Japanese Film Workshop (Meiji Gakuin University): “A Bellflower in America: Women’s Education and Cinematic Diplomacy after the Manchurian Incident.”

Please join us for the next meeting of the Japanese Film Workshop at the Shirokane Campus of Meiji Gakuin University on Wednesday, October 26th from 6 to 8 PM . The venue will be in a different room from our last few meetings, in *room 7405* (across the hall from where the workshop was held previously), on the 4th floor of Hepburn Hall (the tall building attached to the main building).

The Japanese Film Workshop is open to all and welcomes participants from any discipline.  Directions from stations and the campus map can be found at: http://www.meijigakuin.ac.jp/campus/shirokane/index_en.html.  Following the presentation and discussion, we will reconvene at an area Izakaya to continue the conversation.  We look forward to seeing you there!

This time the workshop will feature a presentation by Andrew Leong titled “A Bellflower in America: Women’s Education and Cinematic Diplomacy after the Manchurian Incident.”

Presentation Abstract:
Following the Manchurian Incident of 1931, Japanese consulates and immigrant leaders in the United States embarked on a campaign of “people’s diplomacy” (kokumin gaiko) aimed at converting overseas Japanese into popular diplomats for the Empire. Throughout the 1930s, Japanese-language film distributors in the United States linked themselves to the people’s diplomacy campaign by arguing that film could serve as a means to educate American-born Nisei about the history, culture, and foreign policies of the motherland. Thus informed and mobilized, Nisei could become effective advocates for Japan abroad. Young Nisei women, in particular, were seen as key figures in the people’s diplomacy campaigns. If Japanese film could win the hearts and minds of Nisei women, these women could in turn, win the hearts and minds of the American public.

Although there have been general historical studies about Japanese-language film and people’s diplomacy in the United States, there is still a lack of detailed analyses of how these campaigns worked in practice. This presentation draws from the screening notes of Takeshi Ban (1884-1956), a Congregationalist minister, benshi, and film distributor responsible for presenting hundreds of films to Japanese American audiences during the 1930s. I focus in particular on his commentary around screenings of Tsuriganeso (The Bellflower, Shinko Cinema, 1935). Based on a bestselling short story written by Yoshiya Nobuko (1896-1973), Tsuriganeso provides an object case of the contradictions inherent in people’s diplomacy and cultural education efforts directed at Nisei women. Japanese scholars have previously examined how Tsuriganesao and other films based on Yoshiya’s girl’s stories rely on “double-coding” where ostensibly sentimental films about pure-hearted girls also encode critiques of Japanese patriarchy and heterosexual marriage. The screenings of Tsuriganeso in the United States raise another set of questions about how these forms of double-coding would have been read, or interpreted for and by Nisei women.

Andrew Leong is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. His dissertation, The Stillness of the Migrant, examines figures of stagnancy and stasis in literature produced by Japanese travelers and immigrants to the United States prior to 1938. His translations of Nagahara Shoson’s Lament in the Night and The Tale of Osato, two novels written and published in Los Angeles during the mid-1920s, are forthcoming from Kaya Press.

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