Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Review: Censorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan

Censorship of Japanese FilmsCensorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan explains the basics of occupation era censorship, gives an interesting interpretation of Ozu, but offers quite little in terms of new Kurosawa scholarship. Somewhat recommended.

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, is the latest English language Kurosawa book to make its way to the bookshops on the eve of 2010, Kurosawa’s centenary year. Sorensen is a Danish postdoctoral Film & Media Studies research fellow from the University of Copenhagen, and may be familiar to many readers from the video essay that he recorded for Criterion’s Drunken Angel.

Censorship of Japanese Films is a revised version of the author’s PhD dissertation. It is consequently fairly academic in its delivery, which among other things means that it has a relatively well defined thesis that it defends throughout, giving the book a comparatively good, solid structure that makes it easy to read. This thesis argues that the typical “good winners, good losers” narrative, which sees the Japanese as having graciously accepted their defeat in World War II, is faulty, and that visible rebellion against the occupying Americans can be found, including in the films released during the occupation. The book consequently sets out to show exactly how directors like Ozu and Kurosawa managed to smuggle in anti-occupation sentiments despite the ongoing censorship.

The book begins with Stephen Prince‘s foreword, which is just over two pages in length and pretty much works as an overall description of the contents. It could in fact have been shortened and printed on the back cover, which now only includes a picture of the author and the publisher’s logo.

In his own introductory chapter (pages 1-33), Sorensen notes that earlier English language film criticism has had the tendency to treat Japanese films as “text”, therefore “ignor[ing] the active meaning-making process of the contemporary audience” (8). Sorensen calls for an approach which is more centred on the question how the intended contemporary audiences may have received and interpreted the works. In addition to this overall approach, Sorensen references reception theory, cognitive film theory and cognitive philosophy, concluding that “the theoretical and methodological basis of this work rests on socio-cognitive theory” (10-11). Now, as the book is basically a dissertation, and therefore a text whose primary purpose at the time of writing must have been to earn the author his doctorate, there is some amount of what could be called “academic exhibitionism”, or referencing of theoretical and scientific frameworks that could well have been left out had Sorensen not needed to quite so overtly display his knowledge of the subjects discussed. Fortunately this abundance of theories, as so often is the case, is by and large limited to the introductory chapter, and if the mentioned theories are actually put into practice later on, it is done without much fanfare or notice of the fact (and I actually have some background in socio-cognitive theories). All in all, the book therefore reads well, is never dry or drowned in empty academic complexities, and the discussion is pleasantly easy to follow in spite of supposedly resting on specific theoretical frameworks.

Chapter two (pages 35-83) sets out to compile the profile of an average Japanese post-war film goer, or “Moe-san”. Sorensen references a handful of contemporary studies that give interesting data about the age and sex distribution of audiences of the era: for instance, we get to know that a study conducted in 1950 found that a total of 82% of film goers in Tokyo were 16-30 years of age, and that 16-25 year old men and women were equally active film goers, but from older audiences men were the majority. (37) Other surveys tell us that more than half of the film goers were either students or company employees (the number of unemployed film goers declined as years passed and the economy grew), although data from rural areas is somewhat lacking. (37-38)

As most film goers belonged to a relatively narrow profile group, this gives Sorensen an excellent opportunity to draw a more in-depth picture of Moe-san; his or her educational background, overall wartime experiences, as well as relationship with the media can all, argues Sorensen, be reconstructed based on the film goers’ average age. While the result is certainly a very generic picture (and Sorensen never pretends his profiling to be more than that), this exercise is extremely interesting for someone like me who has often asked the question what the target audience of Japanese post-war films may have been like, but has had no way of answering that question. Although there is only so much that Sorensen can do within the space given, I would for this chapter alone recommend Censorship of Japanese Films for anyone interested in post-war Japanese cinema.

Chapter three (pages 85-112) moves onto the actual censorship, explaining the dual system of film censorship that took place under the American Occupation, where work was divided – not always smoothly, Sorensen tells us – between the two separate bureaucratic bodies of Civil Information & Education Section (pre-production censorship) and Civil Censorship Detachment (post-production censorship). The chapter ends with a brief look at Japanese censorship after the Occupation, which continued to be heavily influenced by Occupation time practices.

