Kinema Club II

Dates: 
Thursday, May 29, 2003 to Sunday, June 1, 2003
Venue: 
East-West Center
City and State: 
Honolulu, Hawai'i
Organizers: 
Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (NYU) and Abé Mark Nornes (UM)

Schedule:

May 29 (Thursday)

2:15

–Introduction and Welcoming Remarks by Abé Mark Nornes (U of Michigan) and Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (NYU)

2:30-4:45

1. Japanese Television I

–Stephanie DeBoer (USC), “Negotiating Histories, Revisiting Oshin: Gender, Tourism, and the Spaces of Television”

–Hirofumi Katsuno (U of Hawaii), “Crazy for Kikaida: Consuming Japanese Live-Action TV in Hawaii”

–Christine R. Yano (U of Hawaii), “Nikkei Gazing: Telegenic Portraits of Japanese Americans”

–Bruce Suttmeier (Lewis & Clark College), “On Viewing Violence: Image and Memory in early 1960s Television”

6:00: Dinner

May 30 (Friday)

8:30-10:15

2. Cinema of Total War

–Chika Kinoshita (U of Chicago, panel chair), “Mobilizing Pleasure: Wartime Melodrama”

–Michael Raine (Bard College), “The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya

–Jeffrey Isaacs (Yokohama City U), “Commissioned Films: Mobilization and the Body in 1938”

10:30-12:15

3. Japanese Television II

–Eva Tsai (National Taiwan Normal U), “The Consequences of Playing a Lover on TV”

–Gabriella Lukacs (Duke U), “From the Touden Murder Case to Dokushin Seikatsu: The Location of Televisual Culture in Contemporary Japan”

–Kelley Hsing-chi Hu (National Chung Cheng U), “Cannot Live without Siawase (Happiness): Reflexivity and Japanese TV Dramas”

12:15-1:00

Lunch

1:00-2:45

4. Modernity, War, and Prewar Cinema

–Junji Yoshida (U of Oregon), “Reading Propaganda in The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family

–Naomi Ginoza (UCLA), “The Closed Cosmopolitanism of Tokyo Rhapsody (1936): The Happy ‘Music’ in the Year of Disquiet”

–Catherine Russell (Concordia University), “Naruse Mikio in the 1930s and the Discourse of Everyday Life”

3:00-4:45

5. Text and Context

–Roland Domenig (U of Vienna), “Life to Those Shadows, or Is There a ‘Birthday’ of Japanese Cinema?”

–Itakura Fumiaki (Kyoto U), “Japanese Americans’ Reception of Japanese Cinema in the U.S.”

–Kirsten Cather (UC Berkeley), “Oshima on Trial”

7:00

Dinner on the beach, courtesy of the Center for Japanese Studies, University of Hawaii Manoa.

May 31 (Saturday)

8:30-10:30

6. Modernity, War, and Postwar Cinema

–Nakagawa Shigemi (Ritsumeikan U), “Memories of the War: Describing ‘Housewives’ in the Postwar”

–Minaguchi Kiseko (Teikyo U), “Cultural Codes Metamorphosed”

–Mark Anderson (U of Minnesota), “Mobilizing Godzilla: Mourning Modernity as Monstrosity”

–Christine Marran (U of Minnesota), “Trains and Whales: Time and Technology in Ozu’s Tokyo Story

10:45-12:45

7. Anime and Media

–Anne McKnight (McGill U), “Animating the Concrete: Sound and Image Relations in Animation and Documentary, 1955 to the Early Seventies”

–Thomas Lamarre (McGill U), “The Digital Divide: Animation, Automation, Revolution”

–Thomas Looser (McGill U), “Animate Histories”

–Livia Monnet (U of Montreal), “Haunted Topologies, or Invasion of the Movie Snatchers: Mimesis, Melancholia and the New Uncanny in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

12:45-1:45

Lunch

1:45-3:45

8. Contemporary Japanese Cinema

–Miriam Rohde (U of Hamburg)/Thomas Schnellbaecher (Berlin Free U): “Desire through the Looking Glass? Miike Takashi’s Audition as a Mirror Cabinet of Japanese Patriarchal Images of Women”

–Satomi Saito (U of Iowa), “The Evolution of Anime Language from Tenchi Muyo to Onegai Teacher

–Dick Stegewerns (Osaka Sangyo U), “Decomposing Sex: Life in Somai Shinji’s Love Hotel

–Jonathan M. Hall (U of Chicago), “Objects and Their Agency: Horror, Tactility, and the Cinematic Subject: Machine in Late-Century Japanese Cinema”

4:00-4:45

Subtitling Consortium and Demonstration (Michael Raine)

6:00

Dinner

June 1 (Sunday)

9:00-10:45

9. Nation and Fractured Mirror

–Luk Van Haute (Hogeschool Gent, Belgium), “Foreigners and the Language Problem in Japanese Movies”

–Kota Inoue (UC Irvine), “Fetishism and Late Capitalism in Swallowtail Butterfly

–Kukhee Choo (U of Texas), “The Postmodern Approach to the Concept of Nationality in the Japanese Film Go!

11:00-12:00

Conference Wrap-Up

Abstracts: 

1. Japanese Television I

–Stephanie DeBoer (USC), “Negotiating Histories, Revisiting Oshin: Gender, Tourism, and the Spaces of Television”

“History on television is a vast enterprise” that spans a wide array of network production, asserts the introduction to a recent anthology on television histories. This statement is easily substantiated in a look at Japan’s NHK network and its long concern for producing documentaries, travel narratives, and historically resonant drama. At the same time, such a linking of television with notions of history also asks us to reconsider an equally long tradition of criticism on television’s “postmodern” status. Here, television becomes a medium capable only of “forgetting” in its smooth display of images that are ever looped in the hypermediations of “flow”—an understanding, interestingly, which has also been brought to recent Japanese film. What seems necessary within such contested discourses on history and television, especially within the Japanese context, is an approach that is attentive to the specific questions that are negotiated in and around particular television texts.

While certainly not arguing for any authentic notion of history, this paper will address the popular NHK drama Oshin to explore how the spaces of television function as a nexus through which an “entanglement” of discourses on the past in the present—on memory, nostalgia, as well as tourism—are negotiated, particularly in relation to the configurations of gender that work to produce them. Arguably one of the most cited Japanese television dramas, popular literature on Oshin has frequently placed it within two seemingly disparate discourses—its revival of a domestic NHK genre though specific attention (and marketing) to women’s memories and histories on the one hand, and, on the other, its facilitation of a global community of the (now over fifty) world markets to which this drama has traveled. Such discourses are particularly resonant when we consider Japan’s “complex and contradictory” position as it sits on the periphery of U.S. media markets yet frequently works as a dominant factor in both media and tourist flows throughout Asia. Indeed, Oshin’s address of history, memory and gender become potentially difficult when understood in relation to Japanese television’s ambiguous status among various (trans)national flows.

In negotiating among such domestic and global imaginaries, this paper takes it cues from recent feminist approaches to cultural geography to argue for the centrality of gender to this drama’s production of space—to the private and public sites through which memories and nostalgias are negotiated. Specifically, as Oshin juxtaposes its melodramatic progression through recent Japanese history—a history initiated by the memory of a woman—against the contemporary landscapes over and through which Oshin remembers it, women’s bodies, too, become palimpsest-like spaces through which memories, histories and nostalgias are negotiated. This points not simply to a hypermediated televisual space in which the past can only be negotiated through the present, but also to the centrality of gender to mediating specific cultural discourses within Japanese media.

Such observations are further complicated by the range of production that has accompanied this drama, including NHK promotional literature, books on lifestyle and moral living, discourses on travel on the internet, as well as tourist campaigns advertising trips to the set locations of Oshin—production that is not simply domestic but also transnational in scale. Thus, this paper’s final (comparative) section addresses such production and reception within a transnational context—here in the context of Taiwan—to further point to the ways in which gender and history get negotiated in international flows of media, nostalgia, and tourism, as well as suggest, once again, the very heterogeneity of negotiations that are possible within particular sites of television.

–Hirofumi Katsuno (U of Hawaii), “Crazy for Kikaida: Consuming Japanese Live-Action TV in Hawaii”

From 1974 to 1975, Japanese-language TV station in Hawai’i KIKU-TV aired the Japanese tokusatsu (live-action) show Kikaida. It was a unique moment in television history in Hawai’i. Although the TV series gained only moderate popularity in Japan, in Hawai’i it began a craze among young fans, garnering higher ratings than other action programs from the US mainland. The tremendous success of the show was followed by a merchandising bonanza of related goods, such as dolls, T-shirts, books, and recordings from Japan. Twenty-six years later in November, 2001 at the request of diehard fans, KIKU-TV began rebroadcasting the series and issuing a series of goods, bringing about a second Kikaida boom. Consumers include original fans known as “Generation Kikaida” now in their thirties and forties, as well as young children. With guest appearances by the original TV stars and wildly popular public events, Governor Benjamin Cayetano officially declared April 11, 2002 as “Kikaida Day” in Hawai’i, further cementing the place of Kikaida within local culture.

