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Nippon Modern

Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s

Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Nippon Modern
    Book Description:

    Nippon Modern is the first intensive study of Japanese cinema in the 1920s and 1930s, a period in which the country’s film industry was at its most prolific and a time when cinema played a singular role in shaping Japanese modernity. During the interwar period, the signs of modernity were ubiquitous in Japan’s urban architecture, literature, fashion, advertising, popular music, and cinema. The reconstruction of Tokyo following the disastrous earthquake of 1923 high lighted the extent of this cultural transformation, and the film industry embraced the reconfigured space as an expression of the modern. Shochiku Kamata Film Studios (1920–1936), the focus of this study, was the only studio that continued filmmaking in Tokyo following the city’s complete destruction. Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano points to the influence of the new urban culture in Shochiku’s interwar films, acclaimed as modan na eiga, or modern films, by and for Japanese. Wada-Marciano’s thought-provoking examinations illustrate the reciprocal relationship between cinema and Japan’s vernacular modernity—what Japanese modernity actually meant to Japanese. Her thorough and thoughtful analyses of dozens of films within the cultural contexts of Japan con tribute to the current inquiry into non-Western vernacular modernities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6374-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    If recognition is the beginning of a history, Japanese film history literally started in 1951 outside of Japan, when Kurosawa Akira’sRashomon(1950) won first prize at the 1951 Venice Film Festival. From that time on, a few Japanese filmmakers have been recognized via international festivals, and countless books on those filmmakers have been dedicated to analyzing their works. Kurosawa, Mizoguchi Kenji, Ozu Yasujiro, and Oshima Nagisa are all considered great Japanese directors, and their works have shaped perceptions of Japanese film history. Highly regarded scholarly works on the cinema, such as Donald Kirihara’s book on Mizoguchi, David Bordwell’s work...

  6. CHAPTER 1 The Creation of Modern Space
    (pp. 15-42)

    Space as a conceptual term has been theorized by many scholars, although there exists no consensus about its most productive use in critical writing.¹ In film studies, most writing has focused on space as a form in the filmic text often in relation to narrative, without a connection to the space “outside” the screen. “Space and Narrative in the Films of Ozu,” by Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, is typical in its primary focus on Ozu’s use of specific spatial devices.² For example, the authors’ formalist approach examines how space in Ozu’s films contends with narrative logic, and they compare...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Vernacular Meanings of Genre: The Middle-Class Film
    (pp. 43-61)

    Why has so little film scholarship considered the place of genre in national cinema? Addressing this question, Alan Williams comments on Thomas Schatz’sHollywood Genres:“The validity of his enterprise is largely determined by the validity of American genre studies (none of his references are texts in foreign languages; very few are translations). And there’s the rub.”¹ Williams further argues, “‘Genre’ is not exclusively or even primarily a Hollywood phenomenon.”² His 1984 article foreshadows the tendency of a Hollywood-centered genre approach to national cinema studies during the following two decades, and since then we have encountered a relatively small number...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Embodying the Modern
    (pp. 62-75)

    The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam played as radio drama in Japan, where listeners were enthralled with the first success of Japanese Olympians abroad. As a popular narrative, the Olympic spectacle offered a site for the transfer of Japanese anxieties over modernization, a spectacle in which the audience found compensation in the success of its athletes in an international arena. Against a background of crisis in the fragmented nature of Japanese modern identity, these Olympic games were but one chapter in a discourse of the body’s involvement with the creation of a unified nation-subject, the national body. Japanese athletes acquitted themselves...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Imaging Modern Girls in the Japanese Womanʹs Film
    (pp. 76-110)

    This chapter focuses on the Japanese “woman’s film” and considers how national and modern gender identities converged in Japan’s interwar period.¹ Japanese cinema in this era coincided with a prevalence of cultural discourses on modernity: what it meant to be Japanese and modern was an open question. In these self-reflexive discourses about modernity, one detects a historical consciousness as newer forms of experience specific to capitalism were often pitted against older forms related to feudalism. In similar terms, the woman’s film became the dominant subgenre of the modern film and a signifier of “the new” next to the antiquated genres...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Japanese Modern in Film Style
    (pp. 111-129)

    The very notion of “modern” in Japan signifies a particular series of transformations that distinguish its meaning from the Western sense. When I use the term “modern” in a Japanese context, I am referring to the concept of “modern” as Masao Miyoshi explicates: the term itself in the discourses of Japanese history and society signifies neither modernism, modernity, nor modernization as those are defined in the West so that “the signifier ‘modern’ [the word itself without the meaning] … should be regarded as a regional term peculiar to the West.”¹ What then is particular to the Japanese modern?

    In concert...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 130-138)

    Through my analyses on five aspects of the Japanese cinema in the 1920s and 1930s—Tokyo urban space, the middle-class film genre, modern sports, the woman’s film, and Kamata style—I have shown how Japanese cinema expressed a distinct vision of modernity. My hypothesis is that modern Japanese subjectivity was reified by the Japanese themselves through popular culture, especially the cinema. InOvercome by Modernity, H. D. Harootunian similarly sees the popular cinema as the site for an imagined vision of modernity and as a path for the Japanese “to grasp the new everyday life in its textured materiality.” “Film...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-158)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 159-174)
  14. Index
    (pp. 175-186)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 187-188)