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The Attractive Empire

The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan

Michael Baskett
Copyright Date: 2008
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    The Attractive Empire
    Book Description:

    Japanese film crews were shooting feature-length movies in China nearly three decades before Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) reputedly put Japan on the international film map. Although few would readily associate Japan’s film industry with either imperialism or the domination of world markets, the country’s film culture developed in lock step with its empire, which, at its peak in 1943, included territories from the Aleutians to Australia and from Midway Island to India. With each military victory, Japanese film culture’s sphere of influence expanded deeper into Asia, first clashing with and ultimately replacing Hollywood as the main source of news, education, and entertainment for millions. The Attractive Empire is the first comprehensive examination of the attitudes, ideals, and myths of Japanese imperialism as represented in its film culture. In this stimulating new study, Michael Baskett traces the development of Japanese film culture from its unapologetically colonial roots in Taiwan and Korea to less obvious manifestations of empire such as the semicolonial markets of Manchuria and Shanghai and occupied territories in Southeast Asia. Drawing on a wide range of previously untapped primary sources from public and private archives across Asia, Europe, and the United States, Baskett provides close readings of individual films and trenchant analyses of Japanese assumptions about Asian ethnic and cultural differences. Finally, he highlights the place of empire in the struggle at legislative, distribution, and exhibition levels to wrest the "hearts and minds" of Asian film audiences from Hollywood in the 1930s as well as in Japan’s attempts to maintain that hegemony during its alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6460-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Lost Histories
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 2002, the fourth highest grossing film in South Korea was a big-budget science fiction epic directed by Lee Si-Myung entitled 2009:Lost Memories. Based on a bestselling novel by Bok Geo-il, the film poses the intriguing question: “What if Japan had never lost its empire?”¹Lost Memoriesoffers viewers an alternate history in which Korean nationalist Ahn Jung-geun (a real-life figure who assassinated Japanese Resident-General of Korea Ito Hirobumi in 1909) fails to assassinate Ito, with the result that Japan is not defeated in World War II but fights with the United States against Nazi Germany. Atomic bombs are...

  5. CHAPTER ONE From Film Colony to Film Sphere
    (pp. 13-40)

    Imperial Japanese film culture was complex—its influence extended to practically every area of the empire. In the case of Taiwan, I consider the ways in which the colonial government used film education programs to assimilate indigenous Taiwanese populations while at the same time combating the undermining influence of Chinese films. For Korea, I investigate the role of colonial film censorship in the struggle to maintain social order and also analyze popular Japanese perceptions of the Korean film industry in the domestic Japanese market. In the case of Manchuria, I argue that the local film industry actively sought out ways,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Media Empire: Creating Audiences
    (pp. 41-71)

    Throughout the 1930s cultural producers in Japan gradually became aware that their sphere of influence was expanding beyond the borders of the Japanese home islands. Japanese animated films were screened in Taiwan, Chinese-themed melodies like “China Tango” played in dance halls in Shanghai, and Japanese film magazines were sold in Manchuria. The Japanese were no longer the only ones in the audience. Bringing together the vastly different ethnicities and cultures of Asia into a single Greater East Asian audience required the cooperation of hitherto untapped audiences. Film and media companies now had to determine how to create and represent an...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Imperial Acts: Japan Performs Asia
    (pp. 72-105)

    This sequence from the 1942 filmThe Green Earthhints that under the façade of the images of Japan as the leading nation of Asia idealized in its “goodwill” films was a palpable fear of interacting with the cultures and people it subjugated through rapid colonial expansion. That Japanese could effortlessly summon non-Japanese waiters without any knowledge of the local language or customs instructed viewers of the lack of any need to understand what the Chinese were saying.² Fictions like these were meant to reassure Japanese audiences that this was their empire and inspired one Japanese film critic to suggest...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Competing Empires in Transnational Asia
    (pp. 106-131)

    Japanese ideologues and filmmakers realized that ethnic and cultural divisions within Japan’s empire were not the only challenges facing its campaign for cultural hegemony in Asia; competition with the United States, Germany, France, and other nations with long-held ambitions in Asia were a constant source of concern. Japan gained and maintained its Asian empire vis-à-vis two different Western colonial forces. On the one side, Japan clashed with Hollywood for market domination of Asia, and the ascendancy of Japanese imperial power in Asia threatened American film dominance there, leading to a film war. Japan initially restricted access to Asian markets under...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Emperor’s Celluloid Army Marches On
    (pp. 132-154)

    Japan’s surrender to the Allies in 1945 marked an end to the physical reality of Japanese empire, but Japanese filmmakers continued to struggle with the loss of empire in the years after the war. For those who had lived their entire lives under the reality of Japanese empire—many of them outside the home islands of Japan—the question of how the newly decolonized Japanese nation fit in Asia was anything but self-evident. Not surprisingly perhaps, filmmakers often turned to the past, and cinematic representations of Japan’s Asian empire continued unabated throughout the U.S. Occupation of Japan (1945–1952), intensifying...

  10. Selected Filmography
    (pp. 155-172)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 173-200)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 201-208)
  13. Index
    (pp. 209-216)