In hindsight, I would have liked this chapter to be longer and more detailed. In fact, considering the book’s title, I feel that this chapter should have been the centre piece of the book, yet Sorensen gives it surprisingly little space, and consequently the reader is left without fully understanding the day-to-day workings of the two censorship bodies. In my view, this chapter could therefore easily have done with more historical examples and anecdotes of censorship practices to better illustrate the system. It would also have been helpful had Sorensen better described the state of the censorship documents today, where they are kept, in what kind of conditions, and how much scholarly work has actually been done on them, both in Japan and abroad. Now, all these questions remain unanswered.

Chapter four (pages 113-181) turns to Yasujiro Ozu. Sorensen starts the chapter by giving us a brief introduction to earlier Ozu criticism, and then suggests that “[t]wo aspects of Ozu’s works go almost entirely unnoticed and unmentioned” by earlier writers, namely “that Ozu’s occupation films were censored by the CI&E and the CCD” and that Ozu “appears to have engaged in a sustained effort to problematize and/or criticize the impact of westernization on Japanese society”. (117) This is a statement that Sorensen is, in my view, able to back fairly well, and all in all the Ozu chapter is very interesting reading even for someone like me who has only a relatively superficial knowledge of the director and his (major) works.

Although the chapter focuses primarily on Ozu’s 1949 film Late Spring, a good number of other wartime and post-war projects are also given a treatment, primarily with the intention of helping with the interpretation of Late Spring, which Sorensen claims to be the most interesting of Ozu’s post-war films, as it on the first look appears to comply with the occupation censorship’s recommendations, but on a closer look does not actually do so. The approach here appears thorough, and Sorensen certainly looks at Late Spring from several angles, considering censorship documents, individual drafts, as well as films and unfilmed scripts preceding Late Spring, in addition to a typical close reading of the film itself. In fact, going through Sorensen’s treatment of Ozu gave me the impression that Ozu’s body of work is highly interconnected, with later films referencing earlier ones on both concrete and metaphorical levels. If Sorensen is right, these works perhaps cannot be fully appreciated without a fairly holistic approach like the one employed here. The chapter also gains tremendously from observations derived from the censorship archives, including notes pencilled by censors on the synopses and drafts submitted by Ozu.

Chapter five, the longest of the book’s six chapters (pages 183-305), sets to do with Kurosawa what the preceding chapter did with Ozu. The Kurosawa that Sorensen describes is a director who collaborated with wartime Japanese censors and created pro-war propaganda works (especially through his scripts for other directors), while further associating himself with wartime ideals through many of his predominantly nationalistic friends. Once the war ends and the American occupation begins, Kurosawa – or so Sorensen argues – makes films that criticise the Americans and draws inspiration from the pre-war days and nationalistic ideals.

I have two problems with this assessment. One is that Sorensen is not able to provide enough hard data to back up his claims, interesting as they may be. Moreover, and even more importantly, I feel that Sorensen looks at Kurosawa from too polarised an angle, interpreting criticism of post-war changes as Kurosawa being anti-American and pro-tradition, rather than simply questioning the types of changes that were being made and wondering whether better alternatives might exist. Sorensen also argues, despite Kurosawa’s own account to the contrary (see Kurosawa’s autobiography, p.144), that Kurosawa had more problems with occupation censors than he had had with the wartime Japanese ones, and that the director was consequently in constant conflict with the Americans. Yet, Sorensen is unable to produce any significant documentary proof for this claim, and is then furthermore forced to suggest that some of Kurosawa’s supposedly anti-American films made it through censorship solely because of internal confusion in the bureaus.

In addition to a general overview of Kurosawa’s occupation films, Sorensen has chosen four of Kurosawa’s post-war films for detailed discussion: No Regrets for our Youth (26 pages), Drunken Angel (35 pages), Stray Dog (15 pages) and Rashomon (21 pages). Many other Kurosawa films are also referred to in the discussion, some of which only in passing, others in more detail. Considering Sorensen’s chosen topic, his scope and selection of films is good.

Sorensen’s treatment of No Regrets for our Youth attacks typical approaches to the work, which tend to describe the film as a “democratization film”. Sorensen’s own take is that the movie is in fact quite critical of the then-ongoing political and educational changes. His arguments are interesting, yet not always entirely convincing. Meanwhile, no censorship records unfortunately appear to exist for the film, giving us very little idea what the actual discourse with the censorship bodies may have been.

