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One Wonderful Sunday: Censorship, context and ‘counter-discursive’ film

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    Vili Maunula

    With the author’s permission, I would like to share with you Rachael Hutchinson‘s essay titled Kurosawa Akira’s One Wonderful Sunday: censorship, context and ‘counter-discursive’ film, which appeared in Japan Forum in November 2007.

    You can download the essay as a pdf file.

    Rachael is an Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Delaware Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures. Personally, I think that from all published treatments of One Wonderful Sunday, Rachael’s is easily among the best out there.

    I uploaded the article with discussion in mind, so please feel free to comment on it. And for anyone who may be wondering, let it be mentioned I had the opportunity to read Rachael’s paper only after writing my own piece on the film a couple of weeks ago. I’m just mentioning this because there is a certain level of overlap between the two. (Which may be why I so like Rachael’s paper. :razz:)

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    Ugetsu

    I have to show my ignorance here I’m afraid – could someone please explain what ‘counter-discursive’ film means? 😳

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: could someone please explain what ‘counter-discursive’ film means?

    I think that for the purposes of the article you could substitute it with “film critical of the occupation”, and you wouldn’t be too far off.

    The term “counter-discursive” is one of those handy terms that communicate quite a lot for certain people, but which can of course confuse others. The term comes, I think, from Michel Foucault. It’s been ages since I delved into that particular world, but it’s a bit like this (at least as far as I can remember, and based on a quick check to make sure that I don’t talk complete nonsense):

    According to Foucault, those in control of information in our lives (be it our parents, the media, the government or whatever) are in control of the “discourse”. This discourse shapes our world view and our behaviour. For every discourse, however, there is also a counter-discourse, which challenges it. If a counter-discourse gains enough visibility, it can begin to change the prevailing discourse, or even take its place.

    There is a whole lot more meaning behind that term (a whole system discussing what is truth, morality, knowledge, power, etc.) and I don’t claim to understand most of it, as I have never really read Foucault. But what I offer above is I believe the basic setup, most relevant to the essay here. In the case of One Wonderful Sunday, the discourse would be the type of society promoted by the occupation government, while the film is, in Hutchinson’s view, an example of counter-discourse, which seeks to challenge it. Therefore, the film is “counter-discursive”.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks for clearing that up, Vili! A very clear and succinct explanation. I assumed that was the meaning from reading the article but I wanted to make sure I hadn’t got it badly wrong.

    It is a very interesting article and I agree absolutely with the central argument (as Vili has already written in the introduction to this film), that One Wonderful Sunday is not the cute little humanist love story that most critics seem to think it is – although I came across this older review by the NYT that hinted at the social criticism. Perhaps I’m again misunderstanding this type of academic article, but it does seem to take rather a lot of words to say, in effect, that the film is quite subversive, but Kurosawa got away with it by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely‘. Apologies to the author if I got that wrong!

    I hope when we finish this cycle of early Kurosawa films (roughly, Tigers Tail to Stray Dog), we get a chance to discuss all the immediate post war Kurosawa work – I’m increasingly convinced that these films are far more important than has been appreciated up to now, largely I think because Kurosawa himself contributed to the idea that they weren’t really up to the standard of his later films. I think Kurosawa was engaged in a very specific, subtle and detailed criticism of both Japanese society and the Occupation under the guise of popular genre work.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hi Ugetsu,

    I wonder, if indeed, our author Rachel Hutchinson is taking a lot of space to say

    …’the film is quite subversive, but Kurosawa got away with it by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely’

    I think she is questioning a simple binary official sanction/subversive view. Here’s what she says about a binary-focal point in discussing the film, and her desire to forge a different path:

    Terms such as ‘discourse’ and ‘counter-discourse’ are binary in nature, lending

    an equally binary cast to discussions of the censorship process. However,

    both terms are merely useful tools to discuss social interactions and power dynamics.