This paper takes this ongoing Hawai’i-Kikaida phenomenon as a globalizing confluence of top-down and bottom-up forces, tying together media, fan culture and locality in the consumption of Japanese products. In this light, I aim to explore the consumption of the TV series in Hawai’i asking the following questions: 1) how has Kikaida been consumed as a local Hawai’i superhero by people of various ethnic groups; and 2) how does consumption of Kikaida goods become productive sites of memory and nostalgia, and extended selves for “Generation Kikaida”? By taking an ethnographic approach based on interviews with collectors of Kikaida goods, I examine ways by which the textuality of Kikaida distinctive of the Japanese tokusatsu genre articulates with the lives of fans. Kikaida thus becomes a mediascape upon which selves may be written, interwoven within cultural, geopolitical, and socioeconomic contexts.

–Christine R. Yano (U of Hawaii), “Nikkei Gazing: Telegenic Portraits of Japanese Americans”

This paper examines ways in which NHK’s 2002 asadora [morning serialized drama] Sakura becomes a site of narrative practices and readings surrounding Nikkeijin [persons of Japanese ancestry; shortened to Nikkei]. In Japan the series has been broadcast from April through October 2002, with an audience viewership of approximately 23%, making it moderately successful. The plot concerns a young fourth-generation Nikkei woman from Hawai’i, significantly named Sakura (symbol of Japan), who spends one year in Japan teaching English at a private middle school. In the process, she becomes “more Japanese than most Japanese,” championing Japanese values, expressing fondness for things Japanese, and exhibiting that central feature of Japaneseness, kokoro heart, mind, spirit). In this paper, I analyze this and other portrayals of Nikkei within Sakura as forms of ideology set forth by a statist institution, NHK. I ask, what is the work that these portraits intend? How do Nikkei, as prodigal Japanese, become exemplars of what Japan has lost? Furthermore, how does this media image of white-collar, female American Nikkei stand in direct contrast to the everyday reality of blue-collar, primarily male South American Nikkei now resident in Japan?

The second half of my paper compares the telegenic portraits of Nikkei–positive, attractive, even exemplary–with some on-the-ground responses by viewers. Through interviews conducted with viewers in Japan (Fukuoka and Tokyo) and Hawai’i, I position the drama as but one voice among many. Although most Japanese viewers seem to accept NHK’s version of Nikkei, actual Nikkei in Hawai’i often express disgruntlement at their own portrayal. This disgruntlement rests not only in the many errors in the portrait (e.g., complete fluency in Japanese), but also in the muting of their own voices in the process. Although the drama revolves around Nikkei, it is strictly a Japanese story told by Japanese to Japanese. NHK, therefore, has taken the location (Hawai’i) and the look, but not the substance of Nikkei, which is far more complex and variable than the Sakura storyline allows. While few would argue that media is meant to truly capture life, it is the sense of appropriation in the context of proximity that makes this violation an affront for many Nikkei viewers. In other words, it is not only that NHK got it wrong, but that they did so in the midst of a spirit of cooperation and research in the production process, as well as continuous flows of people between Japan and Hawai’i.

This paper, then, juxtaposes Sakura and its viewers, with specific focus on the viewers whom Sakura is meant to portray, if not address. In doing so, I argue that NHK has shirked some of its responsibility in its effort to create a story that reproduces its statist ideology at the expense of broader credibility.

–Bruce Suttmeier (Lewis & Clark College), “On Viewing Violence: Image and Memory in early 1960s Television”

My paper examines a seminal moment in the early history of Japanese TV viewing. On the afternoon of October 12, 1960, a raucous and disturbing scene unfolded on television screens nationwide as Asanuma Inejirô, the chairman of the Socialist party, approached the podium to speak. First, right-wing protestors greeted him with deafening jeers, shouts so loud that even front-row audience members had trouble making out his words. A protestor then climbed onto the stage, flinging leaflets into the air, forcing organizers to stop Asanuma’s address. And finally, the entire event – pre-election speeches by the chairmen of the three main political parties – was temporarily halted so the most disruptive protestors could be removed and the stage swept clean. It was shortly after three o’clock when Asanuma returned to the podium and resumed speaking. But soon after he began, a figure dressed in a student uniform ran down the aisle and leapt onto the stage with a short sword. In front of the thousand-plus audience at Hibiya Hall, and in direct view of an NHK TV camera broadcasting the event nationwide, seventeen-year old Yamaguchi Otoya barreled into Asanuma, stabbing him in the chest. As the politician slumped over, the boy stabbed him again in the side. The TV camera quickly panned to the left to follow the horrific event as it unfolded on the stage – observers rushing forward to restrain the boy while Asanuma, bleeding and staggering toward the back of the stage, reeled around to fall into the arms of aides. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was dead, doctors reported, almost immediately following the attack.

The killing stunned the nation. It was, on the one hand, the latest in an escalating string of right-wing attacks. In June, Kawakami Jôtarô, a Socialist member of the Diet, had been stabbed in the front entrance hall of the Diet building; and a month later, former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke had been stabbed six times outside a government reception. Individuals on the left began citing the pre-war ‘reign of terror,’ comparing the postwar attacks to the series of assassinations in the early 1930s that precipitated, as they saw it, militarism and war. But clearly the attack on Asanuma was unique. Not only had a major political figure been killed, but his killing was broadcast minutes later to a national television audience – the event, now rendered as a material image, became shockingly visible, obscenely intimate, even, in a sense, unbearably ‘real.’ The very preservation of the attack, in all its overwhelming immediacy, made it available – and repeatedly employable – as an object for re-viewing.

The killing revealed the tensions inherent in television’s formal qualities as a representational and communicative medium, tensions which burst into public debate. I argue that the event must be constituted both (1) as a textualized artifact deployed in an ongoing discourse concerning the social ramifications of visual representation, and (2) as a spectacle shaped by, and consequently shaping, the modes of seeing prevalent in TV’s first decade in Japan. That is to say, not only did the event serve as a prime piece of evidence in the hotly debated and increasingly legislated visual representation of violence, but it also functioned as a harbinger of TV’s vast power to marshal attention, create communities, and transform structures of perception. How was this event, both as visual spectacle and as textualized object, constructed to serve the interests of the various producers and consumers of the television product? What does its deployment reveal about the anxieties toward this relatively new but rapidly maturing medium? And perhaps most provocatively, in what ways did the past haunt this scene of the present? What figures (and figuration) of history were called upon to comprehend its existence, its visibility and ultimately, its meaning?

2. Cinema of Total War

This panel proposes to look at technologies of mobilization in Japan’s wartime cinema to show various ways in which the filmic involvement with mobilization is immensely complex. Chika Kinoshita posits a female spectator for the summer 1942 hit film Onna keizu (1942) in order to come to terms with the complexity of cinematic address and the rich textuality of the film. Combining an examination of popular cinema journals with a textual analysis of the film itself, she concludes that the cinema of mobilization was a multi-dimensional machinery through which cycled a spectator’s desire, pleasure, suffering and even resistance. Michael Raine argues that the film The War at Sea from Hawai’i to Malaya (1942) is structured by what he calls a sacerdotal understanding of action dependant in turn on synecdotal replacement, and that this process is rhymed with the repeated laying clear of technological mediation. Jeff Isaacs reads across a number of government-commissioned propaganda films made in 1937 and ‘38 a grammar of representation for the mobilized wartime body that he believes is, in the final analysis, more about immobilization than mobilization.

–Chika Kinoshita (panel chair, U of Chicago), “Mobilizing Pleasure: Wartime Melodrama”

Onna keizu [Genealogy of Women], released in the summer of 1942, had every reason to be a smash hit. It featured Tôhô’s two top stars, Hasegawa Kazuo and Yamada Isuzu, was based on the well known shinpa repertoire derived from Izumi Kyôka’s novel, and was directed by Makino Masahiro, the most popular director at the time. The box office records measured up to expectations.

The film shared the story formulae and the setting with a number of melodramas made during the same period, 1939-1945, such as Mizoguchi Kenji’s The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (1939): a romantic couple is separated because of the partner’s devotion to professional obligation. Two kinds of readings have been offered of these wartime melodramas with Meiji settings. First, they allowed both the filmmaker and the spectator to escape from the war into nostalgia for the past. Second, on the contrary, they echoed the State’s call for the subject to make self-effacing devotion to total war.

