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  • “Imposing the Standards of Boston on Japan”Kasutori Performance, Censorship, and the Occupation
  • David Jortner (bio)

At the end of the Second World War, the Allies had an enormous rebuilding task ahead of them in Japan. Much of the nation lay in ruins, the economy was in shambles, and the Americans feared Communist expansion in Asia if Japan was not rebuilt. As a result, while the fighting stopped with the Japanese surrender, the American military and American foreign policy continued a propaganda war in order to win the “hearts and minds” of the Japanese populace and move them away from wartime fanaticism.

The Allied Occupation of Japan (or, more accurately, the American Occupation of Japan, as the Occupation, or Senryō, was an almost entirely American endeavor) is accurately described as “The Confusion Era” by noted cultural historian Mark Sandler. The theatre world in Japan during the Occupation (1945–1952) was no stranger to the issues of confusion and control. From the regulation of kabuki to the attempted transformation of the shingeki (modern realist) stage, the history of Occupation theatre is filled with stories of censorial confusion, Japanese theatrical evasions and resubmissions, and cultural misunderstandings between American censors, Japanese officials, and theatre artists.

One of the most interesting theatrical subjects to examine in light of this confusion is the genre of erotic performance. Erotic performance, or what I term (after historian John Dower) kasutori performance, not only tested the limits of expression but also confronted American censors with issues of morality, freedom, and control. Japanese lawmakers and police also attempted to exact censorial control over this art form but their concerns often clashed with [End Page 130] postwar American ideology. One of the many difficulties American forces faced was that the type of moral control called for ran counter to the stated Occupation goals of freedom of expression and commerce. Thus, U.S. censors were uncomfortable with demanding an American morality for the Japanese populace, while other officers felt that one of the censors’ roles was the elimination of “indecent” performances. Essentially, the American postwar military attempted to uphold contradictory goals, although they were sometimes unaware of the dueling nature of their mandates. A study of kasutori performance perhaps best exposes these competing ideologies.

Issues of censorial and military control, civilian freedoms, eroticism and sexuality, and cultural imposition are wrapped into the discussions about erotic performance during the Occupation. This essay explores the different genres of kasutori performance, looks at the censorship structures in place in both Japanese and American contexts, and highlights the places wherein the two censorship structures came into conflict. The issue of “eroticism” is examined through contemporary views (on both sides) toward erotic material. Kasutori performance challenged Occupation authorities, not just in conventional means (militarily or morally) but philosophically. Indeed, rather than being seen as an interesting footnote, kasutori performance is an excellent case study into the contradictions of Allied policy. American authorities were often in ideological conflict with each other during the Occupation; they wanted to use the theatre to promote freedom and democracy while at the same time enforcing a moral code. This was the case even as SCAP (Supreme Command for Allied Powers) personnel fought among themselves over what these terms and ideas meant. Moreover, the addition of local Japanese censorship laws and the stated Occupation goal of moving the Japanese toward self-governance also conflicted with the declared idea of “freedom” and required SCAP intervention. Kasutori performance showcased the contradictory impulse inherent in occupation, especially the Occupation of Japan. The Americans wanted to promote freedom but control content; they desired and sexualized the Japanese as they simultaneously sought to impose and promote Western morality on the theatre.

Before delving into Occupation policy it is important to understand the divisions within the General Headquarters (GHQ) of SCAP. There were two primary agencies charged with very different missions at GHQ. The first of these was the Civil Information and Education Division (CI&E), whose job involved reeducation and the promotion of democratic ideals. In SCAP documents, it is often CI&E that calls for the promotion of shingeki and textual changes to classical scripts in order to bring the theatre in line with SCAP policy...


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pp. 130-150
Launched on MUSE
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