- Visiting Lecturer (Research Associate at University of London, SOAS)
- Film Studies
Rethinking Japans past and future through the movies
I studied and researched Japanese film at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and joined Tokyo University of Foreign Studies under the Consortium of Asian and African Studies (CAAS) programme in October 2015. My main research interest is the Japanese film from the 1920s to the 1950s, with a particular focus on the film director Itami Mansaku.
Itami is known to many people as the father of famous director Itami Juzo (e.g. "The Funeral", 1984), but clearly the elder Itami should be acknowledged in his own right as a director, scriptwriter, and social critic, crucial for our understanding of interwar and postwar intellectual and cinematic discourses in Japan. By reading his numerous essays and articles, and watching his films, we begin to understand the extent of his calm and realistic observance and precise criticism of these days' society. In his essay 'The question of those responsible for the war' (August 1946), published only a year after Japan's surrender, he insisted that 'being deceived is already a sin in itself', and thus foreshadowed subsequent discussions about universal victimhood or individual responsibility.
He was known as one of the best scriptwriters of his time, but his output as a director was relatively low, also due to his serious health problems and his premature death of tuberculosis in September 1946. The films he did direct, however, were very popular at the time. In one of his masterpieces, "Akanishi Kakita" (1936), based on the Edo-period Date Rebellion, star actor and producer Kataoka Chiezō actually plays two roles. With the film's final scene being anachronistically underscored by Wagner's "Wedding March", it was an adventurous production.
By 1936, when "Akanisha Kakita" was released, the so-called Manchurian Incident had occurred, and the military planned further expansion into China. Itami's films display a distinct dislike and criticism of the militarism and the accompanying ideologies of the era. Film reflects the social discourse of its time, and at the same time we can also discern the filmmaker's attitudes towards these trends. In my own research of Japanese wartime film, I am interested in how people actually navigated through these complex times, and also in further understanding the medias' role in times of (armed) conflict.
Currently, what has been titled the refugee crisis, triggered by the civil war in Syria, shakes socio-political discourses in Europe. Thinking about the use of the media, both by IS and in those countries displaying an increasing reluctance to take in refugees, it reminds one of the situation before the outbreak of the last war on a global scale. This is clearly something that needs to be observed carefully.
In my undergraduate class beginning in April, we will study three Japanese wartime films, including detailed analyses of cinematography, plot, and the background of their production and reception. Studying and improving our understanding of the mutual interaction of media, politics, and society will, I hope, provide the opportunity to look at Japan's past, present, and future from yet another angle.