The following section on Drunken Angel is more interesting, and is much helped by existing censorship records that Sorensen peruses. Yet, I cannot really say that Sorensen here either convinces me with his take on the film, which argues for an anti-American interpretation, with westernised gangsters and traditional values. In his view, Drunken Angel is also an example where American censors in unintentionally made the film more anti-American through the changes that they requested, especially due to the change of ending.

Sorensen furthermore feels a strange need to quite prominently argue against the typical view of Drunken Angel as the first film where Kurosawa was able to realise his own vision (following Kurosawa’s comment in Richie, p.47: “It was my picture. I was doing it and no one else.”), insisting that with the presence of Kurosawa’s co-writer Uekusa, all the meddling by censors, and Mifune’s focus-shifting tour-de-force performance, “this film was not ‘only made by Kurosawa'” (270), as if any film could be the work of just one man.

Sorensen’s treatment of Stray Dog continues the search for Kurosawa’s alleged anti-American sentiments. Now, while Sorensen’s interpretations of Kurosawa’s films are throughout the book strongly influenced by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto’s Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, this chapter is particularly indebted to the work. Sorensen takes Yoshimoto’s treatment as his starting point, and then asks the vital question how much of the textual references an average film goer of the era could have picked. This is a good question, but one that Sorensen does not necessarily fully answer. He does, however, offer a few additional observations about the film’s textual pattern as well as a few notes about the film’s history with the censors, but ultimately the section on Stray Dog has fairly few truly new insights.

The book’s chapter on Kurosawa concludes with an interpretation of Rashomon, which is perhaps the most interesting and convincing of Sorensen’s takes on Kurosawa. Sorensen first notes that the character of Tajomaru can be seen as “a sort of oni, or ogre, of Japanese folklore, which has often been interpreted as a representation of the foreigner” (296; quoting Davidson). What this can potentially mean becomes clear a few pages later when Sorensen introduces the Japanese word rashamen, which is a derogatory term used for Japanese women who are mistresses to foreign men. As Sorensen points out, it was no secret that many American soldiers had such mistresses; in fact, in 1946 “roughly 40% … had a Japanese girlfriend while stationed in Japan”. (300) Sorensen also goes on to note that according to the Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, “the reality of the rashamen gave name to a subgenre in the postwar years of films that treated relationships between Japanese women and American men: the ‘rashamen genre'”. (300) The idea of Rashomon as a ‘rashamen film’ would certainly cast new light onto the rape/seduction scene at the centre of the story, while also giving an explanation why Kurosawa insisted on building the Rashomon gate in the first place (which, as Sorensen notes, is as if hit by a bomb).

Sorensen’s chapter on Kurosawa therefore ends on a high note. Still, one relatively big problem with the chapter as a whole is that it ultimately has very little direct material connection with censorship, and has far more to do with Sorensen’s underlying argument that Kurosawa’s works were inherently anti-American, and therefore anti-censorship. It consequently seems to me that this chapter is somewhat misplaced in a book about censorship practices in Japan, and would rather belong to a book with more generic interpretations of Kurosawa’s works.

The chapter on Kurosawa also includes a number of small factual errors, such as calling Ishiro Honda “Inoshiro Honda”, claiming that Kagemusha was Honda’s last collaboration with Kurosawa (198), or noting that the only generally available English friendly release of No Regrets for Our Youth is the poor quality Mei Ah version (210), although Criterion’s release (from the Postwar Kurosawa box set) has been available for almost two years now. It is possible that this last mentioned bit was written before the Criterion box set was announced, but considering that the book was published just now, this would have warranted at least a footnote, as now it gives the impression that Sorensen has not done his homework, casting doubt on other claims that I have no way of cross-checking.

Speaking of errors, the book could also have done with an extra round of proof-reading, as many typographical, typesetting and language errors remain on the pages. These are never troublesome enough to become a real problem for the reader, but I did have to start a few sentences more than once before realising that the reason why the sentence seemed funny was because of a missing or misplaced glyph. What is somewhat more disappointing than the occasional typo is that not all of the sources mentioned in Sorensen’s footnotes appear to be listed in the book’s bibliography.

