Tenko in Japanese film ?

Michael Raine mjraine at uchicago.edu
Wed Aug 29 19:33:34 EDT 2007

I think I agree with Markus about Kamei; very important but much more
compromised than the usual to tenko or not to tenko discussion has it.
Incidentally, I was reading some testimony from WWII POWs who describe being
shown a documentary on Japanese industrial production in which the actions
are speeded up. Much to the guards’ annoyance, the prisoners thought it was
hilarious; any chance this was Kamei’s We Are Working so Hard?? Or was it a
common technique: I’m struck by how much film technique in the 30s and 40s
documentaries I’ve seen is in the service of a medium-conscious “illiberal


On the tenko question, a film that comes to mind is Masumura’s _Nise
daigakusei_ (1960):  the old liberal professor, forced out during the war,
says of his one-time assistant “He went bad after he tenko-ed” – presumably
the 40-ish professor (Funakoshi Eiji) tenko-ed from liberalism to
ultranationalism during the war and then to Stalinism afterwards. Not sure
which Tenko did him in … all part of Masumura’s jaundiced view of Japanese
intellectuals’ weakness in the face of institutional power. Yoshida Kiju has
also made a number of films (Eros + Massacre, Kaigenrei) in which the
political commitments of male revolutionaries (sexual, political, etc) are
seen to be much weaker than their desire for power. Not sure I would
describe that psychological dynamic as “tenko” though. 24 Eyes mentions, but
avoids dealing with, the political repression in education during the war.
In general, I wonder how many films deal with tenko: entertainment films at
least generally avoid dealing with intellectual history. 


Someone mentioned Tsurumi Shunsuke as an important resource for thinking
about tenko in Japan. Yoshimoto Takaaki also wrote an influential piece but
I haven’t seen much discussion of tenko in film journals: in the 1950s it
usually refers to Elia Kazan and others who testified at the HUAC hearings
in the USA. Sato Tadao has written quite a bit in his Nihon eigashi about
the 1932-3 tenko period but says that film wasn’t so public: tenko refers to
recantations written in jail but few film workers were arrested because they
were already limited in what they could do by the commercial nature of film
and by their self-interest in cooperating with the authorities so that they
could continue to make films. And if the pressure was on it seems that
leftist filmmakers would just go work for Amakasu at the Man’ei studio in




Michael Raine

University of Chicago


From: Mark Nornes [mailto:amnornes at umich.edu] 
Sent: Tuesday, August 28, 2007 5:29 PM
To: KineJapan at lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
Subject: Re: Tenkô in Japanese film ?



On Aug 28, 2007, at 4:35 PM, Cook, Theodore wrote:

and perhaps most especially at the case of Kamei Fumio, who was jailed
during the war for his left-wing thinking, and his film, The Tragedy of
Japan (Nihon no higeki) pp. 152-154. You may well already have read this


Since someone has mentioned Kamei, I thought I'd mention that I discuss the
issue of tenko in Japanese Documentary Film. I have to say I am ambivalent
about the subject. It's easy to make too much of tenko. On the other hand, I
found it difficult to avoid when it was a key feature of so many filmmakers'
lives. My treatment of tenko and Prokino or the typical Japanese filmmakers
probably doesn't add up to much. However, I do take a rather contrary
position on Kamei, a filmmaker I admire more than any other. Kamei is
typically held up as the only filmmaker to take a stand, refuse tenko, and
predictably end up in prison. However, as I note, this narrative depends
upon the suppression of wartime work that never made it into his




PS: I also wrote a short piece on Kamei for the Yamagata catalog on imperial

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.yale.edu/pipermail/kinejapan/attachments/20070829/8473174e/attachment.html 

More information about the KineJapan mailing list