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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Cinema, State and "National Culture" in Wartime Japan: Fictional Narratives of Self and Other as Recommended by the Ministry of Education, 1940-44

November 15, 2000 / 18.30

Harald Salomon

The presentation introduces a dissertation project examining the interaction of cinema, state and audiences in wartime Japan with a focus on public film promotion. The project traces governmental activities aiming to reorient the production of fictional feature films along notions such as the development of national culture and wholesome entertainment. Efforts to expand the projection of these productions to schools, factories, and rural areas are followed. These activities, it is argued, were undertaken in order to provide a cultural repertoire that would enable differing societal groups to make meaning of their existence as subjects of the Japanese empire and act accordingly.

The cultural resources employed to draw boundaries between self and other are an integral part of the national cultural repertoire. The presentation concentrates on this issue to discuss central problems of the dissertation project. Questions of self and other are of particular interest as they form the context for depictions of the enemy. Interestingly, the frequently vague portrayal of the enemy in wartime Japanese cinema did not only catch the attention of contemporary American observers. It was also a source of growing dissatisfaction for Japanese institutions involved in film policy, as the war situation changed for the worse. Although the industry was restructured and controlled more efficiently, it remained difficult to initiate the production of feature films that satisfied governmental considerations in this respect.

The presentation investigates productions close to governmental ideals, the feature films recommended by the Ministry of Education. It outlines the promotion system of the Ministry as established by the Film Law of 1939. The focus then turns to the releases, which were distinguished for their qualities as fictional narratives of the national self and the other. The official basis for recommendation is reviewed. Drawing on video examples, the boundaries delineating Japanese, Greater East Asian and enemy nationals as well as their development in the context of the changing war situation are examined. Subsequently, the presentation sketches audience preferences and responses in order to illustrate that the differing characteristics of the audiences such as age, gender, education, and regional identity seriously interfered with the formation of a national cultural repertoire via film promotion. The attempts of governmental actors to overcome these difficulties and to render their use of the medium more efficiently are discussed.