    In the case of Occupation censorship of Japanese films, ‘discourse’ and

    ‘counter-discourse’ are represented by ‘Occupation forces’ and ‘Japanese filmmakers’,

    where both sides coexist, are complicit with each other and are complex

    entities in their own right. Both groups are made up of factions and individuals,

    each with their own aims, motivations and problems, who may be at odds

    with each other at any time. The human specifics of social power give the lie to

    a monolithic, all-powerful ‘discourse’ which artists must meet with either resistance

    or compliance. (my emphasis) Perhaps a better way to think of censorship is in terms of inter-discursive space, where negotiation and complicity are the norm. (my emphasis again).

    When I look at lawless’ thread “In Search of a Theme” on this film, that’s what I see our friends intuitvely doing-finding different relative degrees of negotiation and complicity within character storylines in relation to the social choices presented, and evaluating the weight of each, and evaluating what that communicates.

    I return time and again to one over-arching idea about Kurosawa’s motivations and his films: He had a simple idea about making a statement, but his statements always become complicated (Rich! Interesting! Valuable!) in the process of creation and most particularly via his taken-to-heart edict “not to look away”. The energy Kurosawa invests in looking gives weight to complicated situations, emotions and ideas.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: Perhaps I’m again misunderstanding this type of academic article, but it does seem to take rather a lot of words to say …

    I actually think that this is one of the strong points of Hutchinson’s paper. It takes its time to back the argument with good references. It may seem overkill for some of those familiar with most of the references, but I greatly appreciate every footnote. Also, even if her overall view point is largely similar to what we have been saying this month, it is also one that at least I have not seen in other publications on the film.

    Ugetsu:… rather a lot of words to say, in effect, that ‘the film is quite subversive, but Kurosawa got away with it by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely’.

    Like Coco points out, I think that this is actually not really what the paper is trying to say. In fact, it is saying pretty much the opposite.

    Like Coco mentioned, there are complexities involved with Kurosawa’s works. I think that Hutchinson negotiates these complexities, as well as those of the occupation era, better than many other writers, many of who tend to see anything corresponding to censorship wishes as non-artistic and submissive, while others label Kurosawa as anti-American because of the critical eye through which he looks at the occupation era, while yet others see his cinematic style as making him a “western” director. And so on. Hutchinson argues for a little more shades of grey, and warns us about making these binary assumptions about postwar films or the workings of the occupation censors. Rather that positing that the only way for a subversive film like One Wonderful Sunday to get past the censors would have been “by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely”, she is arguing that the censorship process itself was more nuanced and complex than is usually portrayed in the literature.

    This, I think, is a very healthy observation, and it also shows that a film, when approached from different contexts, can be read very differently, and that that those different readings may well be intended as coexisting within the film.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco:

    You highlight the following line:

    The human specifics of social power give the lie to

    a monolithic, all-powerful ‘discourse’ which artists must meet with either resistance

    or compliance

    while I would highlight the line after:

    Perhaps a better way to think of censorship is in terms of inter-discursive space, where negotiation and complicity are the norm.

    which, I would suggest, is a rather more elegant way of saying exactly what I said, i.e. that

    the film is quite subversive, but Kurosawa got away with it by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely

    But of course yes, I did speed read the article and I was more than a little glib in my summing up. Its just that I work in the regulatory sector, so the notion that ‘negotiation and complicity are the norm’ are no surprises to me!

    Vili

    ike Coco mentioned, there are complexities involved with Kurosawa’s works. I think that Hutchinson negotiates these complexities, as well as those of the occupation era, better than many other writers, many of who tend to see anything corresponding to censorship wishes as non-artistic and submissive, while others label Kurosawa as anti-American because of the critical eye through which he looks at the occupation era, while yet others see his cinematic style as making him a “western” director. And so on. Hutchinson argues for a little more shades of grey, and warns us about making these binary assumptions about postwar films or the workings of the occupation censors. Rather that positing that the only way for a subversive film like One Wonderful Sunday to get past the censors would have been “by sucking up to the right people and making sure no American censors got to look at it too closely”, she is arguing that the censorship process itself was more nuanced and complex than is usually portrayed in the literature.

