AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 116

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Session 116: Subjectivity and Cultural Power: Shifting Gender/Sexual/Ethnic Identities in Modern Japan

Organizer: Noboru Tomonari, Carleton College, USA

Discussant: Michael K. Bourdaghs, University of Chicago, USA

The production of modern national identities does not occur in isolation, but within the context of larger transnational cultural flows. This panel proposes that subjectivities and cultural artifacts in modern Japan require a more complex and equivocal understanding of the inter-relationship of gender, sexual, linguistic, and ethnic identities. Each paper explores texts that not only reveal, but deftly manipulate, such entangled boundaries. Deborah Shamoon’s paper re-examines the play of ethnic identities in American-style musicals produced in Japan in the early postwar era, as seen through movie musicals starring Kasagi Shizuko and Takamine Hideko. Yuko Shibata’s research argues how boy-on-boy love in shōjo manga from the 1970s to the early 1990s demonstrates a matrix of female sexuality of that era by exposing imaginary lesbianism and the incest taboo between mother and daughter. Brett de Bary’s paper seeks to shift attention, in discussions of linguistic boundary-crossing in Tawada Yoko’s writing, from “East-West” to inter-Asian cultural difference. She considers the depiction of Japanese/Vietnamese relationships in several of Tawada’s texts. Noboru Tomonari’s paper discusses the flux between visual images and ethnic identity in Matsue Tetsuaki’s documentaries and how that pertains to male Zainichi Korean subjectivity in Japan. Building on each other’s insights, the panelists discuss how identity is formed against a background of competing national and gender identities, and provide instances in which divergences and discrepancies within various narratives may constitute sites of regulation and/or emancipation.

Kasagi Shizuko, Takamine Hideko and the Uses of Imitation in Occupation-Era Japanese Movie Musicals
Deborah Shamoon, National University of Singapore, Singapore

Kasagi Shizuko's hit song "Tokyo Boogie-Woogie" (1947) is often noted for being an early postwar example of Japanese imitation of American musical forms. However, Kasagi encompassed competing local and international discourses: unlike "monomane" singers who directly imitated American singers, Kasagi's origins in Osaka remained a fixed part of her star identity, and she often sang lyrics in the Kansai dialect. While elements of her stage act represent the exotic, Westernized, sexualized body, Kasagi's persistent use of Kansai dialect pulls her towards a strongly localized Japanese identity. This paper will examine this local/foreign discourse in two Occupation-era musicals, as an example of what Michael Taussig calls "mimetic excess," when the imitator ignores the distinction between copy and original. Ginza Kankan Musume (Ginza Cancan Girl, 1949), costarring Kasagi Shizuko and Takamine Hideko, stages the domestication of exotic musical forms as Kasagi's more outrageous persona is contrasted to the more sedate Takamine. These themes appear again in Karumen kokkyō ni kaeru (Carmen Comes Home, 1951), again starring Takamine, but this time as a striptease artiste who brings her titillating performance to her rural home village. The film satirizes the clash between the new forms of entertainment (both singing and striptease), embodied in Carmen's stubborn insistence that the villagers see her performance as art. Both films stage the mimetic excess of the songs themselves: the Japanese "copy" of American musical forms exceeds the original, unconcerned with authenticity or context, and rather than resisting the hegemony of American culture, instead revises appealing elements to suit local interests.

The Incest Taboo and the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Shojo Manga
Yuko Shibata, University of Otago, New Zealand

This paper explores what kind of sexuality shonen-ai or boy-on-boy love in shojyo manga may represent by exploring the link between imaginary lesbianism and the incest taboo between mother and daughter. Many critics point out that shonen-ai is a means for young female readers to approach their sexuality through the fantasization of vicarious relationships performed by boys. The paper examines to what extent the imaginary lesbianism between mother and daughter, ostensibly effaced from shonen-ai representations, may also be a constituent of the structure of fantasy, pleasure, and prohibition. To this end, the paper takes up two arguments about lesbianism: one brought forward by Judith Butler and the other by Takemura Kazuko. Butler theorizes a melancholic structure of gender, and its relationship with both the relinquishment and the preservation of the object, as well as with heterosexual/homosexual incest. Takemura reformulates Butler’s theory by emphasizing that the melancholic structure of woman’s heterosexuality is produced by the incest taboo between mother and daughter, rather than by the homosexual taboo at large. Through a reading of works by Yoshida Akimi, Takemiya Keiko, and Hagio Moto, the paper considers that if the affection and repudiation of mother is fundamentally part of an “impossible” love between mother and daughter, precisely where in this matrix one possibly encounters a mother figure. Additionally the paper investigates historical backgrounds in which these manga comics were produced: the period of high economic growth and the bubble economy from the 1970’s to the early 1990’s

Yôko Tawada Goes to Vietnam: Tourism and Speech Acts in Front of Trang Tien Bridge
Brett de Bary, Cornell University, USA

With her self-professed interest in the literary experience of “exophony” (ekusophonii, or “traveling outside the mother tongue”), the writer Tawada Yôko has increasingly attracted attention of theorists concerned with translation, the transcultural, and the transnational. Indeed, many of Tawada’s Japanese/ German writings represent translation as a form of salutory adventure or travel, in which linguistic and spatial disorientation productively overlap. Such readings situate Tawada’s fictional journeys against the background of European high modernist literary practices, whether it be the Surrealist deployment of dream-language and the trouvaille or Brechtian/Benjaminian effects of shock and defamiliarization. This paper explores a facet of Tawada’s writing that has received less attention: its negotiation of the complex boundaries of inter-Asian difference. It argues that in works like “Chantien bashi no mae nite” (“In Front of Trang Tien Bridge”), Tawada’s travel motif cannot simply be explicated as a form of high modernist aesthetics, but exposes a more ambivalent relationship to travel as tourism. The narrator’s journey through Vietnam is a succession of ephemeral encounters, in languages she does not speak well, with Vietnamese and Americans. Can a history (Japanese colonialism, the Vietnam War) accessible only through tourism be encountered as anything other than a surface without depth? From Tawada’s exophonic perspective, how do we understand the politicality of the touristic encounter as speech act--- a fleeting yet overdetermined linguistic, cultural, erotic, and economic exchange?

Sex, Lies, and DVDs: The Documentaries of Matsue Tetsuaki
Noboru Tomonari, Carleton College, USA

My paper discusses the flux between visual images and reality and how that pertain minority male self-identities in Japan; issues that Matsue Tetsuaki (1977-), a Zainichi Korean filmmaker, focuses on in his works of documentary. Matsue was born and raised in western Tokyo and he is a naturalized Japanese citizen. Matsue’s first work Annyong Kimchee (Annyon kimuchi, 1999) is an autobiographical documentary film that explores his Korean ethnicity, largely through the portrayal of his late grandfather. After Annyong Kimchee, Matsue’s works evolved into depicting sexualities of young men and women in the margins of Japanese society. He came to work within the pornographic AV (Adult Video) industry, and identified with its aspect of documentary making. His next film Sekirara (2004) again explores the issue of ethnicity this time through the genre of AV, while acknowledging the fundamental opaqueness of the identity issue. His more recent film The Virgin Wildsides (Dōtei. o purofairu, 2007) focuses on sexualities and identities of two young Japanese men who suffer from inferiority complexes. He situates being male virgins as the basis of their self-understanding. Matsue brings the fluctuation between fiction and reality, of fiction becoming a reality (and vice versa) very much to the forefront of his films. He sees fixation on visual images and the making of images positively, and depicts them as ultimately having a transforming effect on the subjects of his films. His documentaries make explicit the issues pertaining identity construction and subversion for minorities in Japan.