This paper, taking the enormously popular Onna keizu as an example, hypothetically genders the spectator as female, with a hope to throw into relief complex addresses and textuality of these films. Combining archival research on popular film periodicals such as Eiga no tomo and women’s magazines with a textual analysis of Onna keizu, I will construct a wartime female spectatorship. Drawing upon this double-layered method, I argue that cinema of mobilization was less a monolithic training ground than multi-dimensional machinery through which the spectator’s desire, pleasure, suffering, and even resistance were played out and channeled.

–Michael Raine (Bard College), “The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya

The War at Sea from Hawai’i to Malaya (1942) has been called an intimate and direct action film, far removed from the “monumental cinema” studied by Darrell Davis. To be sure, there is a stylistic gulf between the measured aestheticism of Mizoguchi’s Story of the Loyal 47 Ronin and the “machine enthusiasm” of Yamamoto Kajiro’s film. Even so, I argue that the latter film is structured by a “sacerdotal” understanding of action, through synecdoche (relics, symbols, shrines) and supernatural plot developments. More importantly, that same awareness is developed through a making-visible of technological mediation (sounds dislocated from speakers, zooms and other optical devices). The machine replaces the individual with the primacy of type over token; it is through an auratic identification with the machinery of war that, as one of the characters has it, one’s self can become a nothingness dedicated to total war. Machine audio-vision recurs constantly throughout The War at Sea from Hawai’i to Malaya as a figure for the absent agent of narration, aligning the rhetoric of mobilization in the film with a synoptic Imperial Will. This paper proposes that rather than a simplistic opposition between static “Western” and “Japanese” forms, we can find a response to technological mediation (in this film and outside the cinema) that is specific to wartime Japan. As such, it forms part of a history of the increasing “technical reproducibility” of cinema in the early sound period.

–Jeffrey Isaacs (Yokohama City U), “Commissioned Films: Mobilization and the Body in 1938”

“[T]he modern body is a kind of organism that can be said to include the machine as one of its own organs.” —Shimomura Torataro, spoken at the Kindai no chokoku conference

This paper looks at films produced primarily by small- and medium-sized film companies to the specifications of government ministries, the military and other concerned entities as the ministries and others vied feverishly for control of the campaign to mobilize the populace for total war just before and just after the passage of the first general mobilization act in the spring of 1938. For their part, non-feature cinematic works often delved directly into the highly contentious debate over who would oversee mobilization, and in fact, many were commissioned for that very purpose. Among the most common trope in this sort of film was the immediate depiction of mobilized bodies - usually Japanese, sometimes colonial. In films ordered by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Finance, the Army and the Navy, and others one finds a repeated visual rhetoric of training the body, correcting the body, sanitizing the body, properly nourishing the body, and all for the reputed purpose of mobilization.

Using the writings of those who would theorize mobilization and other historical evidence including photos and video clips taken from such relatively forgotten short films as Eiyo kokusaku (1937), Jugo no chokisen (1937-8), Mura wa tsuchi kara (1938) as well as from other more well-known pieces such as the war-reportage films for which Kamei Fumio has been acclaimed, I hope to sketch out this visual rhetoric of mobilization and speculate on its meaning. Finally, I will argue that the undeniable cinematic “territorialization” (ala Deluze and Gauttari) of the body seen across these films is ultimately, an immobilization.

3. Japanese Television II

–Eva Tsai (National Taiwan Normal U), “The Consequences of Playing a Lover on TV”

Tarento—the all-purpose performer in Japanese mass media—seems to invite schizophrenic readings. As individuals or as members of a collective unit, they move between interconnected communication environments, embodying roles that seem to promise infinite possibilities of self realizations. Though reaching a career apex may take participation in virtually (and actually) every kind of mediated discourse, it is not an overstatement to regard regular activity in the televisual discourse a basic survival condition of a tarento. In this sense, it may be useful to consider tarento as a televisual phenomenon, much like the proposition of stars as a cinematic phenomenon (Ellis 1991).

Attempts to theorize television celebrities often borrow from film studies preoccupation with stars as signs or vehicles for the film industry (Marshall 1997; Dyer 1986). On many occasions, they take up the issue of power and address the construction of the extraordinary in an egalitarian and commercialized social order. Being an everyday and household entity, television seems inadequate in the fostering of the distancing aura required for a film star. Instead, television is thought to produce “personalities,” familiar faces whose presence offer security and vicarious intimacy.

Interestingly, in Japan, where a plethora of tarento is churned out by a productive and sophisticated culture industry, celebrities are read with plenty of distance. In fact, they are so ubiquitous and abundant that their narrative significance seems to matter little. It has been suggested, for instance, that tarento functions as a money sign whose circulation sustains the cultural economy of contemporary Japan (Yoshimoto 1996). In William Gibson’s Idoru, the construct aidoru (idol) was pushed to a postmodern extreme, for it no longer requires the making of the exceptional from flesh and blood.

In this essay, I would like to suggest a modern, and hopefully still relevant, direction toward the understanding of tarento, that is, reading tarento as lovers. This orientation necessarily leads us to the largest narrative regime of television: dramas. After all, it is in dramas that a tarento can personify a lover—a role that is distinctively different from, say, a detective, a mother, an OL, or a salaryman, for a lover is more than a dramatic role. A lover’s performance is as close to a human being as a representation can get. It speaks to humanity, particularly to the need for communication.

The boom of trendy dramas (of which a large portion are romantic comedies) and ren’ai dorama in the 1980s and 1990s provided, in particular, a hotbed for the commodification of lovers. Every tarento—famous or not, young or old—has played a lover, defined purposely here as someone who loves, is loved, wants love, needs love, or takes love as a central experience of his/her existence.

Why so much representation of lovers? Why play a lover on television? Is it just a matter of demands in the Japanese culture industry? Is it a facile or ritualized process to stardom or popularity? Is it to fulfill some psychological or universal need? Does the television medium—especially with its unique mode of storytelling emerged from contemporary Japan’s primetime dramas—confer particular attributes to the characterization of lovers? If so, how is this constructed in relation to the production of dramas and of tarento’s intertextual narratives?

To answer these questions, my essay will draw on “classic” love stories—as in narratives that are situated in common, everyday verisimilitudes—and “extraordinary” compositions that locate lovers in polarizing fields of forces beyond their control. Representative works of “classic” love stories include Tokyo Love Story (1991) and Love Generation (1997), and stories of an “extraordinary” nature include Koko KyThi (1993) and Aoi Tori (1997). Such a division is not absolute, but it helps to highlight the dialectical relationship between the extraordinary and ordinary in the discourse of celebrity formation, as well as in between love’s ubiquitous representation and rarity in reality. Television’s role in creating a labour condition of love could very well be answered once the tarento-lover relationship is articulated.

–Gabriella Lukacs (Duke U), “From the Touden Murder Case to Dokushin Seikatsu: The Location of Televisual Culture in Contemporary Japan”

In March 1997 a woman’s strangled body was found in an abandoned apartment in Maruyamacho-district of Shibuya. The victim, Watanabe Yasuko was a 39 year-old single career woman. Police investigations disclosed that she had lived a double life: during the day she worked for Tokyo Denryoku (Tokyo Power) in managerial position, while at night she metamorphosed to be a prostitute. A Nepalese illegal guest worker was charged with Watanabe’s murder and has been kept in detention for over four years, while decisive evidence has not yet been identified.

Watanabe Yasuko’s double life has touched a raw nerve in Japan and her story exercised a powerful hold on popular imagination. Media discussions of her double life have produced a discursive space where seemingly disparate matters such as single women’s sexuality, the presence of illegal laborers in Japan, the disintegration of the family and the future of the nation were transposed onto each other and started to form a meta-narrative estranged from Watanabe herself. Her body has become signifiers of something else than itself and meanings unrelated to the owner of the body were projected onto it. In addition to the news media’s tenacious scrutinizing of the Touden eriito OL satsujin jiken, books were published on the murder case and in 1999 the double life of an elite career woman was re-imagined in a television drama titled Dokushin Seikatsu (Single Life).

This paper will inquire how this television drama intersected with the media discussions of the murder case in order to shed light on the nature of this particular site of cultural production and map its location in contemporary Japan. Television drama has played a key role in developing and maintaining a nationally specific, authentic Japanese televisual culture and Dokushin Seikatsu is a productive example to elucidate the modalities of this sphere of cultural production; as it unequivocally springs from reality processes of mediation are more transparent in it. Scholars have traced the development of a nationally specific mass/popular culture in postwar Japan and analyzed its relationship to nationalism and the nation-state. They underscored the complexity of the high/low culture distinction in the Japanese context; nonetheless they have not exhausted this issue. This paper aims at further investigating the applicability of the high/low culture distinction in understanding the place of television drama in contemporary Japan.

