- Views of the Dark Valley: Japanese Cinema and the Culture of Nationalism 1937–1945 by Harald Salomon
Wartime Japan has often been depicted as a “dark valley” in which the government and military actively manipulated information and values so as to achieve mass conformity and unquestioning obedience among its imperial subjects, and the cogency of this notion has long been a topic of spirited debate. Many have invoked the idea to argue that under the oppressive wartime regime, collaboration was inevitable, while others have contended that degrees of individual agency, and hence the potential for resistance, were still possible even within that totalitarian order.
In his well-researched book, Views of the Dark Valley, Harald Salomon uses the discourse on the “dark valley” as a starting point from which to investigate the ways in which the wartime government intersected with the commercial film industry—how it guided, promoted, and ultimately established what he calls a “culture of nationalism” (p. 2). Salomon concludes that far from instituting a highly effective and consensual relationship among the government, industry, and Japanese imperial subjects, the resulting culture of nationalism was a highly complex and uneven balance between the economic needs of film entrepreneurs and the ideological demands of the government. Salomon identifies the processes through which government bureaucracy—particularly the Ministry of Education and the Home Ministry—worked with the film industry and representatives from social groups to establish media policies designed to level and integrate socioeconomic and ideologically heterogeneous populations. In particular, he examines the efforts of the Ministry of Education, which, through its film recommendation system, proactively recruited the participation of bureaucrats, academics, intellectuals, and film personnel on various semiofficial selection committees. The result was a form of suasion, or managed consensus, that profoundly influenced commercial film production and exhibition in addition to legislation and censorship.
Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, Wartime Japanese Cinema and the Culture of the Nation: An Examination of Film Policy and Awarded Works, 1931–45, the book [End Page 301] under review analyzes the nature and degree of interaction among official and unofficial agents of the wartime state in the establishment of film policy. In this sense, the author’s work is thematically aligned with existing scholarship by Katō Atsuko, Peter B. High, and Aaron Gerow. Salomon examines his topic from a sociohistorical perspective across eight chapters and an extended supplementary section offering brief analyses of the thirty State Awarded Feature Films produced between 1939 and 1944.
In the introductory chapter, Salomon establishes his key arguments and methodology and reviews the literature pertinent to wartime Japan and its culture. Drawing on the work of German sociologist Max Weber, Salomon defines culture as a historical process in which the motivation for human action is drawn from “material interests” as well as “ideal interests” (p. 24). Salomon identifies the latter category as particularly crucial, since it informs how cultural resources influence the construction of the self, social interactions, and one’s worldview—all of which are historically contingent. Next, he draws upon Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the state—and most notably the educational system—as wielding the power necessary to introduce and disseminate cultural resources and thereby enable the establishment of a “national common sense” (p. 28). Salomon links this to efforts by Japan’s Home and Education ministries to employ the cinema as a “technology of nationalism,” which they believed held the power to overcome socioeconomic and ideological divisions while simultaneously constructing efficient, self-activated imperial subjects (p. 30). What finally emerged, Salomon suggests, was a multidirectional culture of nationalism in which both the state and private enterprise voluntarily participated, rather than a top-down, unidirectional institution of oppression.
Chapter 2, “Cinema, State, and Audiences, 1900–1937,” maps out the institutions within which the culture of nationalism emerged, paying particular attention to the varying levels of state intersection with entrepreneurs in the development of Japan’s commercial film industry. Salomon stresses that these early governmental efforts progressed within the context of larger national debates...