Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, vol. 2, no. 1 (2013)

Transcolonial Film Coproductions in the Japanese Empire: Antinomies in the Colonial Archive


Editor’s Introduction
Guest Co-Editors Takashi Fujitani (University of Toronto) and Nayoung Aimee Kwon (Duke University), 1

For decades following Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, scholars and film critics avoided or largely ignored the study of Japanese-Korean film coproductions. In large part due to the difficulty of placing such films comfortably within the linear narrative of national history and the story of a presumed national subject, Korean scholars and critics in the immediate
postwar and postcolonial decades tended to discount and disregard films produced during much of the colonial period, especially the wartime years….

Collaboration, Coproduction, and Code-Switching: Colonial Cinema and Postcolonial Archaeology
Nayoung Aimee Kwon (Duke University), 10

This article reassesses the issue of colonial collaboration in the Japanese
empire by examining the rise of cinematic coproductions between Japanese and Korean filmmakers. By the late 1930s, colonial Korea’s filmmaking industry had been fully subsumed into the Japanese film industry, and regulations were established that required all films to assimilate imperial policies. The colonial government’s active promotion of colonial “collaboration” and “coproduction” between the colonizers and the colonized ideologically worked to obfuscate these increasing restrictions in colonial film productions while producing complex
and contentious desires across the colonial divide. The very concepts of “collaboration” and “coproduction” need to be redefined in light of increasingly complex imperial hierarchies and entanglements. Taking the concept of “code-switching” beyond its linguistic origins, this article argues that we must reassess texts of colonial collaboration and coproduction produced at a time when
Korean film had to “code-switch” into Japanese—to linguistically, culturally,
and politically align itself with the wartime empire. The article argues that recently excavated films from colonial and Cold War archives, such as Spring
in the Korean Peninsula
, offer a rare glimpse into repressed and contested histories and raise the broader conundrum of accessing and assessing uneasily commingled colonial pasts of Asian-Pacific nations in the ruins of postcolonial aftermath.

One Film, or Many?: The Multiple Texts of the Colonial Korean Film Volunteer
Jaekil Seo (Kookmin University), 41

Until recently, studies on films from colonial Korea in the Japanese empire had to rely primarily on secondary texts, such as memoirs, journal and newspaper articles, and film reviews. The recent discovery of original film texts from archives in Japan, China, Russia, and elsewhere and their availability on DVD format, prompted an important turning point in the scholarship. However, juxtaposing these newly released DVD versions with other archival sources exposes significant differences among the existing versions of texts. For instance, a newly discovered script reveals that important segments are missing in the recently released DVD version of the propaganda film Volunteer. There also exist important discrepancies in the dialogue among the original film script, the actual film version, the synopsis, and the Japanese subtitles. Some of the Korean-language dialogue, which might be interpreted as exhibiting some ambivalence toward Japanese imperial policies, was completely silenced through strategic omissions in the Japanese-language subtitles targeting Japanese audiences. Some Japanese-language translations of the script also exhibit drastic changes from the original Korean-language dialogue. Piecing together such fragmented and fraught linguistic dissonance found in the colonial archives, we can conjecture that viewers from the colony and the metropole of Volunteer may have consumed very different versions of the film. This article aims to examine the significance of such dissonance, which has only recently become audible in so-called films of transcolonial coproduction.

Subverting Ethnic Hierarchy?: The Film Suicide Squad at the Watchtower and Colonial Korea
Naoki Mizuno (Kyoto University), 62

In the film Suicide Squad at the Watchtower (1943), the appearance of a Korean female physician carries with it the potential to subvert the film’s representation of the colonial ethnic hierarchy. The film’s director, Ch’oe In-gyu, had in his earlier film Homeless Angels presented the edifying message that a Korean female orphan could aspire to become a physician. This message was also incorporated into Suicide Squad at the Watchtower. In these two films the story of a Korean woman who studies to become a physician (or at least desires to become one) unfolds through the same actress, Kim Sin-jae. The suggestion that a Korean could achieve a social position equal to or even higher than a Japanese introduced the possibility of subverting the colonial ethnic hierarchy. But while the screenplay for the film had explicitly portrayed the female physician, the film version suppressed the representation, making it less evident. Nevertheless, it is possible to see Suicide Squad at the Watchtower’s enlightened message as an element with the potential to upset the ruling colonial order.

