- The World Screen: Japan’s Cinematic Reinvention and International Film Festivals
as scholar felicia chan suggests, the “international film festival often appears to function as a cosmopolitan space in which spectators are encouraged to participate in a kind of concentrated cultural tour of the world” (253). When considering the complexities of cosmopolitanism in relation to international film festivals, we may problematize the supposed equality fostered through international film festivals in the mid- to late twentieth century; such sites have proved to be more complicated than simply venues of cultural tourism via filmic texts. The cosmopolitan space is one of hierarchies, values, and judgments regardless of perceived connectedness or supposed equality; within this postwar cosmopolitan space, international film festivals served as sites for rebuilding national and cultural identities through film in a postwar world. The notion of rebuilding or reimagining national and cultural identity through film and film festivals was especially relevant in a postwar Asian context.
In a sense, mid-twentieth-century film festivals operated as sites of exchange but also as sites of mediation, both in regard to content and competition between films and between contributing nations and societies attempting to reinvent, redefine, or reimagine their socio-cultural identities in a cosmopolitan sphere. Chan echoes this sentiment, stating that as sites of exchange, international film festivals operate as “spaces that regulate—in accordance with various social, economic, political, and cultural forces—what is allowed to flow through it” (253). Additionally, these regulatory spaces became increasingly influential after World War II; as film scholar Michael Baskett posits, the “number of international film festivals dramatically proliferated throughout the 1950s,” and these festivals “replaced international fairs as showcases in which nations and regions competitively displayed their artistic and technological standards” (6). If we consider the dual nature of international film festivals presented thus far—sites that encourage cultural exchange yet also mediate and force both an outward and inward view from their contributors—we may better understand how mid- to late-twentieth-century international film festivals functioned for a specific nation such as Japan on an international scale.
International film festivals offer one lens by which to explore the role cinema plays in Japan’s sociocultural reinvention. Japanese films that circulated during the postwar period are often analyzed primarily through their narrative content or perhaps according to specific cinematographic distinctions as identified through specific auteurs. Accounting for the potential to showcase industrial prowess and advancement alongside projections of soft power that international film festivals enabled, however, opens up postwar cinematic texts to new interpretations that help trace power relations throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Coming out of World War II, Japan remained under US occupation from 1945 [End Page 46] to 1952. Along with sweeping American influence across the nation, the Japanese film industry experienced varying levels of censorship and control from American forces operating in the nation. As Donald Richie notes, “most aspects of [Japan’s] wartime civilization were under scrutiny, and this included the cinema,” and because of such scrutiny, “viewers were therefore seeing a new kind of Japanese film” (107) during the American occupation. Rigorous restrictions against showing positive associations with feudalism or pre– and post–Meiji Restoration nationalism limited and shaped what Japanese directors could present to a culturally shattered public.
In addition to occupation censorship and content restrictions, Japanese studio systems had to reconfigure and reconceptualize their approach to reach a postwar audience with very different concerns, anxieties, and desires as studio executives moved away from a state-controlled body engaged with propaganda and with advancing both colonial efforts and militaristic engagements throughout Asia and the Pacific. In addition to these sorts of restrictions, Japan also became an important locus for Western—and more specifically, US—economic and military influence in the region, especially in opposition to Soviet influence spreading across other parts of Asia. Therefore, occupied Japan was rather quickly rebuilt with the aid of US intervention in an attempt to establish a Western-influenced bastion against the spread of communism in Asia. Scholar Sangjoon Lee notes that “together with America’s aid and an ever-flourishing Japanese economy with the help of the currency exchange rate policy, and by the...