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The Attractive Empire

Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan

Michael Baskett

Publication Year: 2008

Japanese film crews were shooting feature-length movies in China nearly three decades before Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) reputedly put Japan on the international film map. Although few would readily associate Japan’s film industry with either imperialism or the domination of world markets, the country’s film culture developed in lock step with its empire, which, at its peak in 1943, included territories from the Aleutians to Australia and from Midway Island to India. With each military victory, Japanese film culture’s sphere of influence expanded deeper into Asia, first clashing with and ultimately replacing Hollywood as the main source of news, education, and entertainment for millions. The Attractive Empire is the first comprehensive examination of the attitudes, ideals, and myths of Japanese imperialism as represented in its film culture. In this stimulating new study, Michael Baskett traces the development of Japanese film culture from its unapologetically colonial roots in Taiwan and Korea to less obvious manifestations of empire such as the semicolonial markets of Manchuria and Shanghai and occupied territories in Southeast Asia. Drawing on a wide range of previously untapped primary sources from public and private archives across Asia, Europe, and the United States, Baskett provides close readings of individual films and trenchant analyses of Japanese assumptions about Asian ethnic and cultural differences. Finally, he highlights the place of empire in the struggle at legislative, distribution, and exhibition levels to wrest the "hearts and minds" of Asian film audiences from Hollywood in the 1930s as well as in Japan’s attempts to maintain that hegemony during its alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My earliest research into the subject of this book began more than twenty years ago. This book was made possible by the generous and tireless assistance of the staff of many libraries and collections including: the Special Collections and Theater Libraries at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Los Angeles Film and Television Archive, the Tsubouchi Memorial ...

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Lost Histories

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pp. 1-12

In 2002, the fourth highest grossing film in South Korea was a big-budget science fiction epic directed by Lee Si-Myung entitled 2009: Lost Memories. Based on a bestselling novel by Bok Geo-il, the film poses the intriguing question: "What if Japan had never lost its empire?"1 Lost Memories offers viewers an alternate history in which Korean nationalist Ahn Jung-geun (a real-life figure who as-...

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Chapter One: From Film Colony to Film Sphere

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pp. 13-40

Imperial Japanese film culture was complex---its influence extended to practically every area of the empire. In the case of Taiwan, I consider the ways in which the colonial government used film education programs to assimilate indigenous Taiwanese populations while at the same time combating the undermining influence of Chinese films. For Korea, I investigate the role of colonial film censor-...

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Chapter Two: Media Empire: Creating Audiences

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pp. 41-71

Throughout the 1930s cultural producers in Japan gradually became aware that their sphere of influence was expanding beyond the borders of the Japanese home islands. Japanese animated films were screened in Taiwan, Chinese-themed melodies like "China Tango" played in dance halls in Shanghai, and Japanese film magazines were sold in Manchuria. The Japanese were no longer the only ones ...

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Chapter Three: Imperial Acts: Japan Performs Asia

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pp. 72-105

This sequence from the 1942 film The Green Earth hints that under the façade of the images of Japan as the leading nation of Asia idealized in its "goodwill" films was a palpable fear of interacting with the cultures and people it subjugated through rapid colonial expansion. That Japanese could effortlessly summon...

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Chapter Four: Competing Empires in Transnational Asia

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pp. 106-131

Japanese ideologues and filmmakers realized that ethnic and cultural divisions within Japan's empire were not the only challenges facing its campaign for cultural hegemony in Asia; competition with the United States, Germany, France, and other nations with long-held ambitions in Asia were a constant source of concern. Japan gained and maintained its Asian empire vis-à-vis two different ...

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Chapter Five: The Emperor's Celluloid Army Marches On

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pp. 132-154

Japan's surrender to the Allies in 1945 marked an end to the physical reality of Japanese empire, but Japanese filmmakers continued to struggle with the loss of empire in the years after the war. For those who had lived their entire lives under the reality of Japanese empire---many of them outside the home islands of Japan---the question of how the newly decolonized Japanese nation fit in Asia ...

Selected Filmography

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pp. 155-172


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pp. 173-200

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780824864606
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831639

Publication Year: 2008