    I got something rather different – that it was a two way street – the censors being more subtle and more contradictory that is assumed, but also that Kurosawa (whether by design or good fortune), was a good enough politician to negotiate the obstacles. The article does, after all, strongly imply that Kurosawa knew he had won ‘credit’ with No Regrets for our Youth and was able to use this to get One Wonderful Sunday past the censors with the sort of cursory look that meant the more subversive elements were overlooked.

    I don’t disagree at all that the author does a very good job (and probably necessarily tortuous in the context) of showing the complexity of the situation at the time. But it is more the fault of other writers who tend to assume there was a simplistic binary division at the time that such an observation is necessary.

    And I would repeat that I agree that the article is excellent in its analysis of the film itself – far better than most others I’ve read (Vili’s summation excluded).

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    Vili Maunula

    You make good points, Ugetsu. And maybe I misunderstood your original comment slightly. In the end, I don’t think that there is much of a disagreement between our readings of the article.

    Ugetsu: Its just that I work in the regulatory sector, so the notion that ‘negotiation and complicity are the norm’ are no surprises to me!

    That’s a good point. Maybe it’s the old problem of the “other”. We (well, most of us) just do not understand the workings of the bureaucratic machine, and as a result it comes across as a very frigid and inflexible entity. And I think that this is also how the occupation censorship is typically portrayed.

    Maybe what we would need is a book that actually tells us about the individuals who worked as censors during the era. To put a face on the whole thing, so to speak.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I’m not quite as willing as Vili to get comfortable with the phrase “sucking up to the right people”, because ithat doesn’t indicate the nuances. I work in a major University-an academic beauracracy.The other side of the coin is that in the daily working life it is indeed an inter-discursive space with negotiation and complicity playing a role. Just ask our union.

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    I’m not quite as willing as Vili to get comfortable with the phrase “sucking up to the right people”, because ithat doesn’t indicate the nuances. I work in a major University-an academic beauracracy.The other side of the coin is that in the daily working life it is indeed an inter-discursive space with negotiation and complicity playing a role.

    Well, of course I was being a little too flippant with this, but this is very much what I got from Hutchinsons interesting analysis of No Regrets for our Youth, such as when she quotes Hirano: Hirano suggests:

    As may be guessed from the foregoing description of of the films themes, the idea for No Regrets for Our Youth may have originated within CIE itself, or if not, within a company very conscious of and responsive to this occupation agency’s suggestions

    and later discusses Kurosawa’s surprise and delight at its reception by the Occupation censors. I would interpret the conclusion that

    In contrast to reading Kurosawas filmmaking as ‘compliant’ with external demands, I would therefore argue that Kurosawas strategy should be seen in terms of creativity, working within and around the guidelines to achieve the maximum freedom of expression.

    Kurosawa would have been aware of the need for being on the right side of the right people. I always had the impression from his autobiography that he was very much a pragmatist in his dealings with authority (notwithstanding his many famous clashes with the studios). A successful one too, if you contrast him with Mizoguchi, who was never trusted by the studios or censors, so never managed to get the artistic freedom Ozu and Kurosawa won for themselves.

    BTW, I’ve read Hutchinsons paper a second time, and I realise now I did read through it a little too fast – its far richer than I realised at first, lots of excellent scholarship in it – so apologies for my glib earlier comments.

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    lawless

    I don’t have anything to add to this discussion, but I wanted to thank Vili for making the article available to us. It makes for interesting reading.

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    lawless

    Now that I’ve watched No Regrets For Our Youth, I can see how its anti-militarist and anti-war, pro-freedom stance brought Kurosawa enough goodwill that either the censors didn’t examine the content of One Wonderful Sunday implicitly (and explicitly) criticizing the conditions of the Occupation carefully or gave him more latitude than they would have given another filmmaker, as discussed in the article.

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