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  • Introduction
  • Takashi Fujitani (bio) and Nayoung Aimee Kwon (bio)

For decades following Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule, scholars and film critics avoided or largely ignored the study of Japanese-Korean film coproductions. In large part due to the difficulty of placing such films comfortably within the linear narrative of national history and the story of a presumed national subject, Korean scholars and critics in the immediate postwar and postcolonial decades tended to discount and disregard films produced during much of the colonial period, especially the wartime years. The film critic Yi Yŏng-il, for example, charged that Korean filmmaking ended in 1942, thereby making any films produced thereafter unworthy of attention. In his words, the severe controls placed upon Korean film production extinguished "the breath of life of Korean cinema in its proper sense" (Yi Yŏng-il 1986, 333).

At the same time, in post-defeat and decolonizing Japan few who had been involved in these coproductions, let alone postwar scholars and critics, expressed an interest in reflecting back on so-called "war collaboration films." Instead, the collapse of the Japanese empire and the national refusal of responsibilities for the violence of Japanese colonial rule, which [End Page 1] was enabled by new imperatives of the Cold War, encouraged a forgetting, disavowal, and even literal hiding or destruction of colonial cultural productions. We know, for instance, that in the immediate postwar years the filmmaker Imai Tadashi, who directed two of the films discussed in this special issue, attempted to hide his involvement in the making of Love and the Vow (Ai to chikai),1 even though he later wrote at some length about his participation in colonial coproductions (Imai 1986).

Thus the limited availability of films produced under Japanese rule until the last decade or so should be considered as much a symptom of the postcolonial and transnational politics of memory and forgetfulness as a significant cause for the dearth of scholarship and lack of general reflection on colonial film coproductions. In short, the considerable flurry of scholarly and popular attention to rediscovered films in recent years— while testament to the enormous efforts of researchers and other staff at the Korean Film Archive (KOFA) who have recuperated and made available roughly a dozen films from the colonial period— cannot be attributed solely to the physical "repatriation" (as one symposium held at the KOFA has put it) of such films.2 Instead, the articles in this special issue reflect a new and vibrant transnational milieu in which cultural productions under Japanese colonial rule are increasingly scrutinized from perspectives that exceed and often question uncomplicated narratives of national development, stagnation, or oppression, as well as the binary of collaboration versus resistance. Such works call our attention to the antinomies of modernity under Japanese colonial rule, including the often unexpected continuities between colonialism and nationalism, as well as other postcolonial legacies of the colonial era.3

To be sure, the articles offered here are critically aware of the restrictive and violent means by which the Japanese colonial regime controlled and censored film and cultural production. The Korean Motion Picture Ordinance of 1940, which was closely modeled on the metropole's Motion Picture Law of the previous year, greatly enhanced the powers of the colonial state over films made in the colony. The legal measures made it possible to later amalgamate all ten previously existing film companies into the Korean Motion Picture Production Corporation and to control film distribution through the Korean Film Distribution Company. Concrete cases of direct censorship or self-censorship are likewise identifiable and are examined in several of the articles in this issue. Such conditions for cultural work under colonialism [End Page 2] make it clear that no legitimate analysis of colonial film should take lightly the asymmetries of power under which supposed "coproductions" were produced and distributed.

Nevertheless, the contributions here show that censorship, regulation, and control had productive as well as repressive effects. To be sure, the regime of colonial censorship (both formal and informal) suppressed or precluded content, leaving gaping, awkward, and irretrievable silences in the films. Yet it also produced an archive of multiple texts and unleashed a plethora of mixed messages...


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pp. 1-9
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2020
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