- Women in Japanese Cinema: Alternative Perspectives by Tamae K. Prindle
Tamae K. Prindle's book Women in Japanese Cinema: Alternative Perspectives is an ambitious study that attempts an analysis of selected Japanese films [End Page 453] from various "feminist"-derived theoretical positions—"ecological feminism," "Marxist/socialist feminism," "Jungian psychoanalysis," "Lacanian sexuality," "Freudian penis envy," "Sartrean existentialism," "shojo hood," "Honda Masuko's concept of cocooned girlhood," Julia Kristeva's "Women's Time," "sadomasochism," "Lacanian psychoanalysis," and "Lyotardian/Jamesonian postmodernism" (p. 2).
Due to the ambitious nature of the book's theoretical themes and the eclectic nature of the films selected for analysis, I suggest the book not be approached as a synthesized thesis, that is, a theme developed through the core chapters that leads to a specific set of conclusions. The all-too-brief introduction (three and a half pages for a four-hundred-page book) and the lack of a concluding chapter, among other things, militate against such a reading. Instead, a more profitable approach to this study is to treat it as one would an edited volume in which each chapter or section is self-contained within an overarching theme—in this case, "women in Japanese cinema." If taken in this light, as the subtitle directs us—"alternative perspectives" with the emphasis on the plural in "perspectives"—the structure of the study is perfectly logical.
The study is divided into five chapters that each focus on three films under the headings of "Mother," "Wives," "Prostitutes," "Girls," and "Women"; these headings loosely follow Japanese cinematic classifications as subgenres of the broader term "melodrama." The films, it is stated, were selected on "artistic" grounds, though "artistic" is not defined and "canon" might have been a safer term as many of the films considered have been widely circulated in the West: Narayama bushikō (The ballad of Narayama, 1983) by Imamura Shōhei; Okaasan (Mother, 1952) by Naruse Mikio; Jigokumon (Gate of hell, 1953) by Kinugasa Teinosuke; Waga seishun ni kuinashi (No regrets for our youth, 1946) by Kurosawa Akira; Izu no odoriko (A dancer in Izu, 1926) by Nishikawa Katsumi; Tsugumi (1990) by Ichikawa Jun; Saikaku ichidai onna (Life of Oharu, 1952) by Mizoguchi Kenji; and Tanpopo (1985) by Itami Juzō. There are some notable exceptions, which we should commend Prindle for incorporating: Yumiko (Great mother, 1983) by Idemitsu Mako; Gimu to engi (Duty and pretense, 1997) by Ichikura Haruo; and Kin no ue no sōgyo (A grass carp on a tree, 1997) by Ishikawa Atsushi.
Thus, the structure of the book and the films selected make it an ideal text for teaching—bite-size chapters that can be easily uploaded onto an electronic reading list and linked to weekly film viewings. Indeed, it is as a teaching text that the book is best approached. The author gives helpful, factual information such as cast lists as well as illustrations of publicity posters and detailed historical backgrounds on each film's sources, often derived from literature. This is perhaps the strongest element of the book and one of the most useful aspects from a teaching perspective—the in-depth [End Page 454] recounting of the literary antecedents of many of the films. The chapter on Mizoguchi's Saikaku ichidai onna, for example, includes a detailed analysis and much background information on the novel Kōshoku ichidai onna (The life of an amorous woman, 1686) by Ihara Saikaku. This background information would be extremely helpful for students in putting the film into a Japanese context, as would the background information on Kinugasa's 1953 classic Jigokumon relating to Heike monogatari (Tale of the Heike, thirteenth century), and on Kawabata Yasunari's Izu no odoriku, among others. However, these helpful expositions are not limited to literature. The all-too-brief consideration of social discourses on transsexuality in Japanese society since the 1990s through a discussion of recently published academic texts by Japanese authors, such as Harima Katsuki and Sōma Saeko (Sei dōitsusei shōgan 30nin no kaminguauto [The coming out of 30 gender identity...