P35. The Atemporal Savage: Racialized Images in Modern Japanese Discourse

Session: Session 5, 10:15 – 11:45 am, Saturday 9/30

Category: Organized Panel

Location: Lincoln

Chair: Kevin McKiernan(University of Minnesota)

Paper Presenters: Kevin McKiernan(University of Minnesota), Nicolas Audet(University of Minnesota)

Abstract: Twentieth-century Japanese media texts and theory are full of references to and assertions of the savage and primitive. Whether through colonial photographs or discussions about the French-Brazilian film Black Orpheus, the image (eizō) has been a key way of disseminating and imagining racial categories in both the imperialist (1868-1945) and post-imperialist (1945-present) periods. We show that colonized people of the imperialist period and Black Brazilians within the film culture of postwar Japan were relegated to a premodern space. Formulations of the “savage” trope in both periods are fluid, moving between Takashi Fujitani’s formulations of “vulgar” and “polite” racisms in their articulations of the “Other.” By framing the trope of the savage across both periods, we critique the racialization of the savage as a feature of modernity, exposing how its logic haunts eizō discourse. We locate this racialization in images to explore the racial beyond historicist arguments, addressing how race is mediated throughout the modern period. Photography was integral in documenting the savage and asserting racial difference in the interconnected fields of anthropology and racial science. It was adapted from the 1920s onwards to the “polite racism” of a multiethnic empire during the movements of cultural rule and imperialization. In order to legitimize the turn towards the possibility of cultural sameness in a multiethnic, yet unequal, empire, the savage was mediated to allow for proximity to Japanese identity. The racialized photographic subject was therefore captured in a more sympathetic, yet constantly unequal, position. Continuing in this vein, critics in 1959 saw Black Brazilians in Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus as harboring a primitive “Black energy.” Thinkers as politically disparate as Mishima Yukio and Hanada Kiyoteru admired the film for its reminders of an atemporal past, marked by strange religious rituals and pulsating Black bodies. However, Okada Shin critiqued Hanada’s idea of “Black energy,” arguing he followed Camus’ utilization of Black Brazilians to reveal a nostalgia for the primitive. Dissatisfied with the imperialist vestige of the “primitive,” the call of Okada and others for more racially nuanced films directly challenged the preconceived racist orthodoxy that undergirded Japanese media discourse throughout the modern period.

The Beginnings of a Cinematic Dialogue: Black Brazilians in the Japanese Intellectual Imagination

Speaker: Kevin McKiernan
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Minnesota
Abstract: A year after winning the Palme d’Or, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus was at the center of a vibrant film theory culture in Japanese film magazines. Analyzing the significant amount of writing on Black Orpheus, we can see the mixing of both “vulgar” and “polite” racisms in how Japanese critics and theorists discussed Black Brazilians. While writings about the film noted the poverty that Black Brazilians faced, the vulgar racism inherent in the “savage” trope persisted in writings about Black Orpheus. Indeed, this idea pervaded writings from across the political divide. From the firmly right-wing Mishima Yukio to mainstay leftist philosopher Hanada Kiyoteru, many Japanese critics believed that a “primitive” enthusiasm undergirds the film. This “Black Energy,” as Hanada calls it, is inherently coded as primitive, accentuated by how Hanada noted that the dilapidated houses in the majority Black favela reminded him of Edo long houses. Black Brazilians are forever cast in the past. Nevertheless, contemporaneous accounts began to diverge from these prevalent views of race. Directly responding to Hanada’s idea of Black Energy, Okada Shin declares that Camus was merely using Black Brazilians to reveal a nostalgia for the primitive. Other critics echoed Okada and began to feel dissatisfied with the way white people were depicting Black lives. Rather than easily consumed films, their call for more nuanced films was a harbinger of much greater calls for solidarity that were prevalent later in the 1960s.

Examining Japanese Imperial Anthropology’s Racial Imagery

Speaker: Nicolas Audet
Role: Paper Presenter
Institution/Affiliation: University of Minnesota
Abstract: This paper rethinks imperial Japanese image-making from the late Meiji period to the end of the Second World War through developments in the field of anthropology at the time. As Japanese scholars have increasingly noted over the past two decades, the advent of photography and film inspired anthropologists to use this new mediatic technology to record the empire. Two anthropological disciplines in particular utilized media to frame the empire’s population in terms of racial models: ethnology and what is commonly called folkloristics, which are both pronounced minzokugaku in Japanese and were heavily influenced by British and German anthropological theory. I analyze the field of ethnology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to show how photography racialized both “savage” colonial subjects and “civilized” Japanese. While most academic interest has focused on photographed human subjects, such as in Torii Ryuzo’s colonial photography, I look at non-human material subjects like Ogawa Kazumasa’s treasure photography and landscape photography influenced by Shiga Shigetaka. I follow this analysis of racialized non-human subjects in my analysis of folkloristics, historicizing the field as an offshoot of ethnology that struggled to have a meaningful separate identity until the 1930s. I show how the discipline was from its beginnings fascinated with image-making, as found in Orikuchi Shinobu’s photographic field work in the 1920s, and Shibusawa Keizo’s “attic museum” study group’s recording of material culture through film in the 1930s, and Yanagita Kunio’s influence on the sub-genre of rural culture films in the late 1930s and early 1940s.