- Rising from the Flames: The Rebirth of Theater in Occupied Japan, 1945–1952
Rising from the Flames consists of 13 chapters written by 11 experts on traditional and modern Japanese theater. It is supplemented by three appendices that round out the examination of this brief but decisive period in Japanese theater’s development, and while the lion’s share is devoted to what happened to kabuki during this period, few stones are left unturned. Five chapters and two appendices are devoted to kabuki, four chapters to other forms of traditional theater (nō-kyōgen, bunraku, string-puppet theater, and rakugo); the remaining four chapters and one appendix examine what happened to a variety of forms of modern theater, both popular entertainments and the more high-brow, politically engaged shingeki. The collection’s editor, Samuel L. Leiter, contributed three long essays and an appendix, roughly a third of the book, on aspects of kabuki. James R. Brandon and his recent groundbreaking work on kabuki under the censorship [End Page 429] of both Japanese militarists and U.S. reformists is a major reference and is summarized in an interview that comprises one of the appendices.1 Leiter follows in the tracks of Brandon’s argument that, far from threatening kabuki’s survival after the war (as many Japanese sources have argued), most U.S. censors acted in good faith to save this theater from destruction. The occupation, as Leiter puts it, “threw kabuki a lifeline” (p. 11).
Though as many as 90 per cent of Japan’s theaters had been destroyed, few playwrights or artists were purged. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) nonetheless employed several thousand soldiers and civilians, both U.S. and Japanese, to supervise all media, broadcasting, and entertainment with a view to eradicate militarist ideology and promote U.S., democratic ideals. Two agencies, the Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD), in charge of censorship, and the Civil Intelligence and Education Section (CI&E), responsible for propaganda, were established to carry this out. Not surprisingly, these agencies frequently stepped on each other’s toes. In fairly short order, CCD became responsible for the oversight of kabuki and CI&E of modern theater. Though these agencies had offices in Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka, occupation oversight of theater outside the Tokyo area was more lax, and arguably other forms of traditional theater did not receive anywhere near the attention that kabuki ever did. Faubion Bowers, who served as General Douglas MacArthur’s aide-de-camp before becoming a CCD censor, remarked that “no one cared about nō because it was so antique people didn’t understand it” (p. 180). Donald Richie recalls that SCAP judged shingeki, like nō and bunraku, to be “an innocent if occasionally misled art” (p. 259). Other traditional performing arts like rakugo seemed to have escaped SCAP notice, but, as Matthew W. Shores notes in his enlightening essay on this storytelling art under the occupation, rakugo had an ally in a Japanese American censor, Frank Baba, who was a fan from before the war. The Japanese public had an increasing thirst for anything other than Western popular music, which rakugo and other traditional arts satisfied. Yet rakugo artists engaged in their own form of self-censorship, staging poignant public burials of politically dubious stories, later exhumed in more liberal times, under both its own government during the war and under the occupation.
Many of the other U.S. censors employed by SCAP—John Boruff Jr., Earle Ernst, John Allyn, and Hal Keith, to name a few—came from the arts or academia but brought to their career as censors attitudes that on occasion [End Page 430] made them less sympathetic to Japanese theater. Some knew the language and culture better than others. In his essay on the censorship of shingeki, David Jortner concludes that the CI&E was well meaning but patronizing in its promotion of U.S. and democratic ideals. Hal Keith, who came from a Broadway...