La modernite a l'horizon: La culture populaire dans le Japon des annees vingt (review)
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La modernité à l'horizon: La culture populaire dans le Japon des années vingt. Edited by Jean-Jacques Tschudin and Claude Hamon. Éditions Philippe Picquier, Arles, 2004. 244 pages. $18.00.

This is a collection of essays in French edited from a mid-2002 conference. The introduction and 11 texts on Japanese popular culture of the 1920s, three of which are translations from English, cover the political context of Japanese popular culture (Stephen Large); the role of the artist conceived as worker, monk, and soldier (Michael Lucken); the relation in Kansai between urban modernity and "massification" (Claude Hamon); the manufacture of popular hit songs (Sepp Linhart); the relation between Taisho cinema and censorship (Pascale Simon); the revolution of women actors in 1920s' cinema (Josiane Pinon); popular theater (Brian Powell); Asakusa opera (Jean-Jacques Tschudin); all-women revues (Claire Dodane); the rise of crime fiction (Philippe Jordy); and the paradoxes of the sentimental novel as typified in Kikuchi Kan's Shinju fujin of 1920 (Cécile Sakai). Tschudin's introduction and the first essay by Large constitute useful general overviews.

The essays concern an academic field that has already seen a great deal of scholarly exposition of many aspects of Taisho culture.1 The Anglophone texts— [End Page 165] with most of which the French writers are fully conversant—together with the body of knowledge they represent may be broadly characterized as concerned with political, intellectual, and visual/artistic representation.2 The Francophone essays mostly focus on how meaning may be culturally condensed, rather than on how visuality or social ritual may be analyzed for their own sake. The implicit concern is how Taisho Japanese were conscious of being modern, how they represented this consciousness, and how in spectacle they joined with others in its public recognition. Lucken deals with the visual arts by characterization of artistic types. Hamon examines the impact on culture of one regional transportation network, the reasonable supposition being that modernity is in some way a function of the speed and volume of social interaction. Simon, Pinon, Powell, Tschudin, and Dodane look at popular spectacle in theater, cinema, and theatrical revues. They notice how the functions of social roles are articulated and how they imply the development of a new kind of "modern" consciousness. Jordy disinters on an unconscious mass level what fictional fantasy meant in terms of the genre of crime fiction, and Sakai sees the interaction between a cold, rather calculating authorial intentionality and the operation of a demand for new social mores through a melodramatic literary structure.

Tschudin (p. 14) states that the selection of essays has been made on the basis of work in progress, rather than preset criteria that legitimate a hierarchy of choice: they do not fit an overarching hermeneutic or ideological agenda. This accounts for some looseness, but also some tolerance and flexibility among the authors' different positions. It allows the development of an understanding positioned in specifically French literary and cultural analyses. Let me examine some of those specific contributions and mention some lacunae.

In a collection dealing with "popular culture," it is important to define "the popular," with specific attention to the connotations of Japanese-language terms. Lucken does this very clearly, calling on work by Cécile Sakai in 1987 which reviewed Japanese words connoting "the people" and "the masses."3 In that earlier work, clearly not far from the minds of many [End Page 166] of the French writers in the present volume, Sakai defined mass literature, taish ū bungaku, as a both qualitative and quantitative notion. She wrote: "It is a literature with an immense success linked to a diversified public that no longer restricts itself to popular strata."4

In her analysis here of Kikuchi Kan's novel, Sakai links the consciousness of modernity evidenced by one literary representation with a type of hermeneutic dilemma rarely found earlier in Japanese fiction. She notes that "the exact position of the author, Kikuchi Kan, remains ambiguous: does his novel deliver a progressivist message dissimulated within a conservative envelope or, on the contrary, a conservative message simulating modernity?" (p. 233). A type of complex representation is positioned between opposing forces or intentions projected...