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Currently playing at the AK film club: Princess Mononoke (Miyazaki 1997)

New Kurosawa Book: Censorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan

Censorship of Japanese FilmsThe publication date for Lars-Martin Sorensen’s new book Censorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan: The Cases of Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa was supposed to be October 30, but both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk already list the book as “in stock”, although the former only has one copy left, and the latter notes a 10-13 day dispatch window.

As the title indicates, the book investigates how Japanese cinema was affected by and dealt with film censorship during the post-war American occupation of Japan (1945-1952). More specifically, the author concentrates on the cases of Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa. The product description reads:

The introduction discusses the prevailing narrative of the relationship between victors and vanquished, which has the Japanese in the role of the good losers and the Americans in the role of the good winners. This powerful historical discourse of the benevolent occupation rubbed off on film historical writings.

As a consequence, the analysis of resistance in the occupation films of Ozu and Kurosawa is virtually nonexistent. Since meaning is made by movie-goers, I present a general outline of the interpretive framework peculiar to Japanese audiences during the occupation in chapter two. Subsequently, the history, structure and daily practice of U.S. censorship is described.

The analysis of films, film criticism, and censorship documents on Ozu’s and Kurosawa’s films show that both directors repeatedly probed the limits of censorship, at times dodged censorship and frequently managed to denounce the occupiers and their imposed modernization. Ozu’s resistance was especially concerned with the status of women in contemporary Japanese society. Kurosawa continued to foreground many of the nationalist themes of his wartime propaganda films in his occupation films, and tended to dress his criminal characters up as westerners with the presumable intent to denounce both the occupiers and those Japanese who embraced the ways of the occupiers.

Finally, the book argues that Kurosawa’s international breakthrough, “Rashomon” (1950), lends itself to an interpretation bordering on anti-Americanism by the contemporary Japanese audience.

Based on the description above, I am certain that the book will generate some discussion here! As I have not yet received my copy, I cannot comment further.

Lars-Martin Sorensen (actually “Sørensen”, but I’ll go with the publisher’s version) is a postdoc research fellow at the Section of Film & Media Studies, University of Copenhagen. According to the author blurb, he has published numerous articles on Japanese film, is a co-editor of the peer reviewed film journal Kosmorama, and a member of the steering committee of the Nordic Association for the Study of Contemporary Japan (NAJS). Meanwhile, the book’s foreword is written by none other than Stephen Prince.

Full contents list:

  • Foreword by Stephen Prince
  • Acknowledgements
  • 1. Introduction
    Sources and structure of this volume
    Aims and methods
    The ‘180-degree thesis’
    Historical and theoretical perspectives
    Occupation film studies
  • 2. Framing the occupied mindset: the core audience
    The audience – age, sex and profession
    Schooling
    Military training
    The news media
    Film
    The case of Japan in Time of Crisis
    Indoctrinating associations
    The user’s perspective
    Internalization or public transcript?
    Perspectives for the analysis of the occupied cinema
    The key models
  • 3. Players in the arena of censorship
    The practices of censorship
    CI&E and CCD, cooperation and conflict
    The ‘opening hours’: popular sentiment mirrored?
    Ways and means of subversiveness
    The transition to Japanese censorship
  • 4. Directing the national family: the occupation films of Yasujiro Ozu
    Ozu studies: A question of style
    A sustained critique
    Ozu’s wartime films
    Record of a Tenement Gentleman
    A Hen in the Wind
    A pilot balloon for Late Spring?
    Late Spring
    Contemporary critical response
    Synopsis
    Manuscript
    The film versus the scenario
    A structure of places
    Characterization by means of beverages, food, and seating
    Repetitions and differences
  • 5. No regrets for whose youth?: the occupation films of Akira Kurosawa
    Kurosawa and wartime censorship
    Ambiguous wartime collaboration?
    Father-son relationships on and off screen
    Hard work as the best patent of nobility
    Kurosawa’s occupation films: an overview
    No Regrets for our Youth
    Plotline
    Factual background for the fiction
    A democratization film?
    The use of history
    Cinematic duplicity
    Drunken Angel
    The plotline of the censored film
    The synopsis
    The first manuscript
    The revised script and the film
    The birth of a new motif
    Westernization as denunciation
    Administering the dos and don’ts
    The audience
    A tug-of-war
    Stray Dog
    The synopsis
    Yoshimoto’s analysis
    Viewing Stray Dog
    The third way
    Rashomon: an interpretation
    Recontextualizing the reception
    Adaptation, adjustments, and allusions
  • 6. Narrowing the concentric circles: results and perspectives
    Results
    Why this late?
    Sameness and difference
  • Bibliography
  • Index

As mentioned earlier, both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk seem to already sell the book. As it is a hard cover academic publication, the price is fairly steep however. While I have no official confirmation, a paperback edition is most probably forthcoming in about six months to a year or so.

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