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13: Rubble and Realism: reconstructing national cinemas

Throughout much of the twentieth century, cinema (in many industrialized socities) served not only as source of popular entertainment but a vital site of national self-expression. US and British occupation authorities in Germany and Japan recognized the centrality of cinema in shaping attitudes, mores, and morale when they assumed control over the film industries of their defeated former enemies. Under occupation, what Germans and Japanese could see on screen was closely monitored and controlled by the occupiers. By the late 1940s, however, a number of Japanese and German directors were again making films-- albeit under foreign authorities' watchful gaze. This seminar will explore the rebirth of postwar cinema in defeated Japan. We will consider the distinctive genres that emerged after the war (film noir and neo-realism), and will think about how film can help historians appreciate the texture of life under occupation. Kurosawa's Drunken Angel will form our core text.

Seminar questions

  • why and how did US (and British) authorities attempt to control cinema in Japan and Germany?
  • as national film industries were reconstructed in the late 1940s, what visions of defeat, contrition or regeneration did Japanese and German auteurs offer their audiences?
  • to what extent should we regard cinematic depictions of postwar Germany and Japan as forms of self-expression rather than cultural products reflecting the agenda of occupying powers?
  • are there discernible differences of emphasis in how Japanese and German directors approached the business of resurrecting national cinema? And how much influence did Hollywood exert over the re-construction of postwar cinema?

Primary source:

Kurosawa, Akira (dir.), Drunken Angel (1948) in-class screening

Required reading:

Kitamura, Hiroshi, Screening Enlightenment: Hollywood and the Cultural Reconstruction of Defeated Japan (Cornell UP, 2010), chapters 2 & 3

Then pick one (or more, if you have time) of the readings on postwar German or Austrian cinema as a counterpoint.

On postwar Japan:

Stephen Prince, The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa (Princeton UP, 1999)

Lars-Martin Sorensen, Censorship of Japanese Films during the US Occupation of Japan: The Case of Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa (Edwin Mellen Press, 2009)

Kyoko Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema under the American Occupation, 1945–1952 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992)

Dower, John W, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (WW Norton, 1999)

On German and Austrian postwar cinema:

Mark Baker, '"Trümmerfilme": Postwar German Cinema, 1946–1948', Film Criticism 20, no. 1/2 (Fall 1995/Winter 1996): 88–101

Martina Moeller, Rubble, Ruins and Romanticism: Visual Style, Narration and Identity in German Post-War Cinema (Bielefeld: 2013) e-book

Robert G. Moeller, 'Winning the Peace at the Movies: Suffering, Loss, and Redemption in Postwar German Cinema,' in Histories of the Aftermath: The Legacies of the Second World War in Europe, eds. Frank Biess and Robert G. Moeller (Berghahn, 2010), 139–155, e-book

Eric Rentschler, 'The Place of Rubble in the Trümmerfilm,' New German Critique 110 (Summer 2010): 9-30

Robert Shandley, Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the Third Reich (Temple University Press, 2001)

Amanda Z. Randall, 'Austrian Trümmerfilm?: What a Genre’s Absence Reveals about National Postwar Cinema and Film Studies', German Studies Review 38, 3 (October 2015): 573-595

Suggested viewing:

The Murderers are Among Us (DEFA, 1946)