What follows the Kurosawa chapter is the book’s concluding chapter (307-324), which summarises the discussion, while also briefly touching new topics. My own conclusion is that the strongest parts of Censorship of Japanese Films are the ones where Sorensen deals with documentary evidence, and as such I would have liked to have seen more discussion of the censorship system itself. Many of Sorensen’s film interpretations meanwhile seem somewhat too eager to jump into preferred conclusions, tempting as those conclusions may appear.

In summary, I would definitely recommend Censorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan: The Cases of Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa to anyone interested in post-war Japanese cinema and contemporary censorship. To my untrained eye, the chapter on Ozu also seems very well written. As for the book’s Kurosawa criticism, there are certainly occasional gems in there, but there is also much of what has already been said elsewhere, and a fair amount of what I personally deem somewhat weak argumentation (but as always, this may well mean that I simply fail to understand).

Consequently, if price is an issue and Kurosawa is your sole reason for considering this book, I would perhaps wait for a cheaper paperback edition, which will hopefully see a publication sooner or later (there are no guarantees, of course). But if price is not an issue and you want to keep your Kurosawa collection complete, Sorensen’s book is certainly not only a must-have, but also capable of igniting discussion.

Lars-Martin Sorensen’s Censorship of Japanese Films During the U.S. Occupation of Japan: The Cases of Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa is now available in bookstores, including Amazon.com ($119.95) and Amazon.co.uk (£74.95). If you have read the book, drop a line or two in the comments section to let others know what your opinion of it is, and whether you agree with anything that I have written here!


Discussion

  link

NoelCT

The Kurosawa that Sorensen describes is a director who collaborated with wartime Japanese censors and created pro-war propaganda works […]

Am I the only one who found THE MOST BEAUTIFUL to be a subversive criticism of the system of the time, with most of the propaganda aimed at the women who suffered through it? Granted, my interpretation may be off because all I have are the mangled subtitles of the Mei Ah version.

or noting that the only generally available English friendly release of No Regrets for Our Youth is the poor quality Mei Ah version

There were also a couple good VHS versions that used subtitles from a limited Janus release. Janus, of course, is one of the main partners of Criterion.

– –

It sounds like an interesting book but – and here I must stress that I’m not a scholar of either Kurosawa or Japanese culture/history – I just don’t buy the whole theory of “Kurosawa saw America as bad, Japan as good”. As one can tell from simply watching his films, his views are never that clear cut, and I gather from watching them and reading his memoir that he both liked and disliked a broad range of elements of both cultures and, if anything, was criticising the way post-war Japan took a knee-jerk plunge into Westernized society without taking the time to absorb it properly and weed out the good from the bad.

  link

Jeremy Quintanilla

Another fantastic review.

Does Sorensen source his information as to the processes, procedures, and goals of the CIES?
Such information is virtually non-exist today, after America’s withdraw from complete oversight, a great deal of information was destroyed, as standard procedure to prevent potential threats from future enemies learning American tactics in reform of conquered. Long before Freedoms of Information Act or the like requiring such information be stored, and released on request. Must information not coming from the Japanese, comes from the Council for Japan, to which Australia maintain a small amount of information(they acted on behalf of Britain) as well as tidbits from Russia, to whom too was a member of this council.
In around 1992 America release what bits that had left, not a great deal of information was giving, but it reflects that of what Kurosawa mentions in his book(as Vili points pg. 144). I would be in utter shock that Sorensen has discovered information that I too have not seen. While not to try to elevate myself to Sorensen’s scholar, it is too interesting to ignore what appears to be Sorensen’s complete contrast to Japanese film directors themselves comments of the censorship.
The only heavy conflicts were openly pro-militarism, anti-American directors that fought against, and attempted uprisings against the Americans. There were about 230 of these films, that America banned, and reported destroyed. However this was not the case, all these films remained 4 copies of each, and were sent to the U.S. Library of Congress, and later I think in the 1980’s were giving back to Japan’s government.
And with great effort, expense and time, I have seen 5 of these films in completion and roughly 11 in bits. These films are clearly not trying to show an artistic principals but rally a war effort. There ban was in my view, clear reason.
Films outside obvious propaganda did remain for some time(my research- right up to 1960), as the propaganda became better hidden, and outside what America could catch easily.