During my ethnographic work on drama reception, I constantly puzzled my informants by asking them to locate television drama between the high/low poles of an imagined culture-axis. They blithely responded that it was impossible for there were both good and bad dramas. These reactions suggest that television drama forms a diverse field of cultural production as it encompasses both the high and low ends of culture. This paper proposes to inquire if it is viable to talk about high culture in relation to television drama and Japanese televisual culture per se. Centering on Gyorgy Lukacs’s theory on the role of de-fetishization in art, I will cross-read Dokushin Seikatsu and Lukacs’s late theory of high culture, The Particularity of Aesthetic I-II with the intention of further elucidating the particularities of Japanese televisual culture.

–Kelley Hu (Chung Cheng U, Taiwan), “Cannot Live without Happiness: Reflexivity and Japanese TV Dramas”

This paper will mainly explore the content and the mechanism of reflexivity imbedded in Japanese TV drama - especially those “trendy” dramas picturing metropolitan modernity since 1990s. It will suggest that Japanese TV drama industry has been sophisticated in producing reflexive scripts, which in a way corresponds to the reflexive compulsion of late modernity. Many Japanese TV dramas with stories of modern settings are good at mapping the modern human psychology – they reveal the needs to search the interaction between the inner side of the self and the other, to reflect over and to feel at control despite in an age of uncertainty. The reflexive narratives in Japanese TV dramas are well articulated with introversion, sensitivity and subtlety, which may be regarded as “Japanese style”. The frequent applications of voice-overs, monologues and dialogues in Japanese TV dramas are the successful formulas for self-exploration and self-demonstration. Taiwanese/Hong Kong fans are attracted into thinking Japanese TV dramas as “delicate” or “deep”. Japanese TV dramas lead the “reflexive” trends, which have confronted the general conclusion that most TV melodramas usually lack any philosophical reflection with only emotional excess.

By the readings of three dramas Unmarried Family (Hikon kazoku, 2001), Weekend Marriage (Shumatzukon, 1999), and Wednesday Love Affair (Shuiyobi no joji 2001), this article hopes to uncover that the similar urge for reflexivity is in the name of searching happiness. Like the self is a revisable and manageable project attempting to colonize the future, the pursuit of happiness could be future-oriented, which requires constant reflexive practices and transformations. The three dramas show that protagonists are highly reflexive in philosophizing their life puzzles in the journey of seeking happiness. They sharply interrogate our self-identity in a modern society – how do people locate and dislocate themselves in the family and marriage through the complexity of love, sexuality, emotional fulfillment, social functioning, and gender role-playing?

Based on the case study, this article outlines the specificity of Japanese TV drama which does not merely provide escape or fantasy, but also constitutes reflexivity opening up various ways of seeing. Besides, the accentuated reflexivity operates as a means of rationalization which is strangely attached with emotionalism in drama. That is, the emotional intensity incorporates reflexive rationality which makes Japanese TV drama powerful, fascinating and contradictory. It exposes a kind of philosophy/aesthetics – emotional sentiments works through the form of rational reflexivity and vice versa. This article indicates that Japanese TV drama mirrors the ambivalent self which desires happiness and seeks the reflexive empowerment for self-therapy/self-assurance. Happiness can never be promised to stay forever, which parallels the fact that the requests for reflexivity can never be exhausted, so that these themes can be endlessly appropriated for the commercial calculation of Japanese TV drama industry.

4. Modernity, War, and Prewar Cinema

–Junji Yoshida (U of Oregon), “Reading Propaganda in The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family

In his Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema(1988), David Bordwell proclaims that “we must situate Ozu’s dramaturgical strategies, his stylistic choices, and his use of genre conventions within Japanese film making practices of his period.” One of such local practices will be, arguably, filmmakers’ use of plebeian humor to produce laughter and a satirical-comic view of reality. Ozu’s comedies such as I Was Born, But … and Story of Floating Weeds warrant such a reading, and Bordwell’s opening salvo would invite us to ask how poetics of cinema should deal with irruption of jokes and laughter. How are socially embedded politics of humor and corporeal laughing body to be discussed in the reigning discourse of formalist film criticism on Ozu? In his polemically entitled article “Form Wars: the political unconscious of formalist theory,” Bill Nichols takes issues with Bordwell’s tendency to dodge paradigmatic problems of ideological gaps, historical contradictions, spectators’ subject positioning, a set of questions relevant to a rigorous study of laughter in cinema. Social diversity among spectators notwithstanding, a formalist practice of constructing fabula from syuzhet information has yet to devise a means to make sense of textually productive aspect of laughter.

Bordwell’s analysis of The Brother and Sister of the Toda Family (1941) epitomizes the ambivalent status of laughter in hermeneutic practices. His interpretation of this wartime film as propaganda is predicated on a tacit gesture of collapsing its major events into a moral parable of loyalty to the family and the state. His version of fabula serves to displace and disregard subtle instances of visual jokes and a parametric mode of narration. My presentation aims to bring to the fore a deployment of comic relief in order to problematize why certain narrative elements have been repressed to date. Beyond this, a more important question that arises is: To what extent would those repressed elements disturb the established viewpoint of wartime Japan? My goal here is not to rationalize Japanese colonial project nor to discover a facile trace of resistance. Instead, reading invisibility of humor as a symptom, I intend to highlight a potential discursive complicity between the postwar U.S.-Japan collaborative discourse of “modernization theory,” a trope of “propaganda,” and neoformalist focus on cognitive aspect of cinema as a fabula constructing processes.

–Naomi Ginoza (UCLA), “The Closed Cosmopolitanism of Tokyo Rhapsody (1936): The Happy ‘Music Film’ in the Year of Disquiet”

Taking a cultural history approach, this paper examines how, in the case of Tokyo Rhapsody (1936), filmic ideology promoted the capitalist order of Japan in the 1930s before the total-war regime. Tokyo Rhapsody, one of director, Fushimizu Osamu’s “music films” (ongaku eiga), syncretizes the American genre of musical as the “gospel of happiness” in the affluent capitalist society of the US, and aims at Japan’s indigenous form in proportion to the size of its capitalism. Tokyo Rhapsody is not simply a film of imitation attesting to Hollywood cinema’s predominant influence. Rather, both cosmopolitan modernity and cultural nationalism inform Tokyo Rhapsody’s optimistic vision of Showa Japan’s progressing capitalism. The film offers a complacent illusion as if the filmic Tokyo could keep up with any other modern city, by playing with images of Euro-American culture and also by excluding the troubled realities of domestic politics and the China problem. While avoiding concrete reference to the disillusioning realities, the film highlights the Japanese modern through general temporality and spatial diversity: protagonists’ new-age occupations, such as record singer and dancer, their individualistic life styles and various spaces to live, work, and play in — an apartment in Kudan, dry-cleaning business in Ginza, and a taxi-dance hall in Shinjuku. Conflicting aspects of modernity such as rationalism and decadence are also projected onto the protagonists’ characterization. These elements converge to reinforce the culmination of the happy ending which promises a hopeful future. My paper clarifies how Tokyo Rhapsody sings the praise of Japanese capitalist society.

–Catherine Russell (Concordia U), “Naruse Mikio in the 1930s and the Discourse of Everyday Life”

This paper will examine the trajectory of Naruse’s career in the 1930s in light of the theories of modernity that were developed in the late 1920s and early1930s. H.D. Harootunian and Miriam Silverberg have illustrated, through their discussion of writers of this period, how the discourse of everyday life in the metropolitan space of modern Japan was characterized as a crucial form of Japanese modernity. Their analysis indicates how the notion of “vernacular modernism” emerged in Japan at the same time as similar understandings of modernity were articulated in Europe by theorists such as Benjamin and Kracauer. While both Harootunian and Silverberg place the imported American cinema centrally in their understanding of this period, neither address the particular practice of Japanese filmmaking. Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano and David Bordwell have, however, offered valuable critical paradigms for analysis of the stylistic and narrative features of Japanese cinema of the 1930s. Building on their work, this paper will look at Naruse’s emergence as a recognized auteur during this decade. His move from Shochiku-Kamata to P.C.L. in 1935 was also his move from silent to sound production. The shift also entailed a modification from the “tendency” and nonsensu styles of his early films to a narrative mode that involved more studio production and less location shooting, as well as more psychologically-defined characters.

