The Movie Method has it's roots in me trying to find a way to use Remembering the Kanji in a classroom setting. I had the idea that one could memorize all of the basic components that make up a kanji beforehand (as opposed to the restricted order of learning them systematically, as in Remembering the Kanji) and apply the mnemonics to remember kanji in an easy way. It was going to be a simple method where I would memorize the kanji and learn the readings using the vocabulary mnemonics.
After putting my method to the test, I began to realize how difficult it is to create a mnemonic image with so much information. Having an image for the onyomi, kunyomi, and kanji elements ended up being very convoluted and hard to maintain. It could take up to fifteen minutes to create a sufficient image for a single kanji that had up to eight different parts making it up. It was when I furthered my study into how the kanji worked that I realized how misguided this attempt was. I realized the kunyomi readings were best learned as vocabulary words, and how many kanji could share a single onyomi. It was in this spirit that I decided kunyomi were best learned and associated with kanji later and decided to focus on the onyomi.
Before even studying Japanese, I had a fairly good grounding in traditional mnemonics. Since the easiest thing in mnemonics is learning lists of ordered items, I had been exposed to chaining items and forming associations. I didn't like it. Eventually I dropped using chains and began using Dominic O'Brien's journey method for ordered items, which used location extensively, and his location based town method for remembering vocabulary unordered (which I adapted to my own use in the previous post). These to me were clearly more powerful than chaining/straight sound association. With these techniques in mind, I formed the idea of using a location to signal the onyomi pronunciation of a kanji.
Every year there is a competition held called the "World Memory Championships". In this competition, contestants will memorize lists of words, faces with names, random strings of numbers, and the order of cards in a deck, among other things. The champions, including Dominic O'Brien, will all tell you that having a location is essential to memorizing information. When memorizing cards, they place mnemonic images in a journey. When memorizing faces, they choose a location based on who the person remind them. When memorizing numbers, they place mnemonic images representing the numbers in a journey. Brain scans reveal that when using these mnemonics, the parts of the brain associated with spacial navigation will become very active. It should be no surprise why I choose to use location extensively in remembering the kanji.
By combining the idea of breaking down the components with the idea of using a location to signal pronunciations, I had a workable method for learning onyomi with the kanji. I compiled a list of components that couldn't be made up of simpler ones or kanji, and memorized them over a week on a trip to California I took. But what locations should I use? The answer became evident when I sat down to memorize my first group, ka. I was reminded of Fight Club. The first kanji I learned, "add", I put where Brad Pitt was giving his lecture on "you do not talk about fight club". The location within the movie would serve to indicate the meaning, which made it unnecessary to incorporate the meaning into the kanji mnemonic, and the movie itself would provide the onyomi pronunciation. This makes it impossible to forget the onyomi if you can remember the kanji.
By using locations the way I do, it becomes much easier to remember the components of the kanji. Using stories are no longer needed, as the only thing you have to do is place the components together in an image and play out a scene in your mind. These are far easier to come up with than trying to think of stories.
Having memorized 1825 kanji (so far) at the rate of 50/day using this method, I am quite happy with my results.
Update: I have completed memorizing the Joyo list as of 8/7/08. It took me fifty days total to finish.
Ready to try it out? Take a look at this post.