Covert dissent in wartime cinema?

Samuel Alanson Turner samuelt
Mon Nov 7 10:08:42 EST 2005

I just wanted to thank everyone for their input.  I'm currently 
pursuing research more along the lines that Markus and Aaron suggested. 
Several of your names may appear on the bibliography..
-Sam Turner

On Sun, 6 Nov 2005, Aaron Gerow wrote:

> As someone else who has published on wartime film and censorship, I too have 
> been reading the discussion with fascination and notebook in hand. I in 
> particular want to thank Peter for taking so much time to write what are 
> probably the longest posts to KineJapan in years! (That's a compliment, not a 
> complaint!)
> Clearly it is a desire in liberal minded scholars to find something 
> politically positive in aesthetically pleasing cinema. We admire some of the 
> wartime works of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Shimizu, Toyoda, Kamei and others, and we 
> hope that our admiration is not purely aesthetic, but based on the perception 
> of some humanistic or otherwise political values we admire. It would be hard 
> to like Japanese cinema during the 15 Years War if we couldn't find such 
> elements. Certainly the search for subversive meanings is justified by many 
> historical examples of cinemas in totalitarian or authoritarian regimes, 
> especially those of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. We often in those 
> cases have the testimonies of filmmakers explaining how they did try to 
> circumvent regulations. Scholars of Japanese cinema often hope we can find 
> similar phenomena in Japan, but the fact is that there was in general far 
> less resistance to wartime militarism than to communism in Eastern Europe. 
> That makes the search a lot harder.
> I think Markus is right, though, that we do have to readjust our lenses and 
> not just look for cases of pro-war or anti-war. Responses were varied, 
> complex, contradictory and rarely monolithic. Peter's argumentation is 
> effectively supported by facts, but I sometimes think that there is too often 
> an effort to find consistency in a situation where consistency was difficult. 
> To argue against the political subversiveness of one film because the same 
> filmmaker made a pro-war film is an important point against those who wish to 
> write a hagiography of that filmmaker (as many of the JCP critics wanted to 
> do with Imai and Yamamoto), but I do not think that prevents us from seeing 
> complexities in the first film (or the second!). We don't have to assume 
> consistent, unified creative subjects here. I think one of the great points 
> in Peter's books is underlying how many conflicts did exist in official 
> policy--a point he reiterated here--and I think we should consider such 
> confusion on the level of the individual subject as well. I think Itami 
> Mansaku is a case in point. On the one hand, he made a film with a fascist 
> filmmaker and wrote essays during the war praising Goebbel's propaganda 
> policy. But he also wrote a profoundly moving and complex script in Muhomatsu 
> no issho that was torn up by both wartime and occupation censors. And, unlike 
> many on the left, he came out of the war not saying "I was clean" or "I was 
> duped" but that "We are all responsible and we better start considering why." 
> I think this is an image of an intelligent individual who was for the 
> war--but for reasons that did not always fit the official model, and thus 
> sometimes deviated from the pro-war track. I don't think this is simply an 
> issue of Limbaugh delusionism versus Scowcroft realism, where something 
> anti-war is just the reality revealing its ugly head--but off a multitude of 
> positions. I think we should remember that artists' responses were varied to 
> the war, and could include even non-producing works.
> Markus's point about multiple responses also should remind us that the issue 
> here is not solely one of textuality. I think much of the discussion here has 
> focused a bit too much on finding IN texts some meaning or other, either pro- 
> or anti-war. But as my research has shown, what many censors and even 
> filmmakers were conscious of is that even the most seemingly pro-war film 
> could be "misread" or "misinterpreted" by spectators, especially as the 
> empire expanded and different people were watching Japanese films. Citing 
> comments that the end of Kinoshita's Rikugun showed a truly militarist 
> mother--not the questioning mother that some critics, both during and after 
> the war--as evidence that the film's conclusion is not unambiguously anti-war 
> is important, but the very fact that BOTH interpretations existed shows how 
> signification, even during a time of highly controlled censorship and film 
> policy, was never stable or unambiguous. I think this fact scared some in 
> policy positions--and led to calls like Fuwa's for "training spectators"--and 
> highlights how even the control bureaucrats were never fully in control. 
> Texts were never able to force single readings and spectators never read 
> films all in the same way. The question in many ways is not whether a certain 
> film gave us a pro- or anti-war message, but how the entire situation 
> frequently evinced a complex struggle over signification and reception, over 
> trying to make films mean, and what spectators role was in that.
> I thus would not discourage Sam from doing his research, but rather ask him 
> to redirect it. I think it will be less productive to look for anti-war 
> intentions in filmmakers as reflected in films than to look for textual 
> instabilities and contradictions--which could then reveal the variations of 
> position that criss-crossed through particular filmmakers. These 
> complications should be extended into the realm of reception, where responses 
> could be--but perhaps were not always--varied. Don't just look at the films, 
> but how they were seen and shown, and what was said about them in a variety 
> of places. Combining this close textual analysis with historically grounded 
> in reception is not easy--especially with the reception side--but I think 
> there is still a lot of productive research to be done out there. My work has 
> tended to focus on the macro struggles over reception, but I would love to 
> see more micro-analyses of specific texts and situations.
> Aaron Gerow
> Director of Undergraduate Studies, Film Studies Program
> Assistant Professor
> Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
> Yale University
> 53 Wall Street, Room 316
> PO Box 208363
> New Haven, CT 06520-8363
> Phone: 1-203-432-7082
> Fax: 1-203-432-6764
> e-mail: aaron.gerow at

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