The fact that Tsuma yo bara no yo ni (a.k.a. Kimiko1935) was selected to be screened overseas indicates how Naruse’s cinema had become emblematic of the discourse of Japanese modernity. By the end of the decade, his modan characters had given way to more conservative figures of family life, in keeping with the changing political climate. However, I would like to suggest that the discourse of everyday life that he developed in the early part of the decade is transformed in films such as Nyonin aishu (1937), Tsuruhachi Tsurujiro (1938) and Magokoro (1939) into a discourse of gender politics. In addition to the focus on female protagonists in these films, Naruse also developed a critique of masculinities in film such as Tochuken Kumoemon (1936) and Hataraku ikka (1939). Domestic space becomes the site where the discourse of everyday life is played out, even in the absence of the iconography of “modernology.” The paper will be based on analysis of Naruse’s films, and on the critical discourse on Naruse in Kinema Jumpo and Eiga Hyoron, as well as the American reviews of Kimiko.

5. Text and Context

–Roland Domenig (U of Vienna), “Life to Those Shadows, or Is There a ‘Birthday’ of Japanese Cinema?”

Most accounts of the Japanese film history (or of film history in general) are built on a teleological model that is rarely questioned. according to this model the history of cinema starts with the invention of the film camera—or, as in the case of Japan, its importation—that mark the “birth” of cinema. the films of the early years are often described as “primitive” and vulgar entertainment lacking any refinement. The introduction of film-montage and the development of a film-grammar marked the transition to maturity and raised the cinema to a form of art. Other important steps along this path to maturity was the addition of sound and colour, the extension of the visual range with cinemascope, and the creation of virtual realities with the employment of computer graphics. today this future-oriented teleological model has been shaken, however, for in times of digital image processing and picture manipulation the future of the cinema is less clear than ever before. no wonder that some are already lamenting the approaching “death” of cinema, which perhaps means an end for a certain technology but surely not for a cultural practice, that is much older than what we are used to call cinema.

In this paper I will take a look at the beginnings of cinema in Japan from the perspective of the Japanese screen-practice to show how the new medium was influenced and transformed by older cultural practices such as the traditional theater, the narrative arts and particularly the magic lantern traditions of utsushie and gentô, that determined the perception of the new medium and that had a lasting effect on the future shape and development of Japanese cinema.

–Itakura Fumiaki (Kyoto U), “Japanese Americans’ Reception of Japanese Cinema in the U.S.”

This explores the Japanese Americans’ reception of Japanese Cinema in US. The establishment of some of the first companies in Japan, such as Yokota in Kyoto and Yoshizawa in Tokyo, made it possible to supply Japanese feature films on the West Coast on a regular basis as early as 1911. By 1912 there were at least nine nickelodeons owned by Japanese immigrants in California. Also in 1912, Japanese immigrants began establishing film companies (Nichibei Film Company in San Francisco, Yamato Graph Company in Portland), mainly to make news films depicting the life of Japanese immigrants. Some of these films showing the hardships faced by emigrants were exhibited at an exposition in Japan.

By 1930 Japanese films were screened, most with benshi narration, almost weekly at the halls of Buddhist churches or Japanese schools in San Francisco. These screenings were sometimes intended to raise funds for church youth groups or for schools. The exhibition of Japanese films played an important role in supporting the cultural activities of the Japanese immigrant community. Examining the history of Japanese immigrant’s receptions of Japanese Cinema, we can find the important functions of National cinema for immigrants and we can see how their national identities had transformed between generations(Especially Issei and Nisei).

The history of American cinema can be enriched by the further exploration of film exhibition practices in the Japanese American community.

–Kirsten Cather (UC Berkeley), “Oshima on Trial”

      In this paper, “Oshima on Trial,” I discuss the sensational censorship trial of Oshima Nagisa’s In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no koriida, 1979), a book that included photographic stills and the screenplay from the 1976 film version. In trial, the defense accused the prosecution of indicting the book in lieu of the film, which was not punishable because of Oshima’s innovative production methods and savvy self-censorship techniques. The indictment of the book instead of the film provoked a debate about the nature of the relationship of these media, and more specifically, the relationship of the screenplay and photographic stills to the film. In my paper, I focus on the trial’s discussion of the effects of rendering a visual text (the film) into a textual one (the book version) to explore the relationship of text and image, asking questions such as: How can prose be visual? Is a visual text inherently more immediate and therefore dangerous than a textual one? Can the sexual content of prose transform it into a kind of visual and even tactile medium?

      The book itself offered, in a sense, both a textual and a visual version of the film, in the forms of the scenario and photographic stills respectively. Unlike in the film, where words and images work in tandem to convey meaning, in the book version, these two operations were split off from one another into pure text (script) and image (photos). In the trial, however, these components were not considered as exclusively belonging to either the realm of narrative or spectacle. For example, the prosecution criticized the fragmented and elliptical nature of the scenario for provoking readers to conjure visual images. Here the prosecution seems to have objected to the visual nature of the scenario’s prose, which transformed readers into spectators by inviting them to imagine what was elided from the text.

      The prosecution also objected to the book’s photographic stills but not to the inclusion of these same images in the film itself. I explore the relationship of still images to moving ones to consider the following questions: How could an image be considered more dangerous when frozen in a photographic still than when it appeared momentarily flitting across the film screen? Or, alternatively, how could a collection of stills constitute a moving image of sorts? In my talk, I explore these issues in the context of the competing conceptions offered in the trial of the relationship among text, photograph, and film and between readership and spectatorship.

      I argue that the overall effect of this censorship trial was not negative, but instead productive in many senses. Contrary to the intent of the censors to consign the censored work to oblivion, the prosecution paradoxically guaranteed its survival in both artistic and legal canons. In fact, the Oshima trial became a mass media phenomenon, producing a massive amount of commentary that, in terms of quantity, far exceeds the original work. I analyze this material – the lawyers’ arguments found in the trial records, the judges’ decisions, and articles by Oshima and by other film directors and critics, and legal scholars – to show how the relationship of text and image and of reader to spectator was central to the trial. I argue that this relationship was a critical issue in the Oshima trial because it involved the prosecution of a book version of a film, but that it is also implicit in all of Japan’s postwar obscenity censorship trials, suggesting its centrality to notions of obscenity.

6. Modernity, War, and Postwar Cinema

–Nakagawa Shigemi (Ritsumeikan U), “Memories of the War: Describing ‘Housewives’ in the Postwar”

–Minaguchi Kiseko (Teikyo University), “Cultural Codes Metamorphosed”

‘Dogeza,’ a special way of begging forgiveness, is one of the essential and familiar life styles in Japanese period dramas. Farmers bow down on all fours to Samurai, either to salute or to apologize, wherever they are placed excepting in the water. When we come across this feudalistic landscape in nearly every film work picturing the patriarchal society, we rarely question this distancing and leveling between two people, who lived two centuries ago. We are amazed to find that this supposedly outdated life style is also codified in the contemporary narratives on TV and film screens. I want to decipher what is behind the metamorphosis, through studying the Japanese cultural soil updated.

–Mark Anderson (U of Minnesota), “Mobilizing Godzilla: Mourning Modernity as Monstrosity”

The first part of this paper introduces the debate over science in Japan during W.W.II with particular emphasis on Shimomura Torataro (also known as the Overcoming Modernity debate). In opposition to the Japanese Romantics, Shimomura argued that modernity was not something that could be expunged from Japanese culture. He suggested that modernity in the form of science, technology, and division of labor was already at the core of the contemporary Japanese social formation. Overcoming modernity would have to be an overcoming of contemporary wartime Japan itself. Toward this end, Shimomura argued for even more radical rationalization and introduction of science into Japanese society. In this way, he hoped that the spirit of Japan could be readjusted in such a way that it would be compatible with the emperor and the modern, technologized body. Shimomura, like McLuhan, saw technology as an extension of the body. I argue that both Shimomura and McLuhan are post-modern in the sense that they argue that the anomie and alienation of modern urban life can be overcome and resolved through further modernization. This suggests to me that the overcoming modernity debate and the issue of postmodernism can speak to one another constructively. One end this serves is to take Shimomura seriously as an intellectual of a non-European or American origin and challenge the still very strong resistance to considering theory to be something which might come from outside Europe and the U.S. It challenges the geo-politics of the academy.

The second part of the paper considers the film Godzilla as a post-war revisiting of the issues at stake in the Overcoming modernity debate. The film is in many ways a film about the media system of 1954 Japan, about the technological extensions of the Japanese body of that period. The film teaches us that, in important ways, wartime spectacle and mobilization are an effect of media systems. The film also thematizes science and technology through the premise of Godzilla’s resurrection by way of H-bomb testing and with one scientist arguing for Godzilla’s preservation and another finally bringing about his demise by way of his own invention, the “oxygen-destroyer”. The resolution of the plot speaks to the ethics of the Japanese scientist in question, Serizawa. He is implicitly contrasted favorably with the U.S. and German scientists whose research yielded the A-bomb and the H-bomb and who allowed it to be used on human beings and to give rise to an arms race which Serizawa’s stance is seen as avoiding.

