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Modernity and Dependency in the Asian Sphere : the Cultural Industries of Colonial Japan in Question (1901-1945)

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Directors : Claude HAMON (UPD), Midori HIROSE (UPD)

Permanent Members : Anne GOSSOT

Collaborators : Michael BASKETT (Kansas U.), Anne KERLAN (IHTP, EHESS - CNRS)

In the first half of the 20th century, Japanese cultural industries developed in close conjunction with the creation and expansion of Japan’s colonial empire encompassing the Island of Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. With the advent of phonograph records, advertising graphics, cinematography, magazines, industrial and colonial exhibitions, cross-exchanges were established between the Japanese Archipelago and the Asian continent. This play of mirrors between dominant and dominated took on relief in Sino-Japanese relations with the Northeast China experience, given the size of the market. Thus, the film industry in the State of Manchukuo under Japanese occupation underwent a boom with the foundation, in August 1937, of the Manchukuo film Association, known as Man’ei, a national policy company (kokusaku gaisha) and fifty-fifty joint venture between the government of Manchukuo and the industrial conglomerate Mantetsu, with a share capital of 5 million yen. Man’ei was extremely prolific, and produced more than 600 films, both documentary and feature films, between 1938 and 1945, and became the most important film studio on the Asian continent, rivalling with Tokyo and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood. The main purpose of the studio was to legitimize Japanese occupation of the region through propaganda, as was the case in Taiwan and Korea. However, the largely entertaining nature of the majority of the films produced by the Man’ei constituted a major obstacle to this ambition. This was probably owing to the personality of the studio’s leader, Amakasu Masahiko, who though an authoritarian right-wing partisan, employed the services of a large number of left-wing opponents and dissidents whose presence was unwelcome in Japan.

This project proposes to examine the policy adopted by the entertainment and cultural industries of Japan in China (1931-1945) as management of the semi-colonial markets of Manchuria and Shanghai extending to the occupied territories of South East Asia. We will also examine the earlier approaches adopted in Taiwan and Korea and the alternative policy in Nationalist China’s based on various performing art forms (cinema, theatre, music, etc.). Lastly, we will also investigate the subject of Asian exhibitions held in Japan in the pre-war decades as a display of western-based technology and other, artisanal, industrial and cultural transfers orchestrated by the Imperial State.

Upcoming activities :
- International conference at Univérsité Paris-Diderot in 2016
- Publication of a collective work