Tim Iles

Tim Iles
Associate Professor
Pacific and Asian Studies
Office: CLE C212
Area of expertise

Cinema: Asian and Japanese, live-action and animated; Japanese literature, modern and pre-modern; Humanism and Identity Issues in Japan; Japanese religions and philosophy; Technology and its implications; science fiction cinema; Horror as a response to social and urban change; Popular culture: traditional, modern, postmodern


PhD, University of Toronto

Research Interests
  • Cinema: Asian and Japanese, live-action and animated
  • Japanese literature, modern and pre-modern
  • Humanism and Identity Issues in Japan
  • Japanese religions and philosophy
  • Technology and its implications; science fiction cinema
  • Horror as a response to social and urban change
  • Popular culture: traditional, modern, postmodern
Background Information

Timothy Iles has both a BA (completed very, very slowly) and an MA (completed at a moderate rate) from the University of British Columbia, where he focussed on the Japanese language and modern Japanese literature, writing his thesis on Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. He holds a PhD (completed very, very quickly) from the University of Toronto, writing his dissertation on the avant-garde novelist, Abe Kōbō. He later published his dissertation as Abe Kōbō: An Exploration of his Prose, Drama, and Theatre (Fucheccio: European Press Academic Publishers, 2000).

He has taught Japanese literature (modern and premodern), culture (modern and premodern), theatre, cinema, and language (modern and classical) in both Canada and the United States, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Teaching is his forté and something for which he feels a tremendous responsibility in his role as guide for his many and diverse students. His teaching interests are firmly grounded in the traditions of the Humanities—the historical contextualisation of ideas and their textual expression.

His research interests are in narrative. This term accommodates many forms and intricacies. Of especial concern are the process and mechanism of narration in the medium of cinema—and the associated thematic issues which narrative presents. Timothy Iles has published numerous books and analytical articles on various thematic problems in film, both Japanese and Asian. He is also General Editor of the online electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, where he publishes film and book reviews, as well as other essays.

Selected publications
Researching 21st Century Japan Researching 21st Century Japan: New Directions and Approaches for the Digital Age (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012), co-edited with Peter Matanle.
Researching 21st Century Japan: New Directions and Approaches for the Digital Age (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012) Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film: Personal, Cultural, National (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
Undergraduate Courses

PAAS 101:  Text, Manipulation, Propaganda

Introducing the process of narrative analysis, covering the written word, film, and theatre from different genres, eras, and countries in Asia such as, for example: Japanese novels, manga, and anime, Chinese short fiction, Taiwanese film, premodern poetry, and so on. We will explore the components of texts and how they form internal relations to create a unified structure. Rather than exploring what texts mean, we will consider how they mean. Standing on the firm ground of praxis, the opposite pole of theory: useful, by definition practical, and focussed on the validity of close reading. We will explore the differences between analysis and interpretation; the role of context (historical, biographical, and in terms of style); the function of language (either the written word or the visual, gestural languages of film and theatre); and the process of moving from reading a text to writing about it critically and persuasively. This course will provide a vital foundation for students of narrative (conceived of as any text which conveys a meaning through the telling of a story) and will prepare them for further study in literature, theatre, or film in both Asian Studies as well as in other departments. First and foremost, this course intends to demonstrate the overwhelming validity and importance of the study of literature/narrative at a time when it is under attack on multiple fronts. Don’t hide your love of literature! Defend it, show it, wear it as a badge of honour!

PAAS 180: Premodern Japanese Culture

Introducing the cultural history of Japan from the earliest periods of habitation of the Japanese islands (25,000 BCE) up to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This course focusses on the various waves of migration into Japan of the peoples of mainland Asia, the spiritual beliefs of the Ainu and the Japanese, the establishment of hierarchical society, the development of writing and literary expressions, Buddhism, Shinto, theatrical entertainments of the court nobility, the influence of Zen as a form of practice in Japanese arts, visual art, and the transition to a merchant, popular culture during the Tokugawa Era (1603-1868). While historically grounded this is not a history course—our concern is with the development of premodern Japanese ways of life and self-expression, and the ways in which this sets the stage for the emergence of modern Japan. This course is a general introduction to premodern Japan, intended to spark students’ interest in the enormous range of fascinating avenues of study available to them in the Humanities in this area. [view Outline]

PAAS 181: Modern Japanese Culture

A focussed look at the emergence of modern Japan during the Meiji Era (1868-1911) and the various transitions which have occurred since then till the present. Our particular emphasis is on Japanese reactions to its encounters with ‘the West’ in the late 19th Century—reactions which still continue. We will explore the transition Japan underwent from a closed, agrarian country to an open, industrialised one, and the resultant explosion in urbanisation, internationalisation, and colonialism in the years up to 1945. We will also focus on more contemporary representations of the Japanese family, environmental and consumer issues, language, and identity through literature, theatre, and cinema (live-action as well as animated). As with PAAS 180, this course is intended as a general introduction to modern Japan, to give students an awareness of the enormous range of aspects of study available to them in the Humanities in this area. [ view Outline ]