Lastly, I examine the film’s deep interest in the issue of mourning and the role of technology in this process as well. I argue that 1954 was just two years after the end of the U.S. occupation and that the H-bomb testing on the Bikini Atoll revived Japanese interest in Japanese war-dead in general and the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in particular. Information on the bomb suppressed by the Occupation was just becoming available to the Japanese public at this time. The film stages a live television funeral service for the victims of Godzilla, but also in a sense for Godzilla, as himself a fellow victim of nuclear attack with whom several of the film’s characters identify in this regard. I suggest that the film teaches us the deep implication of media systems in our relation to the dead and their role in constructing and reproducing contemporary society through acts of memory and memorial.

–Christine Marran (U of Minnesota), “Trains and Whales: Time and Technology in Ozu’s Tokyo Story

The central figure of this talk is the train. Ozu, according to Donald Richie, insisted that trains were in his films because “he likes them.” Ozu then apparently added, “I also like whales.”

It is often tempting to interpret Ozu’s treatment of technology in his films as similar to the way that Natsume Soseki famously did in his novel Sanshiro which was written when the national train system was rapidly expanding. In Soseki’s literature, the train is that ominous, loud thing that carries the country boy to the big city where he encounters a strange, shadowy world. Whereas Soseki’s train implies sickness enveloping the larger social organism, the train (and technology generally) in Ozu holds a more ambivalent position culturally and theoretically which we don’t often recognize.

This paper explores communities and modes of perception in modernity as posited through trains and time—the production and perception of speed and movement—in Ozu’s Tokyo Story. First I illustrate how in modernity, especially in Soseki, the train has become an analogue for the social and psychological health of the self and nation, and the way in which Ozu has effectively interspliced in his film the train as a secondary diegesis to explore similar concerns. On one level, the train signals an inability to construct the type of cohesive narrative that reifies a primary familial connection. However, this breakdown is not lamented in a Soseki-style conservative manner.

I will then discuss how the filming of the train embodies a modern subjectivity / mode of perception that is analogous to that produced by the cinematic apparatus in modernity. This exploration of the production of a particular mode of perception in Tokyo Story revolves especially around the way in which Ozu presents speed and slow movement simultaneously so that through the rapid succession of frames we may, as W. Benjamin said of film, “calmly and adventurously go traveling.”

7. Anime and Media

The panel centers on the problem of anime in relation to media. All the papers begin with an exploration of anime in relation to historical transformations in media. Yet this is not to suggest that media or technology somehow determine ‘animeic’ expression but rather to open new approaches to questions of genre, genealogy, technique and history. The guiding question is not simply ‘what is anime’s historical relation to media’ but also ‘how does anime relate or narrate its histories?’

–Anne McKnight (McGill U), “Animating the Concrete: Sound and Image Relations in Animation and Documentary, 1955 to the Early Seventies”

This explores image and sound relations between electronic music and film between 1955 and the early nineteen-seventies. In 1955, musique concrete was first composed in Japan, and recording studios modeled on the German Kern studios were built at NHK. Where magnetic tape recording was first employed in Godzilla (1954), ideas of musique concrète that wafted out of the concert halls to first appear in cartoons. Then in 1970, the synthesizer appeared at the Osaka Exposition, enabling not just the recording, but also the production, of “any and all sound,” in the words of John Cage. By looking at some animated cartoons and several films, I attempt to establish what links might lie between filmic genre and these two approaches of composing sound-image relations— historicist, based on employing magnetic tape recording technologies, and 1 fantastic, emphasizing the generation of new, unheralded sounds. The two modes often diverged in whether they aspired to “mean” anything, and how they create a space of “meaning” which includes the image. While musique concrète was most often employed in films emphasizing documentary or realist elements, electronic music emerging from synthesizers drew upon earlier anti-realist uses of sound and music. By looking at how “sound objects” work in these texts, technologies and studios of the postwar period, I hope to hazard some ways in which these two modes give us different accounts of a subject of “information culture.”

–Thomas Lamarre (McGill U), “The Digital Divide: Animation, Automation, Revolution”

This paper looks at how anime addresses questions of technology at the level of technique. While it is often remarked that many anime deal with questions of technology at the discursive level (technology as a theme, topic, or narrative concern), little attention has been paid to anime technique at all, let alone in relation to questions about technology and media. I will begin with an exploration of various technical solutions to the problem of combining cel animation techniques with digital or computer generated animation — that is, the problem of combining so-called 2D and 3D techniques. Given the technical and financial difficulties of digital animation, it is not surprising that the often-palpable gap between 2D and 3D techniques (and its erasure) plays into stories about social division, simulation, technological confrontation and innovation. Frequently, such techniques serve not to convey the story but rather to structure it, to establish its orientations. This is especially true of Rin and Ôtomo’s Metropolis, in which digital techniques become associated with vertical hierarchies and social divisions, while cel techniques suggests other kinds of connection and association. Yet ultimately, it will be argued, the film does not opt for one orientation over the other. Rather it plays between the two, evoking a sort of ‘pure movement’ that underlies any social movement, whose capture makes possible the outset of social movement and history itself. Rin and Otomo’s shift in discursive emphasis from the problems of (technological) evolution and extinction prevalent in Tezuka’s Metropolis toward the problem of revolution and automation is also crucial to their understanding of social movement in terms of anime’s ‘pure movement.’ Thus their technical solution to the problem of digital animation potentially affords another way to discuss what Manuel Castells dubs ‘the digital divide.’

–Thomas Looser (McGill U), “Animate Histories”

It may be inevitable that new media technologies will in some way reiterate the history of preceding technology forms, even if not always intentionally. But a number of recent anime proceed to tell their stories through a conscious and careful retelling of the history of film. These anime thus present in part a media history, leading from film to animation (and in some cases, the analog to the digital); but these histories of media are also histories of history itself. Historical form, in other words, is part of what is at stake in these anime.

 The implicit presumption would seem to be not simply that there is something new about our present (and that a history of how we got here is therefore needed, or interesting), but rather that there is something different about how history can place the present—that is to say that there is something new about history itself, which arises with the ongoing incorporation of digital technologies (such as are practiced in animation) into our sense of the everyday, and which potentially opens up a new relation not only to the past, but also to the present.

 My focus is on works such as Blood the Last Vampire, which—arguably—seem to have a self-awareness, and to thematize a coming-into-consciousness, of an apparently new historical set of conditions. I look at specific relations between what are at once technological grounds (analog and digital); historical moments; and modes or genres of history (including legends). This, hopefully, can be taken as a specific instance of the more general question of what might be thought of in formal terms as the relation between movement capture and history.

–Livia Monnet (U of Montreal), “Haunted Topologies, or Invasion of the Movie Snatchers: Mimesis, Melancholia and the New Uncanny in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Sakaguchi Hironobu’s computer-generated, photoreal science fiction film Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within (FFTSW) (2001) was not a box office success. Critics’ reaction oscillated between derision and hostility, and movie-going audiences in North America, Europe and Japan seemed on the whole indifferent, or puzzled at best. While the story is undoubtedly awkward and full of inconsistencies, the film’s spectacular, state-of-the-art demonstration of the potential of computer animation found a more positive, if cautious reception.

FFTSW features many staple ingredients of Japanese anime : a stylized, not quite cinematic photorealism; the blend of New Age, clichéd eco-spirituality (Dr. Sid’s Gaia theory), fantastical “science” (bio-etheric waves extracted from Phantom energy) and messianic vocation (Aki as Savior-of-the-Earth); the Phantom invasion and its destruction of much of the Earth’s living habitats; the romance between Aki and Gray; the obligatory theme song. Indeed, the film may be defined as a 3D anime emulating the cinema (a fact that was clearly perceived by anime fans and critics). Sakaguchi’s work also revisits the visual and narrative conventions of computer games such as the immensely popular Final Fantasy interactive game software series( a Square product that has sold over 33 million units world wide), and of blockbuster science fiction cinema.

This presentation examines FFTSW’s ambivalent approach to mimesis and melancholia, as well as its ambitious attempt to reconfigure the uncanny. My discussion will show that the film’s obsession with cine-mimesis — the recreation of the “cinema-effect” (Christian Metz),or of cinema’s “total illusion of reality” (André Bazin), of its capacity to produce an “ersatz of life” (Noel Burch) — generates an internally split, haunted aesthetics of resemblance that is only superficially similar to either the cinema or animation. This haptic aesthetics is clearly oedipal, involving the anxiety of influence toward, as well as the symbolic murder of the cinema as precursor and paternal figure of authority, while at the same time instituting an ambiguously gendered, mythically inflected, feminine synesthesia as the New Global Episteme of Virtual Digitality. The film’s performance of mimesis is not so much non-indexical and incorporeal as profoundly haunted and transformed by the materialiy of its production process, as well as by the “archive of non-sensuous similarities “ (Walter Benjamin) of the computer-based, cinematic language. This animation-centered performance also posits mimesis as a historically determined, embodied technology of emergent experience whose paradoxical topology images the virtual as a scandalous “law of impropriety” according to which “the same, in its sameness, is the other itself “ (Lacoue-Labarthe). 