It too is very important to wonder what points of the occupation Sorensen look for as his proofs. Upon, first start of the occupation, General Douglas MacArthur, did indeed halt quickly and censor heavily Japanese arts. As the director Mizoguchi points out many times, Japanese film directors pre-occupation had their own censorship board, that required a certain amount of propaganda to be had or else these directors risk going to the front lines of war. A look into Ozu show a more extreme example. MacArthur in fear that a continued amount of propaganda would exist even during occupation, issued the complete halt.
The harshness of the the censor was reduced down however in short time, as America got a better concept to the situation. MacArthur not being well educated in the arts, employed Faubion Bowers as his aid in all things Japanese art related. Bowers, was appalled by the censorship, and with MacArthurs approval really opened up the abilities of the Japanese arts, which many directors sighting a new freedom of expression from the opposition of the Japanese government. (The book “The Man Who Saved Kabuki: Faubion Bowers and Theatre Censorship in Occupied Japan” does a dive into Bowers).
One can look towards Ichikawa during occupation to see how many directors without pressure from America displayed their own censorship to reduce the pro-militarism of early films. Ichikawa’s remake of ‘Yukinojo Henge’ is fantastic example of Japanese directors taken quickly to the ability to rid themselves of militaristic concepts of the past.

Having seem every Kurosawa film numerous time, and reading hundreds of books about the occupation, but while admitting no scholar in any subject, find it incredibility hard, perhaps even ridiculous to think Kurosawa in anyway was anti-American, or pro-wartime Japanese concepts. Kurosawa certainly showed some negative effects of America’s occupation, but did so with the respects, he showed the dangers of Japan militarism.

While likely inappropriate: find me one book in the last 10 years, from the University of Copenhagen, that isn’t critical of all things American, or convincing the rest of the world they are really anti-American, or at least should be.

  link

Ugetsu

Sounds an interesting book, but I would be very dubious about the thesis that Kurosawa was more anti-occupation than Ozu. I really don’t see that in his films, while a resentment towards Americans is quite overt in Ozu films, especially the ones of the later 1950’s.

  link

Ugetsu

Oh, I forgot to say – well done to Vili for an excellent summary of the book – I find these summaries very useful. Saves having to buy them!

  link

Vili Maunula

Jeremy: Does Sorensen source his information as to the processes, procedures, and goals of the CIES?

Sorensen mentions two previous works as having helped most with his own investigation: Kyoko Hirano’s Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation 1945-1952 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Marlene Mayao’s “Civil Censorship in Japan” (published in Mayao & Rimer, Americans as Proconsuls, Southern Illinois University Press, 1984).

In addition to these two, Sorensen references many related memos, letters and archive material that give us hints about the internal workings of the two bureaus, as well as exchanges between them. These, apparently, come from two main sources: the National Archives and Records Administration collection (I assume this place), and a microfiche collection of documents edited by Makoto Iokibe, titled The Occupation of Japan (Parts I, II & III).

Not knowing the nature of these sources or what other possible sources there could be, it is difficult for me to judge how well Sorensen makes use of whatever tools and sources are currently available for someone conducting research like his.

Jeremy: The only heavy conflicts were openly pro-militarism, anti-American directors that fought against, and attempted uprisings against the Americans.

While Sorensen doesn’t actually attempt to compile a full list of things prohibited and encouraged in occupation cinema (which I think would have been very interesting), he claims that there were a number of subtle things that censors were concerned about. Kissing was to be encouraged on screen. Use of the Latin script was discouraged. References to suicide were a no-no. As were any references to the presence of the Occupation. There were numerous such small things (which Sorensen mentions here and there, as appropriate to the discussion), and Sorensen argues that directors like Ozu and Kurosawa often went against these restrictions in very creative ways, the directors even going as far as making use of the fact that films were being censored, and the fact that the target audience already knew that they were seeing censored products.

Censorship, therefore, was more about tweaking things than outright banning stuff. The occupation’s emphasis, or so I get from Sorensen, was in helping directors comply with the restrictions, rather than simply telling them what they can’t do. Some of the changes suggested by occupation censors (usually in pencilled marks next to the script or synopsis) are even quite creative, I would say.

Jeremy: While likely inappropriate: find me one book in the last 10 years, from the University of Copenhagen, that isn’t critical of all things American, or convincing the rest of the world they are really anti-American, or at least should be.

