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Power, Culture, and Transnational Media in 20th Century Japan
Organizer and Chair: Hiroshi Kitamura, College of William and Mary
Discussant: Karen Kelsky, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The making of modern and postmodern Japan involved changes in popular attitudes and cultural consciousness. This panel seeks to offer new insight on this vibrant process through the study of cultural production and impact. Relying on interdisciplinary methodologies and approaches, the four papers investigate the construction and diffusion of diverse media texts (cinema, music, and the DVD) in distinct historical moments (two papers are prewar, two postwar). Another goal is to understand the sprawl of culture as a transnational phenomenon. By examining the mediation of foreign ideas and representations (mainly from Europe and the U.S.) in both text and context, we aim to explore Japan's active engagement with the "West" as well as the ways in which different cultural practices reshaped local value systems within the broader dynamics of globalization. The panel will begin with Daisuke Miyao, who investigates the discursive power of Fritz Lang's Harakiri, a popular film text designed to contain Japan's modernization via gendered representations of the "Orient." Hideaki Fujiki examines the demography of cinematic consumption in Taisho Japan, specifically addressing the reconfiguration of socio-cultural hierarchies through the reception of domestic and foreign films. Mari Yoshihara analyzes the creation and dissemination of the Suzuki Method, a hybrid Japanese-American training method in the field of classical music, in both Japanese and international contexts. Hiroshi Kitamura discusses Hollywood's cross-cultural efforts to market comedy films in Japan via DVD. Comments will be offered by Karen Kelsky. We look forward to engaging in stimulating discussions with the audience.
Containment of Horror: Japonisme, Expressionism, and Fritz Langfs Harakiri (1919)
Daisuke Miyao, University of Oregon
Since the late nineteenth century, in accordance with the popularity of World's Fairs, the arts and culture of Japan provided exotic and often sensational images for modern entertainment in Europe and the US. In particular, Japan was a popular subject in early cinema. A good number of them rework Madame Butterfly's narrative of a doomed Japanese female/American male romance. The popularity of Madame Butterfly appeared to go against the overall anti-Japanese tendency that was caused by the rapid modernization and imperialistic expansion of Japan in Asia/Pacific. In this paper, I argue that Madame Butterfly, especially its melodramatic narrative that emphasizes white supremacy, served to contain the eminent horror of the yellow peril. The ideological function of Madame Butterfly was to contain Japanfs modernizing process within the image of an obedient and self-sacrificing female. Simultaneously, in Japan, Madame Butterfly functioned as a containment of horror in the Japanese contexts of modernity and modernization. Closely looking at German master Fritz Lang's expressionist film Harakiri (1919) and its reception, this paper examines the genealogy of the Madame Butterfly narrative that has worked to contain horror both in Europe and in Japan.
Creating a Popular Audience: Cinema as a Global Medium and Popular Entertainment in Taisho Japan
Hideaki Fujiki, University of Nagoya, Japan
My paper discusses how cinema, as a newly rising global medium, facilitated the formation of social classes during the late 1910s and early 1920s. I argue that while cinema brought about social chaos to some extent, it also allowed "discourses of popular entertainment" (minshu goraku ron) -- which flourished at that time -- to make a class distinction between "people" (minshu) and intellectuals, and position the former as homogenous and fixed in the social hierarchy. On the one hand, Euro-American films (especially serials and comedies) and stars' images attracted cross-layered audiences, even though Western films were apt to be more accessible for educated people than for others. On the other hand, critics like Tachibana Takahiro, Nakata Shuzo, and Gonda Yasunosuke, attempted to identify the audiences of films, especially domestic ones, exclusively as factory laborers. Certainly, whereas Tachibana and Nakata were intent on regulating people through cinema, Gonda envisioned cinema as entertainment for the people by the people. Still, he theorized audience members as uniform subjects that lived in a capitalist society expanding after the Russio-Japanese War and World War I. For Gonda, both in the West and Japan movie-going had to be a part of the laborers' lifestyle because it helped them recover from their fatigue due to factory work. In this sense, Japanese discourses of popular entertainment acknowledged cinema as a "global" phenomenon and introduced a viewpoint that regarded its audiences as an active, but homogenous and hence manageable class.
The Man Who Became a Method: Globalization of the Suzuki Method
Mari Yoshihara, University of Hawai'i at Manoa
The Suzuki Method is a highly successful method of teaching young children to play musical instruments such as the violin, piano, cello, and flute. Developed originally by a Japanese violinist and pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki, it is practiced today by over 400,000 students in 34 countries around the world. Why has the Method become so popular and successful? What is the significance of the Method's Japanese origin and its globalization, especially given the Western-ness of the instrument and the musical genre it teaches? How does the globalization of the Suzuki Method reconfigure the racial geography of Western classical music? This paper first situates Suzuki's philosophy and the Method's rapid growth in its historical context and demonstrates the inherently hybrid nature of the Method's cultural origins. Although the Method is often characterized as "uniquely Japanese," in many ways Suzuki's philosophy was also very "American" -- not only because it was grounded in his ideas about individualism and democracy emerging out of postwar Japan but also because it shared the similar assumptions and ideals about class and gender of Cold War America. The paper then examines the process of the Method's spread across the world since the 1960s. In the course of the Method's globalization, certain aspects of the Method have received disproportionate attention, reinforcing the discursive binary between "Asian collectivity/imitation" and "Western individualism/artistry." The ways in which Suzuki's philosophy is transplanted, adapted, and spread in various cultural contexts demonstrate both the salience and permeability of racial and cultural discourse in music making.
The Comedy Problematic: The DVD Revolution and Hollywood Marketing in Contemporary Japan
Hiroshi Kitamura, College of William and Mary
The Digital Video Disc (DVD) dramatically altered the landscape of the moving image. The advent of this new technology in the late 1990s has opened new possibilities for filmmakers, distributors, and viewers alike. The goal of my paper is to explore how this new medium has expanded Hollywood's business prospects overseas through a case study of Japan -- one of the largest markets for cinematic commodities in the contemporary world. The paper specifically examines the American film industry's efforts to distribute the comedy film, a genre that has traditionally faced challenges in the global arena, especially in countries that involved linguistic and cultural differences. The challenge of selling a number of comedy films in Japanese theaters has led Hollywood companies to increasingly capitalize on the DVD to make the most out of their humor-driven products. Relying on edits, subtitles, extra footage, and niche marketing techniques, U.S. companies catered their otherwise un-marketable products to a broad range of Japanese consumers. Through an analysis of three "popcorn comedies," I seek to demonstrate how digital technology has enabled U.S. studios to cultivate Japanese desire and hunger for the comedy genre, rendering the DVD a promising medium for movie marketing across the Pacific while perpetuating Japan's interest and fascination with "things American."