While critics such as Jean-Mark Lalanne see FFTSW as a transitional film that mourns the passing of analog cinema, my reading shows that Sakaguchi’s film posits melancholia as a sign of the violence of intermedial processes in an emerging computer culture, as well as a symptom of a certain type of fascism. Following Freud and Judith Butler, who argue that melancholia enables the magical preservation of the lost or abandoned object in the ego through internalization of the object-cathexis, and that heterosexual gender is constituted through the melancholic incorporation of the subject’s prohibited grief for, and identification with repudiated homosexual attachments, I shall argue that the Phantoms’ preying on the human spiritual energy in the film has a double signification: on the one hand it may be regarded as a figuration of analog cinema’s melancholic incorporation of the computer-generated image — digital special effects, computer graphics, digital compositing; on the other hand, the alien contamination represents the melancholic identification with, and internalization of analog cinema by computer animation and digital cinema. Availing itself of a discursive tradition that has attributed magical properties, animism and an uncanny power to cinema since the early twentieth century, FFTSW posits intermediality — the historical interaction among media that has enabled their characteristic forms, concepts and techniques to migrate from, be incorporated and reinvented in, or merge with, one another — as melancholia. Melancholia, as Judith Butler has suggested, also points to the production, exclusion and repudiation of a domain of abjected specters that subsequently threaten socially sanctioned subject positions. The invading aliens, which are quite literally ghosts, may be regarded as such repudiated others: minorities, immigrants, feminists, gays and lesbians, militant political groups. FFTSW also posits melancholia as a symptom of a generalized form of fascist sentiment: the submission to and passionate identification with, the transparent image of a charismatic leader — or simply a mesmerizing, film-like image of power — through a mechanism of outward projection. As cultural critic Rey Chow has argued, the mesmerized, infantilized subject recognizes her/himself in the image of the leader(or the State, or a culture of surveillance) through the mechanism of projection. While General Hein is clearly a fascistic military figure, elements such as the ubiquitous transparent holographs, sophisticated scanning equipment, the visualization of the human spiritual energy as a transparent blue shape that detaches itself from the material body, and finally the transparent ghosts of the invading aliens suggest that the film both performs and warns against, the type of fascism Chow has described as the “fascist longings in our midst.”

The concluding sections of the paper argue that the condition of virtuality that is both explored and enacted in FFTSW’s spectacular visuals is also one of hypervisibility and uncanniness. Not only do the alien Phantoms invade and destroy the human barrier cities, and not only are all main characters terrified by the presence of these ghosts, but the film’s presentation of transparent 3D holographs, and conceptualization of mimesis and melancholia as processes allowing for the dissolution of all distinctions between interiority and exteriority, between self and other, as well as between hallucination, perception and cognition (Brian Massumi) suggests that the new hypervisibility and luminous transparency of computer-based cinema/computer culture is haunted by that which had better stay invisible. FFTSW’s “new uncanny” also revisits the familiar tropes of popular genre fiction such as the gothic and horror.

8. Contemporary Japanese Cinema

–Miriam Rohde (U of Hamburg)/Thomas Schnellbaecher (Berlin Free U): “Desire through the Looking Glass? Miike Takashi’s Audition as a Mirror Cabinet of Japanese Patriarchal Images of Women”

Miike Takashi’s film Audition tells the story of a romantically inclined widower’s quest for a new wife. He decides to disguise this as a film audition, which gives him the opportunity to study behavior and professional qualifications of the candidates. Immediately, he falls in love with a woman who above all arouses his compassion, and begins meeting her in cafes, finally in a hotel. At this stage, levels of time and reality become ambivalent, and the woman develops traits of the demonic that appear to emanate from the man’s imagination. At the climax, the woman immobilizes him in his own living room by means of a hypodermic injection and calmly proceeds to subject him to a ceremonial torture.

Behind the male stereotypes of ideal womanhood as sought by the “hero”, there appears another image, that of a matriarch to be respected and feared. On the surface, the man’s erotic love and his charity are in harmony. Underneath, the attractiveness of the victim for him lies in the very opposite of her apparent innocence on this level, she is not open to compassion, but actively takes revenge on her benefactor. The battle of the sexes emerges as an archaic battle for gender definitions.

There is a long tradition of charismatic women in modern and pre-modern Japanese cultural history, bearing in mind that the “modern” in Japan is always under a specifically Western influence, and that categories such as “patriarchy”, “sex” or “gender” are within a Western-dominated global discourse. Under these premises, our paper will ask where Audition takes its place in Japanese tradition, and also how it goes about exporting this attitude into a non-Japanese context.

–Satomi Saito (U of Iowa), “The Evolution of Anime Language from Tenchi Muyo to Onegai Teacher

With the booming interest in Japanese animation in the American market, many scholars with various disciplines, ranging from literature to media studies, have turned their attention to this new cultural commodity. Japanese animation is the only software Japan has successfully managed to sell abroad after the exports of a series of “auteur” film directors in the 1950s. This time, however, it is not an auteur, a talented individual, but rather the medium or genre called “anime,” that is being exported. Although several directors, such as Miyazaki Hayao and Oshii Mamoru, have received as much respect as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi, its attraction seems to reside more in the particularity of the genre itself. In this sense, the reception of “anime” is clearly different from the samurai films of Kurosawa, or Japanese “pictography” of Mizoguchi. The appeal of “anime” does not rely on its cultural particularity, but rather on the exportability of the image—its ability to cross cultural boundaries. It is not simply our fascination with the exotic Japanese culture nor our curiosity of Japan’s economic success that attracts us to Japanese animation. Instead, it is our adoration of the new genre with the particular visual language that opened a niche market in consumer culture both in the Japanese and US market.

In my paper, I will analyze the aesthetics that makes Japanese animation “anime” by using the landmark OVA Tench muyo! (1992) and trace the evolution of this aesthetics in recent animation programs, such as Ai yori aoshi (2002) and Onegai teacher (2002). First, I will problematize the genre “anime” by turning to TV animation rather than feature-length animation films. The techniques that were developed within the material limitations of TV animation production were put into extreme in OVAs in the late 80s. This aesthetics, which I call “animeness,” transgresses the continuity of time and space that conditioned traditional animation. Long shots (continuity of space) dominant in traditional animation are substituted by medium shots and close-ups of “anime,” and the continuity of time is disrupted by quick montage rather than long takes. As a result, Japanese animation in the 90s established the aesthetics quite different not just from foreign (mostly Disney) animation but also from animation of the early 80s. Secondly, I will examine the relationship between this anime aesthetics and the formation of the dedicated viewers called “otaku.” I would argue that the visual characteristics of Japanese animation allow the viewer to have a fetishistic identification with the image on the screen. I would further argue that the visual structure and the thematic traits of “anime” were developed in close relationship with the dedicated animation viewers who eagerly consume “anime.” With the careful analysis of the visual pleasure and the audience of Japanese animation, I aim to provide a better understanding of the appeal of Japanese animation in the global market.

–Dick Stegewerns (Osaka Sangyo U), “Decomposing Sex: Life in Somai Shinji’s Love Hotel

My paper examines a seminal moment in the early history of Japanese TV viewing. On the afternoon of October 12, 1960, a raucous and disturbing scene unfolded on television screens nationwide as Asanuma Inejirô, the chairman of the Socialist party, approached the podium to speak. First, right-wing protestors greeted him with deafening jeers, shouts so loud that even front-row audience members had trouble making out his words. A protestor then climbed onto the stage, flinging leaflets into the air, forcing organizers to stop Asanuma’s address. And finally, the entire event – pre-election speeches by the chairmen of the three main political parties – was temporarily halted so the most disruptive protestors could be removed and the stage swept clean. It was shortly after three o’clock when Asanuma returned to the podium and resumed speaking. But soon after he began, a figure dressed in a student uniform ran down the aisle and leapt onto the stage with a short sword. In front of the thousand-plus audience at Hibiya Hall, and in direct view of an NHK TV camera broadcasting the event nationwide, seventeen-year old Yamaguchi Otoya barreled into Asanuma, stabbing him in the chest. As the politician slumped over, the boy stabbed him again in the side. The TV camera quickly panned to the left to follow the horrific event as it unfolded on the stage – observers rushing forward to restrain the boy while Asanuma, bleeding and staggering toward the back of the stage, reeled around to fall into the arms of aides. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was dead, doctors reported, almost immediately following the attack.

