junji yoshida jyoshida
Thu Sep 23 01:58:33 EDT 1999

(( At 5:37 PM 9/22/99 -0600, Alexander Soifer wrote:
>Regarding the war, look: W.W.II changed the world so dramatically
>that the division into pre-WWII and post-WWII makes sense (if not
>"profit" :-) to me.  ))
        Here is my personal response to our recent debates around Prof.
Soifer's  course.  Let me just add that I am also one of those who found
his title rather misleading.  This much said, let me  present my modest
opinion to his recent suggestive response to Randy Man's question: "Another
question that goes a-begging here is whether the Japanese cinema of the
1990s can still profitably be called 'post war'. I don't think so."   
Man's question, though it was not well picked by Soifer -- if not by
others, as I hope, is extremely important and worth taking it seriously. 
Also, Soifer's replying comment, though apparently playful, has some
interesting point, too, and equally worth exploring.   I would like to
share my reflection on these two points with other members below.  

First of all, our historiographical attempt to explain the trajectory of
modern Japan was always defined and interpreted by global geopolitics, a
politics mostly influenced and institutionalized by American and Japanese
national interests among others.  We as film viewers and critics as
ordinary citizens are not free from this historical constraining fact. For
example,  why do we love to emphasize or celebrate 1945 so much, instead
of, say, 1947 or 1925 or 1854?  Why do most japanese, whether by choice or
by fate, choose to remember the WWII on the day and month of its ending
rather than its beginning.  Of course, it is more difficult to say exactly
when the WWII  started in Japanese domestic context.  Why don't they --
shall I say "we" because I am a Japanese?  -- recall the war when our/their
ancestors invaded Nangking or attacked Pearl Harbor?  Of course, the end of
Pacific War is a major event, but the essence of war must, i believe, lie
in its inception rather than its culmination.  Don't we still need to
search for vocabulary and framework to narrate how it started and why its
beginning remained invisible in contrast to dramatically visible ending?  
After All, is a clear-cut, cut-and-dried narrative of peace versus war the
best way to explain and understand the complexities that lie behind any
historical processes?  This is not just an academic question that only
organic intellectuals are supposed to think because how we remember the
past shapes and limits how we build our future, affecting the price of
tomate we buy at supermarket or the dental service we receive or how we get
along our neighbour.  Who knows?  How we periodize Japan's transition has
also much to do with our trite conception of war as a national project.  It
takes a reading of JA Hobson's Imperialism for us to correctly understand
the true significance of imperialistic wars.  Why do we privilege and
centralize the categories and concepts like nation, progress, ideology as
false consciousness, and peace/war couplet, while excluding or forgetting
other categories like class, race, gender, capital, exploitaion, and
diversity and irreducible gaps in social hierarchy as if the latters are
secondary to the war?  
        One major reason is to remember the war as a national conflict and
patriotically shared memory -- imaginary event transcending class
difference at the deepest niche of our mind, instead of recollecting the
war also as a bilateral collaboration across national boundaries by a
certain class.  Film, often taught and viewed as a "national culture," is
central in this subtle ideological process of maintaining the ghostly
figure of "nation" and registering our body and spirit to where they do not
belong originally, thus depriving us of the possibility to love and embrace
each other.    
What is necessary and more effective now seems to me to be a recognition of
structural similarities and continuity between prewar and postwar Japan as
a system of exploitation and liberal self-deception.  It is time to put
1945 into brackets.   What about the "reverse course" of the Allied
Occupation policy?  What about Japan's self defense army?  How do we
explain Wars in Vietnam and Korea in relation to postwar Japanese "peace"? 
We need to educate our students so that they are able to look at/through
Japan and its cultural artifacts from a more global perspective rather than
letting them focus only on a textbook understanding of how different
postwar Japan is from its prewar counterpart.   In short, did Japan really
change after the war?  Given these profound, often ill-answered questions,
we can never be too cautious in questioning the usage of a banal word like
"postwar."  For this very reason, I was very glad when Randy Man raised the
question that he did.  (  Another question that goes a-begging here is
whether the Japanese cinema of the 1990s can still profitably be called
"post war". I don't think so. )  I do not mean to put my words in his mouth
nor to misrepresent him, but as he suggests above, something can be
concealed or vague by calling 1990 as "postwar." For this matter, let us
note that so many Japanese would love to do the same every August even
today.  Why?  Is there any sordid pleasure in it, perhaps?  

At 5:37 PM 9/22/99 -0600, Alexander Soifer wrote:
>Of course,  if you know something no one else does, that would
>make the 1990s to be a pre-war, pre-WWIII (?), then, of course,
>I would change the title ... :-).

THIS IS MARVELLOUS!  Penetrating to the point.
I believe it is worth having a flexible and critical mind to look
rigorously at where we stand as a "prewar situation," a situation not
unlike Japan's 1930s. Of course, few people call 1990s as a "pre-war."  But
Japan's leading cultural critic, Karatani Kojin does and his view is now
shared among American academics, too.  His book called "Senzen no Shiko" is
a good intro to rethink our own time in a fresh light as a sort of pre-war
Here comes a tangential similarity between movie and history.  Just as we
can change the impression of the scene completely by lighting the same
mise-en-scene in a slightly different manner, both how we frame our past
memory and which sides of modernity we shed light on can greatly determine
who we are and where we are going.   Just as filming, historiography is all
a matter of techniques such as lighting, framing, and editting.  Sorry, but
i got to go now.

best wishes,
junji yoshida    

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