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  • The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan
  • Scott Nygren (bio)
The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan. By Eric Cazdyn. Duke University Press, Durham, 2002. xii, 316 pages. $64.95, cloth; $21.95, paper.

Marxist theory has never had a better friend than George W. Bush. Not since William McKinley has there been a president so dedicated to demonstrating that all of Marx's ideas are self-evident truths. When he proclaims he is bringing democracy to the Middle East while deeding over all of Iraq to Bechtel and Halliburton, what is there left to say? Not even all of Fox's "fairness and balance" is enough to mystify such direct geopolitical behavior.

So Eric Cazdyn begins The Flash of Capital, perhaps necessarily, by inserting the word "capitalism" into any phrase with Japan, film, and history. Much of what makes his project interesting depends on its renewed critique of capital as a point of departure, yet the multiple trajectories of ideas that intersect in this text exceed any easy description. His book is a welcome contribution to the field, perhaps especially because one is less sure of what exactly "the field" might be after reading it.

The Flash of Capital is, first of all, an anthology of essays. One of its major accomplishments is to introduce new materials into English, especially Japanese historiography, theories of adaptation and acting, pornography as genre, and a history of contributions by the left to Japanese film and culture. The book also discusses both new and historic films not widely known outside, or even in, Japan, such as Shimazu Yasujiro's Okoto to Sasuke (Okoto and Sasuke, 1935), Kamei Fumio's Shanghai (1939), Ogawa Shinsuke's Sen nen kizami no hideki: Magino mura monogatari (Sundial carved by a thousand notches, 1987), Shindo Kaneto's Sanka (A paean, 1972), Isaki Satoshi's [Focus] (1996), Iwai Shunji's Suwaroteiru (Swallowtail butterfly, 1996), and Okuyama Kazuyoshi's Rampo (The mystery of Rampo, 1995). Cazdyn's analyses of these films make welcome contributions to an understanding of the range and complexity of Japanese cinema. [End Page 538]

In a pivotal essay on historiography,1 Cazdyn introduces several Japanese histories not previously discussed in English, beginning with Iwasaki Akira's Eiga geijutsu-shi (History of film art), originally published as a companion piece to Eiga to shihon-shugi (Film and capitalism) in 1931. He then compares Tanaka Jun'ichirō's Nihon eiga hattatsu-shi (Developments in Japanese film history, 1957) with Donald Richie and Joseph Anderson's The Japanese Film (1959), and ends with the four volumes of Satō Tadao's Nihon eiga-shi (Japanese film history, 1995). To complicate the idea of a text, he also includes two films on film history: one produced by the Shinko Film Corporation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nihon eiga-shi (Japanese film history, 1941), and the other by Oshima Nagisa for the British Film Institute, Nihon eiga 100-nen (Japanese film: 100 years, 1995).

The earliest two texts in this sequence mark the emergence of film history from other institutional and political concerns, as a secondary or dependent effect. Iwasaki's history considers film as a subset of capitalist development, while the Shinko / Foreign Affairs production presents film as part of imperial modernization. Japanese film history is first conceived as an autonomous project both by Tanaka and by Richie and Anderson during the 1950s, who then solidify the normative convention of assembling all artifacts and records within an overarching chronological sequence. One of the attractions of such a sequence, according to Cazdyn, is that it can become infinitely expandable, so that there's always a preconceived place for any new information. Oshima's 1995 film, in Cazdyn's reading, then maintains this conservative organization of film history, while Sato expands it to a four-volume, 2,000-page epic.

Cazdyn nominally models his own book on Iwasaki's, naming capital as his point of departure. In The Flash of Capital, the history of history becomes part of any current understanding of Japanese film, but limiting the definition of history to only diachronic narratives obscures the significance of recent work. Since the 1980s, the narrative organization of...


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