Audience studies of the Occupation

Roger Macy macyroger at
Sat Sep 4 07:27:08 EDT 2010

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.
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Kirsten Cather 
  To: KineJapan at 
  Sent: Friday, September 03, 2010 5:32 PM
  Subject: Re: Question about kissing and Audience studies of the Occupation

  Hi Sarah - 
  I don't know if you already located a source on this question about kissing & censorship, but I just happened
  to come across an article by Iwasaki Akira - "From MacArthur to Yujiro" (Makkaasaa kara Yujiro made) from
  Eiga hyōron in August 1958 that has a couple of sections on kissing and its censorship from Taisho to the Occupation period.
  (I have a pdf and would happy to forward it your way if you contact me off-list)

  While on the topic of censorship, I thought I'd also chime in on the question Rob Buscher recently raised:

  On Aug 27, 2010, at 2:18 PM, Rob Buscher wrote:

     to what extent the politically subversive messages snuck past the censors actually affected the viewing population at that time (i.e. to what extent did they pick up on these messages, and did they affect the way audience members perceived the US occupation). 

    While I have enough historical documentation to back up many of the claims that I would like to make, I cannot seem to find any studies that have been conducted on audience perception from that time period, which would more definitively prove my argument. Does someone on the list know of any audience studies conducted in the 1940s or 1950s? Japanese or English sources are fine. 

    Thanks in advance,

    Rob Buscher
    MA Japanese Film Studies Candidate SOAS

  I have always been very skeptical of these kinds of claims because it assumes
  the censors were denser than the audiences, certainly a possibility, but not necessarily true
  and nearly impossible to substantiate. How to get around this is tricky, but a great example of one that does is
  Edward Fowler's really wonderful account of Ozu's skirting the Occupation censors in
  "Piss and Run: Or How Ozu does a Number on SCAP" in Washburn and Cavanaugh's "Word and Image."
  Basically, he uses very convincing close textual readings to suggest that the subversive message would have been 
  obvious to the contemporary Japanese audience and, even more interestingly, cites misreadings by later US film critics (Richie and Bordwell) to
  consider how the Occup. censors might have misinterpreted or not even seen those subversive moments of the film.


  Kirsten Cather
  Assistant Professor, Department of Asian Studies
  1 University Station, G9300
  Austin, TX  78712
  WCH 5.104B; kcather at; 512.471.0031 (office)

  On Jul 16, 2010, at 9:53 PM, Mark Nornes wrote:

    I don't recall if the issue is covered in the detail you require, and it's not at hand at the moment, but the first stop shopping for anything on censorship is Makino Mamoru's "History of Japanese Film Censorship." (Harvard has it in your area.) Aside from its detailed history, many of the regulations are reprinted in its 500 some pages.


    日本映画検閱史 /
    Nihon eiga kenʼetsushi
          Author: 牧野守, 1930- 牧野守著. ; Mamoru Makino 
          Publisher: パンドラ : 発売現代書館, Tōkyō : Pandora : Hatsubai Gendai Shokan, 2003. 

      Date: Fri, 16 Jul 2010 14:11:32 -0400
      From: sfred at
      To: KineJapan at
      Subject: Question about kissing

      I was just editing something I wrote and started to wonder whether it is true.  I was suggesting that kissing in Japanese cinema in the early 1930s would have been the object of censorship.  That is a rather vague way that I have put it but is it true in either the sense that 1.) depiction of a kiss would have triggered some attention and potential censorship based 2.) there were actual guidelines about kissing that the censors followed? 

      I am aware of the censorship categories at the time and have looked at a lot of print media censorship primary materials in both political and fuzoku categories.  But not much about cinema (or kissing in particular).  Is there some better research on this out there?  I think I based my statement on anecdotal materials from people I know, and I don't think those individuals are really old or reliable enough to base this claim on!

      Thanks for any direction you might send me in!  I don't have easy access to a Japanese language library at the moment either.


      Sarah Frederick
      Associate Professor of Japanese
      Dept. Modern Languages 
         and Comparative Literature
      Boston University
      718 Commonwealth Avenue
      Boston, MA 02215
      sfred at

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