Perhaps indeed somewhat inappropriate. I never got the impression that the book is Anti-American, or that Sorensen judges the American censorship in any way. He never seems to congratulate (or denounce) Ozu and Kurosawa either for their alleged anti-American sentiments. It is not a book about who was right or who was wrong — the emphasis is strongly on “what happened”, as it should be.

Ugetsu: I would be very dubious about the thesis that Kurosawa was more anti-occupation than Ozu.

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly there. Sorensen argues that Ozu was very anti-occupation himself, and went to great creative lengths to get his message across despite the censorship. The reason why I concentrated on Kurosawa so heavily is that that’s what I know about, and that’s what my focus with the website is (not that Ozu discussion is in any way discouraged, on the contrary!).

  link

Ugetsu

Vili

Perhaps I did not express myself clearly there. Sorensen argues that Ozu was very anti-occupation himself, and went to great creative lengths to get his message across despite the censorship. The reason why I concentrated on Kurosawa so heavily is that that’s what I know about, and that’s what my focus with the website is (not that Ozu discussion is in any way discouraged, on the contrary!).

Ok, I’ve re-read what you wrote and I realise I misinterpreted what you said. I’d like to read Sorensens arguments but I do find it hard to believe there was much overt or covert anti-Americanism in any of Kurosawas work – although of course he was deeply concerned at the direction Japanese society was taking after the Occupation. But to me he always focused his attacks on Japanese structures and never blamed outside elements for anything he didn’t like about Japan. I don’t know if the book mentions it, but I think it was Mellen who quoted Ozu who implicitly compared Kurosawa to makers of tawdry kimono’s for western tourists, so certainly Ozu didn’t agree that AK was anti-American.

Chapter two (pages 35-83) sets out to compile the profile of an average Japanese post-war film goer, or “Moe-san”. Sorensen references a handful of contemporary studies that give interesting data about the age and sex distribution of audiences of the era: for instance, we get to know that a study conducted in 1950 found that a total of 82% of film goers in Tokyo were 16-30 years of age, and that 16-25 year old men and women were equally active film goers, but from older audiences men were the majority. (37) Other surveys tell us that more than half of the film goers were either students or company employees (the number of unemployed film goers declined as years passed and the economy grew), although data from rural areas is somewhat lacking. (37-38)

This is really interesting – its something I’ve always been curious about. I am surprised though as I always had the impression that the jidai geki and domestic drama genres were aimed at a more mature and more female audience (in the DVD extra’s for various Mizoguchi films I have it is emphasised that he was instructed to capture what was seen as an expanding female audience – implicitely in competition with Ozu and Naruse) – I assumed that the main impact of TV was to take away the older audience group, leaving the juvinalisation of Japanese cinema. If those figures are right, then it was only by a matter of degree.

The book’s chapter on Kurosawa concludes with an interpretation of Rashomon, which is perhaps the most interesting and convincing of Sorensen’s takes on Kurosawa. Sorensen first notes that the character of Tajomaru can be seen as “a sort of oni, or ogre, of Japanese folklore, which has often been interpreted as a representation of the foreigner” (296; quoting Davidson). What this can potentially mean becomes clear a few pages later when Sorensen introduces the Japanese word rashamen, which is a derogatory term used for Japanese women who are mistresses to foreign men. As Sorensen points out, it was no secret that many American soldiers had such mistresses; in fact, in 1946 “roughly 40% … had a Japanese girlfriend while stationed in Japan”. (300) Sorensen also goes on to note that according to the Japanese film critic Tadao Sato, “the reality of the rashamen gave name to a subgenre in the postwar years of films that treated relationships between Japanese women and American men: the ‘rashamen genre’”. (300) The idea of Rashomon as a ‘rashamen film’ would certainly cast new light onto the rape/seduction scene at the centre of the story, while also giving an explanation why Kurosawa insisted on building the Rashomon gate in the first place (which, as Sorensen notes, is as if hit by a bomb).

