Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Moving history: The Great Kanto Earthquake and film and mobile culture in interwar Japan
by Lewis, Diane Wei, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2011, 226; 3472896
Abstract (Summary)

The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake was not only a catastrophic natural disaster, it was one of the defining cultural and political events of Japan's early-twentieth century. The earthquake amplified a sense of emergency about modern culture, its loose morals, a volatile urban crowd, and the influence of commercial entertainment and materialism on cultural values and national polity ( kokutai). This "mobile culture" was defined by rapid transformations in Japan's physical and human geography as well as the perceived instability of modern life.

My dissertation examines transitional Japanese cinema against the rapid cultural and geographic transformations in which it played a part, paying special attention to the shocks of the earthquake and the new, transient cultures that modernization produced. Silent film scholars like Komatsu Hiroshi and Aaron Gerow have already carefully documented the forces that made film Japan's most popular mass entertainment by the late 1920s. By focusing on non-pure film aesthetics, my study offers an alternative history to centripetal narratives that trace the assimilation of foreign film styles, "internalization" of film narration, and standardization of industry practices. My readings explore what Gerow has suggested we might call the "bodily modernities" of film and mobile culture, in contrast to the "visual modernity" promoted by the Pure Film Movement.

Chapter One analyzes the body in Mizoguchi Kenji's lost Expressionist film Blood and Soul (1923) as a metaphor for aesthetic strategies that resist "purification." I compare the film text to the reform-era film bodies of the onnagata (female impersonator) and new film actress—both excessive "bodies too much" that indexed the ongoing revision of film practices as well as contradictions in reform film discourse. Chapter Two relates earthquake documentaries to contemporary mass media that theatricalized city space. Chapter Three analyzes earthquake melodrama films in relation to bodily representations of trauma and first-person descriptions of the quake. Chapters Four and Five, on ballad films and "aspiring actress" discourse, examine how representations of suffering women's bodies foregrounded the uneven geography of modernization and the commercial image culture it produced.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Raine, Michael
Commitee: Bourdaghs, Michael, Gunning, Tom
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Cinema and Media Studies
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 72/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian Studies, Film studies
Keywords: Earthquake films, Great Kanto Earthquake, Interwar period, Japan, Mobile culture
Publication Number: 3472896
ISBN: 978-1-124-86852-3
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