Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s
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Nippon Modern is the first intensive study of Japanese cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, a period in which the country's film industry was at its most prolific and a time when cinema played a singular role in shaping Japanese modernity. During the interwar period, the signs of modernity were ubiquitous in Japan's urban architecture, literature, fashion, advertising, popular music, and cinema. The reconstruction of Tokyo following the disastrous earthquake of 1923 highlighted the extent of this cultural transformation, and the film industry embraced the reconfigured space as an expression of the modern. Shochiku Kamata Film Studios (1920-1936), the focus of this study, was the only studio that continued filmmaking in Tokyo following the city's complete destruction. Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano points to the influence of the new urban culture in Shochiku's interwar films, acclaimed as modan na eiga, or modern films, by and for Japanese.
Wada-Marciano's thought-provoking examinations illustrate the reciprocal relationship between cinema and Japan's vernacular modernity--what Japanese modernity actually meant to Japanese. Neither a belated imitation of Western modernity nor an isolated cultural invention, Japanese modernity began as a series of negotiations of cultural influences constructed out of local needs. During the interwar period, Japan's film industry began to compete with Western cinemas, producing and distributing its own films and negotiating its place in the Japanese market. It managed to shift the locus of dominance away from Hollywood films by addressing the new classes of labor with self-reflexive subjects and narratives. Film images of salaried men, modern girls, college students, and nuclear families made possible the sudden arrival and rapid proliferation of the modern consumer subject in Japan.
By searching out connections between history and film texts, Wada-Marciano offers a new approach to understanding Japan's national cinema. Her thorough and thoughtful analyses of dozens of films within the cultural contexts of Japan contribute to the current inquiry into non-Western vernacular modernities. Nippon Modern will appeal to a wide range of readers in diverse disciplines, including intellectual history, gender studies, and literature, in addition to film/visual studies and Japanese cultural studies.
politically left tendency fi lms, and while it did not belong to that genre, Shochiku coopted some of that genre’s progressive social themes—notably the modern predicament of the salaried man—albeit for different ideological ends. During this period, Japanese society faced severe economic and political problems precipitated by the worldwide financial panic in 1929. High rates of unemployment and drastic wage cuts strengthened the growing socialist movement. The government arrested many members of
spectatorship must deal with the relation between gender and ethnicity, which H4528.indb 78 11/6/07 3:45:15 PM Imaging Modern Girls 79 Doane and many other feminist fi lm scholars managed to sidestep until the late 1980s. The cross-cultural aspect of my work on the Japanese woman’s fi lm for the Western academic reader has less of the already inscribed familiarity of cultural memory that Doane describes. We can no longer assume such a commonality of cultural history as that which lies at
viewer’s potential for both attention and distraction.” 46 Crary detects new bodily responses in problems of attention and distraction in modern life, finding in the later work of Manet the beginning of an unstable attentive subject and the dissolution of anchored vision leading to our present-day “dynamic disorder inherent in attentiveness.” 47 In similar terms, Gosho’s fi lm presents a series of visual shifts in attention, on both the levels of diegesis and H4528.indb 104 11/6/07 3:45:23 PM
“inferiority” is not simply due to the dichotomy of an advanced Hollywood and a backward Japanese cinema, as it has often been described. It is as well a condition of the domestic convergence of modernism and class conflict. In the study of Japanese cinema and its audience, there is a long-standing tendency to see them as a unified whole, reflecting the general tendency to see the Japanese as a cohesive, monolithic group. However, Kido’s efforts in the interwar period indicate that the cinema as
modernity itself. Its power to reconfigure space and time into a provisional reality made the cinema the perfect embodiment of Japanese modernity. The images it offered of middle-class life— H4528.indb 11 11/6/07 3:44:58 PM 12 Nippon Modern salaried men, modern girls, college students, and nuclear families—shot on locations in Tokyo as it underwent reconstruction, became affirmations of the audience’s own imaginary tableau of modern life. I shall focus on six aspects of the cinema that