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Bringing together chapters by scholars from different disciplines, Divided Lenses: Screen Memories of War in East Asia, edited by Michael Bert and Chiho Sawada, examines the different visual representations of wars and atrocities that have ravaged Asia from the 1930s through the 1950s. These wars include the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War, the Chinese Civil War, and the Korean War, among others. The eleven chapters not only explore the representations of war on screens, but also “how the conflicts . . . have been imagined, framed, and revisited using the lens of screen culture” (p. 2). As such, this volume traces the portrayals of wars in East Asia in cinema and video games, and on television and the internet, as well as the contests between public official narratives and private and collective memories. Structured into two parts—Screen Histories of War in East Asia, and Reading War Trauma— Divided Lenses presents film (broadly defined) not only as a form of representation but also as a form of politicized “weapon . . . propaganda, resistance, testimony, experiment, [and] entertainment” (p. 2). It complicates the analytical parameters and concerns of screen memories of war in East Asia from merely narrative tropes and portrayals of trauma to potential agents of change toward transregional understanding and reconciliation.
Though the methodologies adopted in this volume are diverse, at the core of Divided Lenses is the question of what constitutes the genre of war films and its relation to the history and historiography of the trope of war in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United States (chapter 6). While in chapter 1, “War, History, and Remembrance in Chinese Cinema,” Yingjin Zhang provides an overview of Chinese war films over the past century, Wenchi Lin in chapter 2 presents a brief history of anti-Japanese films in Taiwan between the 1950s and 1970s. And whereas Korean war films are preoccupied with the division of North Korea and South Korea following the Korean War (chapter 3), Japanese war films and manga and anime (chapter 5) are those that continue to examine the effects of the atomic bomb in Japanese society (chapter 4). These chapters may at first seem to merely provide the thematic and narrative preoccupations of war films. Yet, in asking what war films are, the authors also examine the politics that undergird the very trope of war.
Indeed, the development of the trope of war in East Asia’s visual media also exposes how the different East Asian film industries, and by extension East Asian society, have come to terms with their own national histories and responses to wars that involved the ongoing and complex negotiations between [End Page 145] their roles as victims, heroes, aggressors, and observers in past wars and current politics. War films from China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan have focused on war soldiers as national heroes and the embodiment of nationalism. However, the cinematic discourse of nationalism is not without its contradictions and challenges from within the industry. As noted by Zhang (chapter 1), while prior to the 1980s, Chinese war films have adhered to the dominant paradigms of nationalism, patriotism, heroism (p. 28), following China’s liberalization since the 1980s, Chinese war films began to adopt alternative strategies that seek to contain human qualities (renxing) “transcending any geopolitical nationalism” (p. 29). In South Korean division blockbusters, the shifting portrayals of North and South Koreans from enemy to victim to companion (p. 70) not only exposes a “national identity and historical consciousness in transition” (p. 62) but also “reflect[s] larger movements in the historiography of the Korean War and its consequences” (p. 69). And in Japanese war films, since the Asia-Pacific War long “remained a taboo subject in visual popular culture during the immediate postwar era” (p. 106), there was on one hand a continuation of a “pacifist” discourse in post-war visual media including manga (chapter 5) and cinema and, on the other, the continuation of portrayal of...