This is really interesting! The more I read about Rashomon, the more convinced I am that it is maybe the most intellectually challenging and interesting of all his films. If you pair up this analaysis with Martinez’s intepretation of Rashomon as being ultimately about post war guilt, then a picture emerges of a film that is an allegory for the whole post-war society – dealing simultaneously with Japanese guilt over its atrocities and aggression, its horror at the changes being inflicted upon it, and in a very Kurosawa way, attempting to see a way out (accepting the innocence of an orphaned child and the need to care for it). Maybe (if this isn’t stretching things too much), then Kurosawa’s insistance that Michiko Kyo portray her character as a cat is his view of Japan – manipulative and aggressive as a cat can be, but, following its ‘rape’ by the conquerer, striking out and twisting the truth in an attempt to evade responsibility for its actions.

  link

Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: I do find it hard to believe there was much overt or covert anti-Americanism in any of Kurosawas work – although of course he was deeply concerned at the direction Japanese society was taking after the Occupation. But to me he always focused his attacks on Japanese structures and never blamed outside elements for anything he didn’t like about Japan.

That is more or less my interpretation as well, and Sorensen’s arguments to the contrary didn’t really convince me, as they came for the most part from Kurosawa’s films, i.e. the same primary source from which I have constructed my own view of the situation. Had Sorensen been able to put something new on the table, for instance more detailed censorship documents backing his claims, it would have been a different story. And that in fact is my main criticism of the book — the Kurosawa chapter just doesn’t quite seem to have that much to do with censorship, and more to do with Sorensen’s interpretations of Kurosawa’s films.

Ugetsu: I don’t know if the book mentions it, but I think it was Mellen who quoted Ozu who implicitly compared Kurosawa to makers of tawdry kimono’s for western tourists, so certainly Ozu didn’t agree that AK was anti-American.

I at least don’t remember reading that in the book, but that’s an interesting point.

Ugetsu: I always had the impression that the jidai geki and domestic drama genres were aimed at a more mature and more female audience

Sorensen does note that some films obviously were more directed at a certain group than others. His specific example is that “Ozu catered to the tastes of an older audience with more females than the action and crime films of Kurosawa, some of which were explicitly intended to attract young people”. (39) It is somewhat unfortunate that Sorensen doesn’t explore this further and go on to discuss the degree to which films were actually specifically targeted at certain groups. It would be interesting to see some hard data about these things, although it may well be that non exists.

Ugetsu: The more I read about Rashomon, the more convinced I am that it is maybe the most intellectually challenging and interesting of all his films.

For me, the more I read (and think) about Rashomon, the more I fear (hope?) that also the other films are just as complex and intellectually challenging, and that we haven’t yet even begun to fully unravel their contradictions and internal puzzles. Rashomon is very “in your face” about the problems that it discusses. Many other Kurosawa films seem to be almost as complicated and hold as many potential interpretations — they just do it more subtly.

But the rashamen interpretation is certainly interesting, and like you said, if merged with Martinez’s take, a picture of a real “post war film” begins to emerge. Good call on the child, too. This all could also explain why both Kurosawa and the studio bosses were puzzled that Rashomon won at Venice. Obviously, if you have been making the film explicitly with the Japanese situation in mind, the fact that someone in Italy might understand it is baffling. The point would of course be that they didn’t understand it, and that the intended meaning was interpreted very differently, and on a more universal level.

Which would of course be more than appropriate for a film that problematises the entire notion of a fixed interpretation.

  link

Ugetsu

Vili

Sorensen does note that some films obviously were more directed at a certain group than others. His specific example is that “Ozu catered to the tastes of an older audience with more females than the action and crime films of Kurosawa, some of which were explicitly intended to attract young people”. (39) It is somewhat unfortunate that Sorensen doesn’t explore this further and go on to discuss the degree to which films were actually specifically targeted at certain groups. It would be interesting to see some hard data about these things, although it may well be that non exists.

The only information I’m aware of on how the films were targeted for audiences is from the various DVD extras by Tony Rayns on the Masters of Cinema Region 2 releases of Mizoguchi’s 1950’s films. He mentions several times that Mizoguchi was specifically instructed to make films for a female audience – it was believed that in the post war years there would be a major increase in women going to the cinema. I can’t recall which studio he worked for at the time, but Rayns implies that they were specifically going after this audience. I think we can sometimes forget just how sophisticated the marketing and audience research was at the time, its not just a modern invention. I wonder if the information that the studios compiled on their audiences was not preserved, or if it just hasn’t occurred to anyone to do a study on this. I guess studying the nature of the audience goes against the autuerist model of film criticism.

Rashomon is very “in your face” about the problems that it discusses.