PAAS 386: Premodern Japanese Literature in Translation

This course introduces the premodern Japanese literary tradition, beginning with the earliest poetic, novelistic, and diary texts from the Heian era (794-1185), includng the Tale of Genji and the Pillowbook of Sei Shônagon, moving to Noh texts from the 14th Century, the Hôjôki and other works of Buddhist monks, on to popular dramas from the Kabuki and Bunraku traditions of the 1600s and 1700s, and haiku and popular fiction from the urban, merchant class of the Tokugawa Era. Specific issues include the function of Buddhism as an informing principle of the literary aesthetic; Shinto and animism as sources of inspiration; the function of Nature as a vehicle for the metaphoric expression of human emotion; the creation of characters and methods of narration in drama; literary and historical allusion/intertextuality; and nascent postmodernity in narrative features from the 18th Century. Knowledge of premodern Japan is helpful though not required. [ view Outline ]

PAAS 388: Modern Japanese Literature in Translation

Beginning with Japan’s encounters of the ‘West’ in the late 19th Century, her literature underwent a series of rapfd readjustments and several successive periods of experimentation, growth, and change. This course looks—both chronologically and thematically—at the challenges and opportunities Japanese authors faced as a result of their exposure to new avenues in language, form, style, and content in non-Japanese literature. We explore ways in which Japanese writers reacted to ‘interiority’, the emphasis on psychological realism prevalent in non-Japanese literature but often missing in previous forms of traditional writing; social activism; changes in the relationship to and function of nature; the creation of a ‘narrator’ as distinct from ‘the author’ even in autobiographical writing; themes of alienation and isolation; increasingly international considerations of the place of Japan in world literature; the fantastic and grotesque as comments on Japan’s evolving urban world; and changing conceptions/expressions of the self, responsibility, and community. This course focusses on close reading and literary analysis of thematic and stylistic content rather than the arbitrary imposition of theory onto the texts—from analysis and contextualisation we move towards interpretation of the implications of the text, mindful of the ways in which the texts themselves validate particular readings through the specific, literary features. Knowledge of contemporary Japan is helpful though not required. [ view Outline ]

PAAS 393: Humanism in Japanese Cinema to 1960

This course introduces the functioning of Humanism as an informing philosophical principle of Japanese cinema up to the late 1960s. We will examine the ways in which ideological threads manifest themselves in representative (though highly selective) works by such directors as Mizoguchi Kenji, Kurosawa Akira, and Oshima Nagisa. The main issue we will consider is how the essential ideals of Humanism (the emphatic validity and fundamental importance of the individual as the starting point for the discourses and processes of choice which determine the contours of life, both social private) shape the plots of the films we will see as undeniable moral examples. We will follow broad patterns in the development of the understanding of this term held by Japanese directors, and focus on such specific issues as existential choice, the ideal role of government as a protector of the weak, the place of the ‘outsider’ in society, and the presentation of religion in a properly and basically atheistic ideology. Knowledge of contemporary Japan is helpful though not required. [ view Outline ]

PAAS 484: Identity in Animated Japanese Cinema

How do animated films such as Metropolis, Perfect Blue, Paprika, Ghost in the Shell, and others conceive of and argue for a specific function of "identity"? How do gender, tradition, spirituality, and technology interact to form a powerful arena for social criticism? This course presents profound, moving works of art in a supportive, open environment, where students can discover the range of meanings art can hold, and where they can explore "identity" not only in art but in their own lives. [view Outline]

PAAS 487: Trends in Japanese Cinema, 1960 to Present

Topics in cinema such as: feminism/resistance to feminism, race and power, technology and its implications, tradition/history in a changing world; the role/function of cinema as social critique. Focusing on cinematic texts, this is emphatically not a ‘social issues/social theory’ course: it is a film class examining thematic issues as they appear in film. Our questions are both "What/why do these films mean?" and "How do they mean?" We will not use these films to "prove" something about modern Japan—that is not a proper approach. We cannot use something fictional to prove the real world, after all! Instead we will situate these films in their contexts to use the conditions of modern Japan to help us understand the films themselves. We will incorporate both live-action as well as animated films, from a wide range of genres. Knowledge of contemporary Japan is helpful though not required. [ view Outline ]

PAAS 521: Special Topics in Asian Languages, Literatures, Linguistics

This course gives graduate students practical, meaningful, guided instruction in advanced textual analysis, specifically focussed on their individual projects. Techniques include foundational and advanced principles of close reading, contextualisation, the process of transition from analysis to interpretation, the proper, limited role of theory in its appropriate place, and the presentation/justification of the results of analysis in both seminar and written form. First and foremost is training in analytical methods suitable to each Humanities student’s project and research material—of necessity, therefore, the content of the course varies considerably from year to year, in response to the specific needs of each student. This course emphatically rejects the notion that "one size fits all, one approach/theory suits all texts, and one research method suits all approaches." Instead, we understand that from the texts themselves in conjunction with the background, interests, and goals of the student grow the approach, method, and project. Based on the philosophy that students, as adults interested in and responsible for their own education, are capable of close cooperation with their instructors, students actively participate in the yearly recreation of this course.

PAAS 590: Directed Readings

Designed to prepare the student for the writing of the MA thesis, focussing on clarifying suitable material, approach, and thesis design relevant to individual goals and needs. This course typically results in the production of a draft of at least one chapter of the thesis.