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Nippon Modern

Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s

Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano

Publication Year: 2008

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-ix

My interest in this project on Japanese cinema in the 1920s and 1930s has a personal side connected with my father. In 1992, my father passed away rather unexpectedly at the age of sixty-one. He was born in 1931, when Shochiku Kamata films reigned in Japan. With his death I sensed that I had also lost an experiential link with the Japanese past, and I pondered how such links with...

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Note on Transliteration

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pp. xi

Throughout the book, I have omitted the macron, which typically indicates long vowels in romanized Japanese words. I did so for the sake of consistency over what I see as a selective and oft en arbitrary use of the diacritic....

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pp. 1-14

If recognition is the beginning of a history, Japanese film history literally started in 1951 outside of Japan, when Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomon (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...

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1. The Creation of Modern Space

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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...

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2. Vernacular Meanings of Genre: The Middle-Class Film

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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’s Hollywood 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...

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3. Embodying the Modern

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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...

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4. Imaging Modern Girls in the Japanese Woman's Film

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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....

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5. The Japanese Modern in Film Style

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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...

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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,...


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pp. 139-158


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pp. 159-174


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pp. 175-185

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863746
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831820

Publication Year: 2008