Rightward Bound: At the Crossroads of Nationalism and Gender in East and South Asian Cinema

Title: 1326 | Rightward Bound: At the Crossroads of Nationalism and Gender in East and South Asian Cinema
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: Cinema Studies/Film
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Sean O'Reilly, Akita International University, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair, discussant)
Kristen Luck, George Washington University, United States (presenter, discussant)
Liao Zhang, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (presenter, discussant)
Astha Chadha, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan (presenter, discussant)


Our panel shows a powerful link between re-imaginings of national destiny and gender normativity in both South and East Asian cinema. We blend accounts from multiple national cinemas and explore both contemporary and earlier films, eschewing a nation-specific focus and moving beyond traditional boundaries of historical and cinematic inquiry. Key for us is identifying the effects this sort of cinematic interpellation has on the imagined community.

Astha Chadha examines recent military-focused films from Pakistan and India, arguing such films push a gendered us-versus-them perspective onto these countries’ respective imagined communities. Kristen Luck investigates Japan’s recent cinematic phenomenon wherein women facing a fork in the road increasingly return to their hometowns seeking solace in food-related work. Liao Zhang takes a close look at the fascinating crossroads 1930s Chinese cinema faced vis-à-vis defining the modern girl as either high-class ladies or femmes fatales. Finally, Sean O’Reilly identifies a tipping point in contemporary Japanese cinema’s putative quest to reevaluate World War II positively and promote wartime Japan’s hyper-masculinity.

Taken together, our five papers demonstrate South and East Asian cinema’s past and current preoccupation with nationalism and its putative link with gender normativity. Examining the cinematic crossroads of nationalism and gender—bowed under the weight of military, political and social conflicts—lets us highlight the complexity of gender in Asian cinema across time and space.

Panel Abstracts:
Tipping Point: How Recent Japanese Historical Films Are Undermining Mainstream Consensus on Wartime Japan
For decades after the Second World War ended, there appears to have been broad agreement among the Japanese public that it had all been a terrible, costly mistake. Films endorsing this mainstream opinion and emphasizing the high price the war had exacted—especially those focusing on the suffering of the Japanese themselves—were generally rewarded at the box office, while most films insinuating that some aspect of wartime Japanese values or society was worthy of emulation struggled. But from the 1980s that consensus weakened; it was no longer fatal to a film’s financial performance to question the heretofore mainstream view. In the twenty-first century, some filmmakers, emboldened by the financial success of controversial revisionist “trial balloon” projects like 2.26 (1989, sympathizing with the 1936 mutineers) and Pride: Unmei no toki (1998, valorizing Tōjō Hideki), began to push more extreme views of wartime society onto the public, who now stand at a crossroads. At stake is the fundamental question in Japan’s seemingly endless “postwar” era: how should contemporary Japanese understand the still-looming specter of the war?In this paper, I analyze two recent blockbusters, For Those We Love (2007) and The Eternal Zero (2013) to argue that the tipping point on national consensus regarding the war has been reached. Each young person today must decide whether to embrace the hyper-masculine (re)vision of rightist ideologues like Ishihara Shintarō and Hyakuta Naoki, their controversial novels repackaged into the more innocuous—and glamorous—medium of film, or shore up the mainstream, rejecting wartime values.

Cooking Up Furusato: Women Entrepreneurs, Going Home, and Japanese Cinema
The image of food in Japanese cinema conjures the popular film Tampopo or the family meals depicted in Yasujiro Ozu or Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films, yet starting in the mid-2000s to present, there was an onslaught of Japanese films produced depicting the concept of a furusato with a gendered twist. The films would typically follow a familiar pattern of woman encounters hardship or heartache, returns “home” or sets out in search of “home”, and opens up a restaurant that serves food with special healing properties which unite wayward individuals, nourishes the soul, and rejuvenates the heart. This plot is depicted in such films as Kamome Diner, There is No Lid on the Sea, Rinco’s Restaurant, Nonchan’s Noriben and Bread of Happiness. Embedded within these films is the concept of furusato, or going home. According to Jennifer Robertson (1988), this is a type of cultural production that embodies unifying qualities with nationalistic symbolism (p. 494) and that nostalgia appears during periods of discontent. This paper explores the changing gender dynamics depicted in these films and a new type of furusato, one where Japan is at a crossroads. These films acknowledge the changing role of women within a safe context amidst what Anne Allison (2016) calls a “precarious” Japan and how food serves as a vehicle for furusato. The paper also examines films depicting men and food preparation, such as exploring how films treat gender, food, and changing gender politics.

Girls at the Crossroad of Class: Dajia Guixiu and Femmes Fatale in 1930s Chinese Films
In the 1930s, China witnessed an explosion in representations of girls in films which was inseparable from the rise of feminism in the early twentieth century. Thanks to the emergence of the feminist movement in China, women’s social status saw a significant improvement which provided women with the possibility to break away from their traditional gender roles and to develop new social identities. One of the most visible new identities in 1930s films is the ‘modern girl.’ Through close analyses of Queen of Sports (Sun Yu, 1934) and Pink Dream (Cai Chusheng, 1932), this paper explores how filmic representations of modern girls were informed by Chinese feminist concepts in terms of their appearance, behaviour, and mindset.Moreover, I argue that depictions of modern girls in 1930s Chinese cinema—which faced a pivotal crossroads in defining modern femininity—reveal a distinctly class-based sexism. Lower-class modern girl characters in films are fashionable and open-minded, but also vainglorious and selfish femmes fatales. Such characters are presented negatively, because they embody “fear for the modern nation and the drawbacks of modernity” (Stevens, 2003). In contrast, upper-class modern girls, by accepting reforms urged on them by male characters and connecting themselves with the future of the nation, are positioned as positive characters, becoming the Chinese Dajia Guixiu (young ladies of good pedigree). Through this classist dichotomy, modern girls represented not only a mixture of Chinese traditional culture and modern feminist concepts, but also themselves embodied the class-based crossroads facing 1930s China.

Imagined Communities and Gendered Nationalism: How Pakistani and Indian Cinema Construct the Enemy and the Self
Anderson (1991; 2006) argued that it was not just the ‘innovation’ of nations as an entity that is important but also the material conditions. The extent of nationalism and patriotism used as a tool in mass media (printed texts and popular culture) in India and Pakistan is evidence of the persisting enmity between neighboring states, which popular culture not only depicts but end up reinforcing with its construction of ‘the other’ and ‘the enemy’. This paper analyzes two films, Pakistan’s Ghazi Shaheed (1998) and India’s The Ghazi Attack (2017), which are war-at-sea and submarine films, respectively, to answer the research question: How do these movies depict ‘imagined’ community and ‘blind’ nationalism? What aspects of gendered nationalism are depicted in the films and how is the depiction similar or different, given the backdrop of war and its outcome?In my analysis of the two films, I explore two facets of the concept of blindness: first, referencing Anderson’s definition of being unable to see community members or enemies, and second, the blindness one experiences while underwater in a submarine. The paper argues that these ‘imagined’ communities find their stronghold in religion, culture, language and ways of being in order to justify the existence of separate nations despite being part of the same landmass and empire for centuries. The ‘submarine’, a feminized weapon run by men, can be conceived as an extension of the nation’s body in water, unable to see but functioning on the perception and identity gained from the ‘motherland’

This panel is on Thursday - Session 01 - Room 2

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