The killing stunned the nation. It was, on the one hand, the latest in an escalating string of right-wing attacks. In June, Kawakami Jôtarô, a Socialist member of the Diet, had been stabbed in the front entrance hall of the Diet building; and a month later, former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke had been stabbed six times outside a government reception. Individuals on the left began citing the pre-war ‘reign of terror,’ comparing the postwar attacks to the series of assassinations in the early 1930s that precipitated, as they saw it, militarism and war. But clearly the attack on Asanuma was unique. Not only had a major political figure been killed, but his killing was broadcast minutes later to a national television audience – the event, now rendered as a material image, became shockingly visible, obscenely intimate, even, in a sense, unbearably ‘real.’ The very preservation of the attack, in all its overwhelming immediacy, made it available – and repeatedly employable – as an object for re-viewing.

The killing revealed the tensions inherent in television’s formal qualities as a representational and communicative medium, tensions which burst into public debate. I argue that the event must be constituted both (1) as a textualized artifact deployed in an ongoing discourse concerning the social ramifications of visual representation, and (2) as a spectacle shaped by, and consequently shaping, the modes of seeing prevalent in TV’s first decade in Japan. That is to say, not only did the event serve as a prime piece of evidence in the hotly debated and increasingly legislated visual representation of violence, but it also functioned as a harbinger of TV’s vast power to marshal attention, create communities, and transform structures of perception. How was this event, both as visual spectacle and as textualized object, constructed to serve the interests of the various producers and consumers of the television product? What does its deployment reveal about the anxieties toward this relatively new but rapidly maturing medium? And perhaps most provocatively, in what ways did the past haunt this scene of the present? What figures (and figuration) of history were called upon to comprehend its existence, its visibility and ultimately, its meaning?

–Jonathan M. Hall (U of Chicago), “Objects and Their Agency: Horror, Tactility, and the Cinematic Subject: Machine in Late-Century Japanese Cinema”

The previous decade’s scholarship on Asian film, Japan film studies notwithstanding, is part and parcel of a sustained shift within cinema studies’ away from frequently rigid, psychoanalytic models of cinematic subjectivity towards (con)textual readings that locate cinema within processes of national-identity formation, transnational viewing practices, and the political economies of late capitalism. Building on previous work that grew out of my observations of the Kinema Club I conference, work where I underscored the danger of eliding sexual and gendered politics within this gradual shift towards the historical and political economic, I resurface now the frequently abandoned question of cinematic subjectivity through the mixed metaphor of masochism and the machine. Borrowing from Friedrich Kittler’s model of media-generated subject machines and Steven Shapiro’s Deleuzian “affirmative reading of the masochism of cinematic experience,” I look at horror, technology, and trauma in turn-of-the-century Japanese film, especially, but not limited to, Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Cure and Hashiguchi Ryôsuke’s Hush. While I agree with Gerow, for example, who has cited both directors as exemplifying a “detached style” à propos of an ethical anti-humanism, I also understand these films as engagements with a new, radical model of spectatorship where conventional subject models are declined in favor of visual objects endowed with agency. My efforts here are not to articulate a generic construction of late-century horror, nor to pronounce specifically Japanese responses to the seeming loss of individual agency in the era of late, transnational capitalism; while such concerns can inform the project, my goal is rather to engage Shaviro’s claim that, “pleasure can just as well be linked to the destruction of identification and objectification, to the undermining of subjective stability, and to an affirmation of the multiple techniques that denaturalize (or de-Cartesianize) cinematic perception” within the clearly gendered and sexualized context of late-century Japanese horror and trauma.

9. Nation and Fractured Mirror

–Luk Van Haute (Hogeschool Gent, Belgium), “Foreigners and the Language Problem in Japanese Movies”

During the past fifteen years or so there has been a conspicuous shift in the perception of foreigners in Japanese society. The Nihonjinron-claim of homogeneity has become less and less sustainable, and the myth of the Japanese language as being impossible to master by non-Japanese is proven wrong by thousands of living examples. Accordingly, the appearance and portrayal of foreigners in Japanese movies or movies about Japan has changed as well. Culture clash movies of the bubble era, in which the problem and even impossibility of communication between Japanese and foreigners was stressed, have made way for films in which the Japanese language is no longer a barrier, and a foreigner speaking Japanese is accepted or even expected as a matter of fact. But of course, there is still a difference between including a Japanese-speaking foreigner in a script and finding an actor to convincingly play that part.

This paper seeks to explore how different directors have dealt with the language issue in movies about foreigners in Japan (or foreign movies about Japan). How did they find the actors, what were the motives behind their choices, and what results did they achieve?

Various options with some representative examples:

- Japanese has to speak English to the ignorant foreigners: Tokyo Pop (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1986), Mr. Baseball (Fred Schepisi, 1992)

- Non-Japanese speaking actor plays Japanese-speaking character and English-speaking Japanese is played by Japanese-American or non-Japanese actor: Rising Sun (Philip Kaufman, 1993)

- Japanese actor plays non-Japanese character: Kamikaze Taxi (Harada Masato, 1995), Swallowtail (Iwai Shunji, 1996)

- Japanese-speaking foreign actor plays Japanese-speaking foreign character: Swallowtail (Iwai Shunji, 1996), Junk Food (Yamamoto Masashi, 1997), Ichigensan (Morimoto Isao, 1999)

- Actor of mixed blood speaks both Japanese and foreign language: Fuyajō (Lee Chi Ngai, 1998)

- All characters speak their own language but nobody understands each other: Bad Film (Sono Sion, shot in 1994 but still unreleased)

- All characters speak their own language and everybody understands each other: Dead or Alive: the Final (Miike Takashi, 2002)

–Kota Inoue (UC Irvine), “Fetishism and Late Capitalism in Swallowtail Butterfly

Studies of Japanese cinema in the West have often tended to be couched in the notion that Japanese cinema as a whole is unique in the world. Some see revolutionary possibilities in the cinematic aesthetics and practices that are considered distinctively Japanese, and others seek the uniqueness of Japanese cinema in individual master’s capability and sensibility. To be sure, there is still much to be discussed about the vision of Japanese national cinema. However, when analyzing contemporary Japanese films in the increasingly globalized economy today, we can gain much insight by shifting our focus from Japanese uniqueness to the film’s internal logic that signals the global condition of cultural production. By analyzing Iwai Shunji’s Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) in the worldwide context of neo-liberal economy, my paper attempts to remind us that visual culture today is increasingly produced in a dominant economic system.

The core concept around which my argument will develop is fetishism. I will first argue that the currency Yen in the film is heavily fetishized in a psychoanalytic sense. It is rendered as the all-powerful solution to all problems, but more importantly it stands in for the missing father for the primary character Ageha. The paternal Yen functions as an intricate system of balancing contradictions for Ageha just as fetishistic disavowal would. Further analysis reveals that Yen as the father figure thrusts Ageha into a system of signs, or Lacanian Symbolic Order, in the decentralized formation of finance capitalism which is the backdrop of the story. Here Ageha’s fetishism intersects with Marxian notion of fetishism, concealment of actual social relations in a thing, because the idea of free enterprise and equal opportunity—the concepts supposedly upheld by the neo-liberal economic model—in the story turns out to be a mere disguise for the real social relation of economic enslavement. I also plan to develop my idea about the connection between psychoanalysis and capitalism by linking the process of capital accumulation in finance capitalism to a dispersed subject formation in the Symbolic Order.

–Kukhee Choo (U of Texas), “The Postmodern Approach to the Concept of Nationality in the Japanese Film Go!

The film Go (2001) by Yukisada Isao portrays the inner struggle of a Korean-Japanese male high school student in current day Japan. The openness to discuss the problematic experience of Korean-Japanese has been a shift in what was seemingly a taboo subject during the past few decades. From the case of Yoshimitsu Morita’s Family Game (1984), where there was an allusion to the fact that the family may be Korean-Japanese, to a full-fledged discussion of what it means to be a Korean-Japanese in Go indicates the developing sophistication of the Korean-Japanese identity issues as well as the attention that it is receiving by the Japanese media and public. The film Go raises the question of shifting national identity in 21st century Japan. This paper will examine the concept of national identity in Go through a postmodern interpretation. With theories by Anderson, Appadurai, and Jameson, this paper will discuss the changing concept of what it is to be Japanese in Japan during the 21st century. With the declining population and continuing recession, Japan has been facing (and will be facing more) serious problems. Due to this reason, many scholars argue that Japan must be more open to accepting immigration population. This challenges the notion of heterogeneous “Japan” which will further challenge the idea of what it means to be “Japanese” This paper will examine how Go is placed in the current Japanese social milieu and try to understand how the concept of being Japanese is shifting within this context.