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ASCJ Executive Committee

Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

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Summer 2000 ASCJ Conference Details

20. From Imperial Subjects to Democratic Citizens: The Cinema and the Nation in Japan from the 1930s to the 1950s

Organizer and chair: Mariko Hara, Keio University

  Governments came to fully appreciate the capacity of film's impact  during the 1930s and 1940s. During the Fifteen Years War, the Japanese  government used a variety of means to invent and manipulate images in the  cause of nationalism. After the war, American Occupation authorities also used mass circulated images (particularly in film) to try to produce  a particular type of "democratic" citizen. Our panel will examine three  specific moments of this political engagement with cinematic images; one  drawn from before, one during, and one from after the war to better understand the relationship between nation and cinema.

  Mariko Hara looks at how the Japanese government tried to portray the Emperor, the ultimate symbol of Japanese nationalism, in the wartime newsreels. She argues then that the wartime newsreels helped to create an "imagined community". Jeffrey Issacs discusses the history of the deployment of images of poverty in film in the 1930s. He uses Kamei Fumio's Kobayashi Issa (1941), a film usually interpreted as an example of resistance, to argue that gender, geography, and poverty both confirmed and contested mainstream nationalism. Takeshi Tanikawa re-examines how the US Occupation regime intended to promote American films to "democratize" the Japanese in the post-war era.

 This panel will also explore how governments tried to use films for their political ends and the extent to which films can be used as "propaganda" tools.

Paper 1:  Mariko Hara, Keio University. "The Emperor and His Subjects as Portrayed in Japanese Wartime Newsreels"

  The aim of this paper is to examine how the Japanese government used  the official newsreel monopoly, "Nihon Nyusu" (1940-45), to forge nationalism during the Second World War; and in particular, how the Emperor, and the Japanese people as his loyal subjects, were portrayed in the newsreels.

Japanese nationalism at the time was characterized by the Emperor system,  with the Emperor himself being the ultimate symbol of officially defined national identity, kokutai (national polity). The Japanese were indoctrinated with the idea that every aspect of their life lay within kokutai. For this purpose, the newsreels tried to depict the Emperor as possessing a divine, absolute authority, and his loyal subjects as willing to give their lives for the Emperor. The portrayal of the Emperor will be examined from various perspectives: his traditional images, the invented traditions of the imperial court, his relationship with the Imperial Army, and his relationship with his subjects. An analysis of the Emperor and his subjects and their representations in the newsreels yields valuable insights into the history, identity and ethos of a nation at war. This paper will then argue that the wartime newsreels helped to create an "imagined community," using traditional and invented symbols of the Emperor, and that they were not used simply as propaganda weapons.

 Paper 2: Jeffrey Isaacs, University of Chicago. "Historicizing the Aesthetics of Hardship in Japanese Film: Suffering for the Nation in 1941"

  During the 1930s a number of Japanese films positioned representations of poverty and hardship in ways of great ideological significance. Examples abound among narrative features; from urban melodramas to jidai-geki, of characters (frequently women) enduring unthinkable suffering. I am thinking here of films by such varied directors as Uchida Tomu, Shimizu Hiroshi, Furumi Takuji, Itami Mansaku, and Yamanaka Sadao. In any case, whatever can plausibly be called upon to motivate a character to accept otherwise unacceptable conditions to satisfy some higher goal has tremendous value on a number of levels. First, it can make for gripping entertainment. It is, for instance, a central feature of the structure of melodrama. And a prominent feature of narrative film is its status as a commodity. Second, it has bottomless potential value for the construction of the nation. After briefly outlining some aspects of the history of film representations of poverty through the 30s and their part in delineating class, gender and national boundaries, I will focus attention on a documentary which seems to reflect many aspects of that history.

  I will present an analysis and close reading of the 1941 film Kobayashi Issa directed by Kamei Fumio in order to demonstrate the connections between the narrative strategy seen in Kobayashi Issa and its immediate non-filmic influences. I will argue, for example, that the film reflects aspects of the 50 year history of reportage journalism as well as  political sensibilities awakened by the brief but intense heyday of socialist realist literature a decade earlier. All of this is made wonderfully more complex by the fact that the film was undertaken as a commissioned piece paid for by the prefectural government of Nagano in its attempt to promote tourism, and that the film, produced in 1940, was subject to the stringent new rules governing film established by the Film Law of 1939.

 Paper 3: Takeshi Tanikawa, Columbia University/Hitotsubashi University. "The Formulation and Implementation of US Film Policy Toward Occupied Japan"

During World War II, the planning documents for the postwar U.S. policy toward Japan were prepared chiefly by the State Department staff.  Due to the unexpected early surrender of Japan, however, most of the these planning documents that dealt with specific policy issues, including U.S. film policy, were never approved. As a result, research scholars have tended to view these documents as unimportant when studying the General Headquarters/Supreme Commander for the Allied Powersf (GHQ/SCAP) execution of U.S. policy toward occupied Japan.

  Based on research of GHQ/SCAP documents related to film policy, however, I believe that the State Department did have a clear channel to execute its policies during the occupational era. The U.S. film policy toward occupied Japan, especially the policy of using American motion pictures to democratize the Japanese people, was carried out under the collaboration of GHQ/SCAP, the Motion Picture Export Association of America (MPEA), and the State Department. These three organizations established the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE) and granted it a monopoly for the distribution of American films. I have found several documents which show that the State Department previewed in advance all films which were sent to the CMPE, at least during early phase of the occupation.

After the war, the State Department also absorbed another organization that was involved in U.S. film policy, the Office of War Information (OWI). During the early phase of the occupation of Japan, some members of the OWI became key figures in both GHQ/SCAP and CMPE. There is also a possibility that recommendation sheets written by the staff of the OWI about individual films were sent to the State Department for the purpose of choosing which films should be sent to Japan.