and the mystical nature of the mind and spirit. Eisner explained it thus:

“Mysticism and magic, the dark forces to which Germans have always been more than willing to commit themselves, had flourished in the face of death on the battlefield. The hecatombs of young men fallen in the flower of their youth seemed to nourish the grim nostalgia of the survivors. And the ghosts which had haunted the German Romantics revived, like the shades of Hades after draughts of blood.”[1]

Harkening to the dark nature of the Romantic era characterized by pieces like Franz Schubert’s Lied, “Erlkönig” (The Earl King) and enhanced by the grim atmosphere wrought by the War, the German artists turned to Grübelei, “the eternal attraction towards all that is obscure and undetermined. . .culminated in the apocalyptic doctrine of Expressionism”, that wove its way inevitably through film.[2]

[1] Eisner The haunted screen, 9.

[2] Eisner The haunted screen, 9.

Germany’s isolation during the Great War also contributed to the rise of its Expressionist Film era. By 1916, it stopped exporting German films and importing foreign films from France, America and Italy. Eventually, partly to counter anti-German propaganda, the German government created the major German film company the Universum Film AG (UFA) in 1917 to both satisfy the country’s universal desire for films and “promote pro-war films”.[1] Initially, the UFA created three different film types, adventures and spy movies, educational films on sexuality and copied pre-war Italian historical epics, and established itself fairly well as a legitimate film studio with “superb technicians and (some of the) best-equipped studios in Europe”.[2] It was not however through the UFA that Germany finally had a threshold in the world of cinema, but rather a smaller company entangled with German theater.

background4  (Max Reinhardt)background5 (Scene from Reinhardt’s production of Oedipus Rex, 1910)

The famous theater director Max Reinhardt managed the Deutsches Theater in Berlin from 1905-1930 where he implemented Expressionist themes onto the stage. Truly passionate about his work, Reinhardt worked to establish an authentically artistic, quality theater. By 1906, he made his intimate theater, or kammerspiele ,“with dim lights and warm-toned wood paneling, in which an elite. . . could eel all the significance of a smile, a hesitation, or an eloquent silence” with eloquent mastery.[3] Famous actors like Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Emil Jannings and multiple others, future esteemed American actors, first professionally acted as part of Reinhardt’s theatre troupe.

The German cinema and theater remained closely linked since the beginning of the film era through its actors, technicians, and set designers. These connections resulted into a unique type of film studio Filmwelt, “an off-shoot of the theatrical establishment, a concept foreign to non-Germans” especially American studios, whose theater and cinema stayed separated by nearly 3000 miles.[4] Between its directors and collaborators there existed little competition, hardly any professional jealousy and group effort was a set rule in the production of each film. Eisner observed, “One of the secrets of the success of the classical German film was the perfect technical harmony achieved by long Regiesitzungen”, two month long group discussions on films in production “which the director invited everybody due to work on the film, from the chief designer and chief cameraman to the workmen in charge of the lighting.”[5]

[1] Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film art: an introduction. 5th ed. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1997, 353.

[2] Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film art, 353

[3] Eisner The haunted screen, 177.

[4] Hull, David Stewart. Film in the Third Reich: a study of the German cinema, 1933-1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, 4.

[5] Eisner The haunted screen, 37.

background6  (Carl Mayer) background7 (Han Janowitz)

Through Decla-Bioscop managed by Erich Pommer, future director of the UFA from 1924-1926, Germany’s Filmwelt fully blossomed, its personnel inbred and interchangeable almost like a complicated, synchronized web. In 1919, Pommer took a gamble and decided to bring to life the unconventional vision of writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz in the production of the inexpensive, experimental story The Cabinet of Caligari. Caligari “created a sensation in America, France, and other countries. . . (and) a stylistic movement in cinema that lasted several years”.[1] In time, German Expressionist films would fulfill the desires of directors and film producers to promote marketable artistic films; nonetheless, given Germany’s economic circumstances and psychological state, they unsurprisingly depicted the existential threat to German civilization.

[1] Bordwell and Thompson, Film art, 353.