Organizer: Mary Knighton, University of California, Berkeley
Chair: Eve Zimmerman, Wellesley College
Discussant: Sandra Buckley, State University of New York, Albany
Throughout the 1980s and up to the present, critics have read the figure of the sh˘jo (girl) as a cute, asexual being whose subjectivity was equated to cultural narcissim. and nostalgia and whose libido was channeled through an endless stream of disposable consumer goods. Our panel proposes a broader vision of the sh˘jo, giving her back her voice, reconnecting her with pressing issues that confronted women writers during a burst of literary activity in the 60s and 70s, and sketching out the historical, social, and literary conditions that nourished her in postwar Japan. To women writers, on the one hand, the sh˘jo is a conflicted but liberating figure, a means to negotiate tangled and perhaps irreconcilable issues of identity, gender, and the biological imperatives that script a womans life. In popular culture on the other hand, the sh˘jo is a repository of greater cultural and social tensions, a means to challenge accepted categories of representation, gender boundaries, and even aesthetic codes. Different media notwithstanding, the girl fascinates. Far from lacking in libido, we suggest that the sh˘jo maps out desire, configures the terms of agency, and continues to be a vital wellspring in womens literary and cultural production. As a group we seek to reconnect the sh˘jo to womens history, to issues of body and text, and to the shifting territories of media and new technology. A new vision of the sh˘jo, we believe, broadens the discussion of the category woman in postwar Japan, allowing us to re-examine the obstacles that shape her, the acts of resistance that liberate her, and the limitations of our own critical and scholarly frames of reference.
The Sh˘jo as Virtual Spectral Double: Understanding Remediation in Recent Japanese Anime and Film
Livia Monnet, University of Montreal
The surfeit of sh˘jo in contemporary Japanese popular culture has led critics to construe this figure as the very sign of late twentieth-century Japanese postmodernity. This paper argues that the sh˘jo characters in Oshii Mamorus well-known anime Ghost in the Shell (1996) and Nakada Hideos cult movie Ring 1 and Ring 2 (1999), are posited as virtual spectral doubles or doppelgangers serving to foreground the process of what David Bolter and Richard Grusin label "remediation" (the refashioning of one medium by another, as well as the simultaneous display and transformation of several media in the new digital technologies), and to resignify notions of the ghost/phantom, gender, body, subjectivity and fantasy both in these movies and in the emerging global digital culture in general.
What is particularly compelling in the works under scrutiny, is the fact that they depict remediation as a process that calls into question and refashions normative concepts, aesthetics and philosophies. Major Kusanagi, in Ghost in the Shell, for example, is a conglomerate of phantasmatic electronic data that can inhabit any manufactured humanoid body, merge with other computer-generated minds, and transform itself into an invisible ghostly presence that easily outdoes powerful male opponents. By positing remediation as the central technological process, Oshiis brilliant anime and Nakadas cult movie not only question recent Japanese diagnoses of the sh˘jo phenomenon, but at the same time redefine and repurpose notions of virtuality and spectrality. Such re-envisioning makes apparent the residual modernist-masculinist, nationalist-particularist understandings of identity and culture in both works.
Metamorphosis of the Hyper-girl
Mari Kotani, Critic
Miyasato Chizuru, the famous photographer and feminist critic, invented the strong concept of the "cho- sh˘jo" (hyper-girl) in order to analyze the shonen-ai manga (comics dealing with homosexual love romance between boys) in the 1970s. This paper aims to discuss the legacy of the hyper-girl and the impact she made on a TV animation series that aired in the mid-1990s, Sh˘jo-kakumei UTENA (aired from April 2December 24, 1997).
The fourteen-year-old girl, Utena, cherishes the vivid memory of a prince, whom she met only once in her childhood. She puts on a gakuran (Japanese school uniform for boys), and fights against many pseudo-princes. I would like to speculate on the reason why the girl becomes a prince herself in this Takarazuka-like animation, and what happened to the concept of the hyper-girl in the 1990s.
Tsushima Yukos Moeru Kaze (Fiery Wind): The Sh˘jo Takes Flight
Eve Zimmerman, Wellesley College
The figure of the sh˘jo (girl) takes center stage in Tsushima Yukos Moeru Kaze (Fiery Wind, 1980). Ariko, a troubled ten-year-old, extracts a grim form of justice from the world by terrifying a rival, smothering a toddler, and hastening the destruction of a mentor. A relentless unloveable heroine with a "dirty mouth," Ariko nevertheless flies. She climbs to the top of the school or high rocks by the sea, her arms stretched in imagined flight, her body filling with light, and surveys all that lies below her. At great heights, Ariko forges an impenetrable core of fantasya true lifethat sustains and nourishes her in the world below.
My paper explores Tsushimas fascination with the wayward girl, who appears in many of her early works, and suggests an alternative to theories of the sh˘jo that began to circulate in the 1980s. Rather than serve as a faceless marker of hyper-consumerism, Tsushimas sh˘jo becomes a cipher for the complex matrix of female identity, the woman-becoming-writer who necessarily carves out a certain distance from scripted roles, but who drifts into a backwater of self-hatred and rage. Ariko is that cipher, a creature who spins fantasy into flight, but who is sharply aware of how she looks in others eyes. The mesmerizing figure of the sh˘jo beckons and rebuffs, illuminating the position of the woman writer in the postwar period and leading us to new ground.
K˘no Taekos Medusan Laugh: Bish˘jo
Mary Knighton, University of California, Berkeley
In the early 1960s, author K˘no Taeko (b. 1929) wrote Bish˘jo ("Beautiful Girl," 1962), a story which relates protagonist Sh˘kos masochistic relationships with two very different men. In order to tell this story, however, K˘no interpolates into the narrative a bizarre scene in which Sh˘ko, a woman who "despises little girls," or sh˘jo, has to take care of three of them for an entire day. The subtle yet shocking intensity of this encounter between Sh˘ko and the sh˘jo literally effects a split in the narrative focus on two men in Sh˘kos life while affording a glimpse into the sexual and cultural construction of Sh˘kos own feminine subjectivity. It is only with a recursive tracing of the signifier sh˘jo, however, that this scene reveals its ties to the psychic operations of Sh˘ko. The echo of the sh˘jos laugh at the end of the story, I submit, may be less a sign of Sh˘kos masochistic defeat by the "bish˘jo" in their competition for a man than hint at the self-sufficient strength and even cruelty of the irrepressible sh˘jo foreclosed within Sh˘ko herself.
Joan Rivieres well-known essay "Womanliness as Masquerade" informs my reading of the sh˘jo as source of displeasure and freakishness for Sh˘ko, and guides my analysis of the "masquerade" that closes the narrative. Jennifer Robertsons work on Takarazuka sh˘jo culture, as well as the literary analyses of feminist critics like Yonaha Keiko, contextuatize my approach to the sh˘jo figures in K˘no Taekos Bish˘jo.