- The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan by Kirsten Cather, and: Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan by Jonathan E. Abel
The resulting illusion, that censorship is a vice to be overcome through morally guided will, assumes that there either is censorship or not—that a complete absence of censorship is somehow possible. … To be for or [End Page 435] against censorship as such is to assume a freedom no one has. Censorship is. One can only discriminate among its more and less repressive effects.—Michael Holquist1
Neither of the works under review makes the mistake of assuming that we are ever free of censorship, but neither do they subscribe to Holquist’s limited agenda of “discriminat[ing] among its more or less repressive effects.” Kirsten Cather’s witty and illuminating study of postwar obscenity trials and Jonathan Abel’s dense exploration of “transwar” censorship move far beyond attempts to gauge the degree of repression of any act of suppression. Both, in fact, make it clear that censorship is never a singular act: from Cather we learn that in postwar trials, arguments ricocheted among prosecutors, witnesses, defenders, and judges, and a verdict rendered in one court was often overturned at a higher level; and from Abel that a work produced in imperial Japan that was redacted by any among the author, editor, publisher, and officials in the censorship office might in later years be “censored” again when its “original version” was published with no indication of its previous censorship.
It is a remarkable and fortunate coincidence that two such rigorous studies of censorship in Japan should come out in the same year and that their achievements should stand in such marked complementarity. Abel’s “transwar” designation covers censorship by the Japanese imperial government from the 1920s until 1945, and then the occupation government’s censorship, 1945–52. Cather’s study begins in the 1950s, just when Abel’s ends, and goes through 2007. Cather takes a more macro approach, with each chapter covering one multiyear court case. Abel takes a more micro approach, with many detailed examples of the way specific texts were censored. Cather focuses on one kind of object: court cases, which she investigates through juridical and para-juridical documents and interviews. Abel addresses several kinds of texts: literary manuscripts, bibliographies, censors’ archives, and essays. Because Cather addresses the postwar and postoccupation time period, the censorship she analyzes is all after the fact: materials that were published or filmed, distributed, and only subsequently taken to court to determine whether obscenity laws had been violated. Most of the censorship Abel analyzes—though various in form—occurred prepublication (or at least before distribution).
The two studies share attributes as well. Both are based on impressive research, with Abel bringing to light the results of his meticulous combing of documents housed in multiple archives, and Cather deftly encapsulating a mass of court transcripts and legislative arguments. By focusing on specific [End Page 436] issues and questions, each is able to illuminate vital characteristics of the multifarious activity we call censorship.
English-language studies of censorship in modern Japan are not as common as one might expect. In the 1970s and 1980s three important books were published: Richard Mitchell’s Thought Control in Prewar Japan and Censorship in Imperial Japan, and Jay Rubin’s Injurious to Public Morals. Significant monographs from the 1990s include Monica Braw, The Atomic Bomb Suppressed and Kyoko Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo.2 Since the turn of the twenty-first century, several essay collections focusing on Japanese censorship have appeared, including notably War, Occupation, and Creativity, edited by Marlene Mayo and J. Thomas Rimer with H. Eleanor Kerkham; and Censorship, Media, and Literary Culture in Japan, edited by Tomi Suzuki, Hirokazu Toeda, Hikari Hori, and Kazushige Munakata.3 This list (though incomplete) seems quite slim given that scholars have been writing actively in...