Just as in many other countries, cinema, within a short time of its emergence, became the most popular entertainment in modern Japan. Mindful of this, the Japanese government tried to turn the country's film industry into an arm of its propaganda machine to support its imperial program, especially the military component. This began with Japan's invasion of the Chinese continent in 1931 and lasted through the end of World War II in 1945. How did Japan's private film studios respond to such governmental efforts? How did wartime Japanese cinema manage to strike a balance between being entertainment and political texts? What are the characteristics of Imperial Japan's wartime film culture, and how are they different from the counterparts in other countries? Was the campaign to support war via movie productions in Japan successful, in terms of providing seamless propagandistic messages? What kind of legacy has the wartime film culture left in contemporary Japan and East Asia?
In order to answer these questions, this course explores film culture of Imperial Japan and its territories during the wartime era, spanning roughly from the early 1930s through 1945. We will watch wartime films, and at the same time examine the ways in which the film culture coexisted along with other forms of visual propaganda practice and political discourses. While probing how the films reflect the "virtues" of wartime conservatism, patriotism, perseverance, and self-control, this course will explore topics that include the propaganda culture of wartime Japan as a whole, Nazi propaganda and Japan, cultural films, monumental cinema, films featuring Japan-China or Japan-Taiwan romances, children-centered films, "kokumin eiga," films of volunteers and Japanese Spiritism, "Military Mothers" and gender, and the defeatist aesthetics and cracks in Imperial Japanese cinema. While we will for the most part watch and discuss films directed by the Japanese of mainland Japan, including such prominent directors as Mizoguchi Kenji and Kurosawa Akira, the films produced in the Japanese colonies of Korea, Taiwan, and Manchuria--whether independent productions or collaborative efforts--will also be examined. Film production in colonial Korea, in particular, was quite vibrant, relative to the cinematic output of Taiwan and Manchuria. We will observe how the films made in Japan's colonies joined the empire-wide filmic war-mobilization campaign, presenting their own justifications for war cooperation. Ultimately, this course will ask what kind of relationship Japanese cinema has had with the state and Japanese nationalism during the mid-century of Japan's tumultuous modern history.