Audience studies of the Occupation

Roger Macy macyroger at
Sun Sep 5 03:55:36 EDT 2010

Thanks for your interest and response, Michael.

My objections still run along the same line :
- Painting Ozu as being in character to make such a statement is no evidence that he actually saw it that way.

- As for his supposed PR defence strategy, it presupposes that he was a personality for the western media whose denial would have some credibility.  But he had neither a name nor an address for them (nor the English) and the hacks would have knocked on Shochiku's door.  And even if he or Shochiku had Max Clifford on hand for a successful coup, he'd still never work for Shochiku or any other studio again.  Your hypothetical Ozu would have realised that all too well.  

- To be repetitive, the scenarios remove Shochiku from the equation who would be the dominant personality.  The hypothetical number would be dropped on Shochiku and the only thing they needed Ozu for was a bit of prestige, which would immediately evaporate in the alleged gambit.  They would also feel betrayed and released from any loyalty to such an Ozu. The real Ozu, working in the studio system, would see that instinctively.

- nor do I see Ozu as a habitual subverter of previous censorship regimes, however original his approach.

So, I still stick with my concluding sentence below about the application of the rule of parsimony.

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Michael Kerpan 
  To: KineJapan at 
  Sent: Saturday, September 04, 2010 6:43 PM
  Subject: Re: Audience studies of the Occupation

        I think, having lived so long under strict censorship by wartime government officials, Ozu had mastered Aesopian discourse.  Perhaps he could not resist testing his skills against the new occupation censors.

        The key requirement for this kind of actvity is "deniability", the ability to say with a straight face -- "how could you imagine that is what I intended to do?"

        --- On Sat, 9/4/10, Roger Macy <macyroger at> wrote:

          From: Roger Macy <macyroger at>
          Subject: Re: Audience studies of the Occupation
          To: KineJapan at
          Date: Saturday, September 4, 2010, 11:27 AM

          I'm grateful for Kirsten for raising the issue the 'reception' of Edward Fowler's 'Piss and Run ..' and would like to wrangle on this.
          Whilst Fowler does indeed produce convincing detail on how we westerners 'missed' the flag in Ozu's Nagaya shinshiroku, 1947; in legal, or logical terms, he is not producing new evidence of 'our' oversight of the flag - until Fowler saw it, no one else did.  As such, if none of 'us' saw it, the evidence can be re-marshalled to argue that no one saw it that way.
          As prosecutor, he paints a plausible scenario on how Ozu might have been motivated, but no evidence at all on Ozu or anyone else actually seeing it that way.  It is merely implied that, as the auteur, he had the opportunity.  But in fact, to have the opportunity either, he alone saw it and put it past the film company clandestinely, or, as Fowler and others imply, many Japanese saw it but were content to be complicit in it.
          But surely the bar has been set far too low here.
          Ozu could not have dreamed of what lay ahead of him.  But he would surely have been acutely aware of his contemporary difficulties.  His country was occupied by a country that, at home, was still intensely anti-Japanese.  The arguments in the American press about Japanese anti-Americanism were still ahead, but, I suggest, the sensitivities that underlay them would have been readily apparent, as would the extent of both formal and informal influence of SCAP upon Japanese polity.  Ozu, as an experienced, middle-aged director, could not have failed to appreciate, if he had indeed 'seen' it, that only once would someone have to whisper 'flag' to an American whilst showing the picture and the 'cover' was blown.  (And it would only need one Korean to whisper to one Frenchman and ...)  Imagine Ozu, or perhaps more importantly, Kido or his like, imagining Fowler's figure 36 and the headline of your choice splashed across every newspaper.  Imagine the Americans seeing copies of Soviet and other foreign newspapers with this splash.  If Ozu had done a number on Shochiku and very likely lengthened and deepened the occupation, seppuku wouldn't have remotely expiated and a rather obscure director would have been mainly known, beside by a few scholars, for one infantine gesture.

          Perhaps I'm over-influenced by my own errors.  I was one of a score of people, of varied gender and age, who were connected with a charity that implicitly approved a poster that showed a little girl's hand clutching a finger.  Others saw it differently and, once they had, we all did.  Ten thousand posters were pulped and, hopefully, you will never see it.  But I would reject any prosecutor's argument that, for all that destruction of evidence, 'it would have been obvious' to us at the time.

          But Bob Buscher is absolutely right to look for evidence that supposedly subversive images were received in such a way.  In the case of the futon, the subversive reading is so implausibly suicidal - and would have been readily perceived as such at the time -  that the rule of parsimony requires some proper evidence of reception.

          Happy, as ever, to be proved wrong, or at least on the disproven side of an argument.
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