Do you think so? I’ve found it fascinating to read just how many different interpretations there are of the film. I find it really interesting to see how many completely different ways there are of seeing the film – which I think was Kurosawas intention.

  link

Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: I wonder if the information that the studios compiled on their audiences was not preserved, or if it just hasn’t occurred to anyone to do a study on this.

Indeed, studio data on this topic would be fascinating reading. Both studies that Sorensen gives details from are university studies conducted in Tokyo, although he does mentions that the studies are in line with other similar studies (but doesn’t give information as for which ones).

Vili: Rashomon is very “in your face” about the problems that it discusses.

Ugetsu: Do you think so?

Let me word that differently. Rashomon very much draws attention to the fact that it is an intellectually complicated film (and that it has something in particular to do with interpretation). Other Kurosawa films don’t do this anywhere near that level. In fact, many of them work really well as simple action or crime flicks, even when they actually have an equally complex underlying intellectual discourse going on.

Which, to me, is the beauty of Kurosawa.

  link

Jeremy Quintanilla

Vili: Sorensen mentions two previous works as having helped most with his own investigation: Kyoko Hirano’s Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation 1945-1952 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992) and Marlene Mayao’s “Civil Censorship in Japan” (published in Mayao & Rimer, Americans as Proconsuls, Southern Illinois University Press, 1984).

And having read Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo, Hirano’s sources come largely from unclassified documents from the U.S., that were released between 1990-1992. To which surely not all, but most have been read by me as well. Hirano mentions the changes in propaganda to be effective, but too subtle for the Americans to catch, and how someway the American fueled the propaganda with their censors. This I have little doubts about, however no such documents even come close to declaring such statements. Hirano too, to what appears Sorensen as well, draw a conclusion that is not even mention in these documents.
As for the collections of Makoto Iokibe, his works are quite easily located, and details of Japanese diplomacy of the 1950s is fantastic to say the least. But besides listing some suggestions, as mention: kissing. There is nothing else other then to be expected-non-allowance of resistance, and superior race ideals.
None of which American ever tried to hide, namely the increase affection towards women was something American proud itself on, as they are often considered one of the key builders to Japan’s women liberation of the 1970’s.

Not to come off as defensive of an opinion, but the backing of such opinions presented in Hirano, and Sorensen comes supposedly from documents, that if one read for themselves, has little information to form opinions of conflict.
It is simply too curious to where suggestion of conflicts come from.

Vili: and Sorensen argues that directors like Ozu and Kurosawa often went against these restrictions in very creative ways, the directors even going as far as making use of the fact that films were being censored, and the fact that the target audience already knew that they were seeing censored products.

I have no room to debate this, but in regards of the audience knowing about the censorship, I would find hard to confirm, and entirely depended on the location. To the contrary, America appear to be extremely careful not to make a large presence. The entire goal was for Japan to rebuild itself through anyway it thought fit, but under American over-watch. American presence to the general population was large in Tokyo, as Tokyo had no infrastructure in tact, but outside the center of Tokyo, you simply have to read journals, books, from Japanese people of the time, stating that American lack of presence and knowing to the general public often encourage small splinter cells of militarism to form. Lack of their development was offer due to the Japanese being so wary of war, oppose to American involvement. Another aspect of America avoiding getting too entangled, to which the Japanese felt none of their involvement was large spawning of black-markets, that often exhibit the crimes that brought Japan into WWII.

My anti-America statement was in poor choice, but the siding of America lacking the intelligence to understand the situation they find themselves in, mainly those involving war, as well as suggesting key figures thought similarly, are common place at the University of Copenhagen. This is however likely highly irrelevant to the conversation.

  link

Lewis Saul

Vili you’re amazing …

I really can’t wait til I have time to get back here on a regular basis. Just so ridiculously pressed right now…

Finally ordered Nogami’s book. Can’t wait!

Hope you’ve had a moment to check out my AK posts

  link

Lewis Saul

Jeremy — LOVE your avatar!

  link

Davood Moradian

Im an Iraniam film maker, I want a way to conect to this writer, Can you help me?

  link

Vili Maunula

Hi Davood! What a coincidence, just a few days ago I noticed that Lars-Martin Sørensen is one of the editors of the Journal of Scandinavian Cinema. There’s a recent call for papers document which lists his email address towards the end.

I hope this helps!

Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!