They all look the same...
Tue Aug 31 09:51:53 EDT 2004
There are several issues here that need to be distinguished.
> A generation of Japanese reared on Hollywood fare is
> liable to think that Hollywood "gets it right",
> whatever "it" may happen to be.
Yes, it is true that we cannot count on many Japanese spectators to be
knowledgeable about historical facts and their perceptions of the world
may in fact be influenced by years of watching Hollywood films. This is
certainly one factor behind the popularity of Last Samurai, but it is
also nothing new. One can argue that the jidaigeki emerged in the 1920s
from the kyugeki precisely by passing through the gendaigeki influenced
by American cinema, as well as under the influence of Hollywood
Westerns. As many have noted, such hybridities complicate claims of
But we should not ignore the fact that there is a discourse of
authenticity and it was quite prominent at the time of Last Samurai.
Just look at the message board on Yahoo Japan for Last Samurai and you
will find many people pointing out inaccuracies in that film. But, and
this gets back to points made by the two Marks, there was also a lot of
discourse basically of this kind: Hollywood has long gotten Japan
wrong, but this time they have--at least in spirit--gotten it right. We
cannot ignore these discourses and the distinctions they make in
Hollywood's representations of Japan.
Next, as my first paragraph already implies, we should remember that
the issue is often not whether a film is accurate to history, but
whether it accords with the version of history that audiences desire or
are accustomed to. Remember that in the 1960s and 1970s, the dominant
image of the samurai in Japanese cinema was of a corrupt, power-hungry
tyrant, with films often focusing on the hypocrisies and ironies of
bushido. Heroes were marginal samurai (loners) or non-samurai, and
cynicism or self-parody abounded. One has to tie that version of
history in with those times. I think we cannot escape the fact that the
contemporary vision of Japanese history among audiences is far more
conservative, if not nationalistic. The success of Last Samurai in
Japan, then, has as much to do with the rise of right-wing
neo-nationalism in Japan--and their version of history--as it does with
the influence of Hollywood. We should thus temper our claims of
hybridity with a thorough consideration of persistent nationalism in
Japan. That nationalism itself, quite ironically, may be deconstructed
as really hybrid, but nationalism and hybridity are not always
opposites, especially in Japan.
Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
53 Wall Street, Room 316
PO Box 208363
New Haven, CT 06520-8363
e-mail: aaron.gerow at yale.edu
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