The Colonial and Transnational Production of Suicide Squad at the Watchtower and Love and the Vow
Naoki Watanabe (Musashi University), 89

This article places two Japan-Korea collaboration films produced during the Pacific War—Suicide Squad at the Watchtower (Bōrō no kesshitai, 1943) and Love and the Vow (Ai to chikai, 1945)—within the broader colonial and transnational context of filmmaking. Specifically, it focuses on the relationship
of these films to the careers of their co-directors, Imai Tadashi (1912–1991)
and Ch’oe In-gyu (1911–1950?). At the same time, the article shows how cinematic and cultural conventions such as the bildungsroman and the “Victorian empire film,” which are more commonly associated with cultural production in the modern West, can, with appropriate adjustments, be fruitfully used to understand the power and entertainment value of these films. Suicide Squad at the Watchtower portrays a joint Japanese-Korean police squad controlling the border between Manchuria and Korea and its service to the Japanese empire; Love and the Vow is a story about a Korean orphan boy who, after interviewing the family of a kamikaze pilot, is inspired to become an imperial soldier himself. These two films were joint projects between Tōhō Film in Japan, where Imai was employed, and the Korean Motion Picture Production Corporation, the only film production company in colonial Korea (and the company into which all Korean film production companies had been absorbed during the war).

Between Ideology and Spectatorship: The “Ethnic Harmony” of the Manchuria Motion Picture Corporation, 1937–1945
Sookyeong Hong (Cornell University), 116

Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Manchuria
Motion Picture Corporation (Man’ei) was established in Manchukuo. Aiming to be the “Hollywood of the Orient,” Man’ei operated as the only legitimate film corporation in Manchukuo, and its activities included all aspects of local film production, distribution, and exhibition. Studies of Man’ei have tended to describe its activities as part of the colonial project unilaterally implemented
by Japanese officials and ideologues. However, the negotiations and contestations involved in the Man’ei project render any simple interpretations impossible, especially within the broader historical and political context of the Japanese empire. This article explores how the theme of “ethnic harmony” (minzoku kyōwa) became the core issue for Man’ei and how its attempted filmic expressions ended up uncovering the complexity and predicament involved in the problem of spectatorship. Li Xianglan (Ri Kōran), Man’ei’s best-received transcolonial movie star at the time, represented the multiple ethnicities of Manchukuo; however, it is less well known that her “mainland romance films” were considered inappropriate for audiences in Manchukuo (Mankei). This article will complicate earlier assumptions and show that the theme of “ethnic harmony” came to be marginalized, while entertainment films presumably acceptable to the Mankei audience came to centrally preoccupy the feature films of Man’ei.

Negotiating Colonial Korean Cinema in the Japanese Empire: From the Silent Era to the Talkies, 1923–1939
Chonghwa Chung (Korean Film Archive [KOFA]), 139

This article examines what I call a “system of cooperation” (K. hyŏp’ŏp, J. kyōgyō, 協業) in the colonial Korean film industry from 1923, when silent films appeared, to the late 1930s, when colonial cinema was restructured within an imperial wartime system. In other words, this article examines the interworking of colonial Korean and imperial Japanese cinema from Yun Hae-dong’s “colonial modern” perspective in order to go beyond the long established lens on colonial Korean film and film historiography that merely focused on the contributions of colonial Korean filmmakers. Here the author rather focuses on the cooperation or collaboration between Japan and Korea: Japanese directors and cinematographers working in Korea, Korean filmmakers with experience in the Japanese apprenticeship system, and filmmakers working together and independently during the silent film era. During the transition from the silent to the early talkie eras, second-generation filmmakers, especially those who trained in film studios in Japan, were significant. They dreamed of the corporatization of the colonial Korean film industry and took the lead in coproductions between Japanese film companies and their colonial Korean counterparts. Korean filmmakers were not unilaterally suppressed by imperial Japan, nor did they independently operate within the Korean film industry during the colonial period. The Japanese in colonial Korea did not take the lead in forming the colonial Korean film scene, either. The core formation of colonial Korean/ Korean film was a process of Korean and Japanese filmmakers in competition and negotiation with one another within a complex film sphere launched with Japanese capital and technology.


Knowing Society, Cultivating Citizens, and Making the State in Post-Imperial China
A Passion for Facts: Social Surveys and the Construction of the Chinese Nation- State, 1900–1949, by Tong Lam and Guilty of Indigence: The Urban Poor in China, 1900–1953, by Janet Y. Chen
reviewed by Robert Culp (Bard College), 171

Governmentality in Late Colonial Korea?
Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II, by Takashi Fujitani and Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876–1945, by Jun Uchida
reviewed by Henry Em (Yonsei University), 183

Mortuary Practices, Buddhism, and Family Relations in Japanese Society
Bonds of the Dead: Temples, Burial, and the Transformation of Contemporary Japanese Buddhism, by Mark Rowe and Nature’s Embrace: Japan’s Aging Urbanites and New Death Rites, by Satsuki Kawano
reviewed by Nam-Lin Hur (University of British Columbia), 194

Re-envisioning the Chinese Cityscape: Tabula Rasa and Palimpsest
Mao’s New World: Political Culture in the People’s Republic, by Chang-tai Hung and Painting the City Red: Chinese Cinema and the Urban Contract, by Yomi Braester
reviewed by Jie Li (Princeton University), 202