Japanese gentō (originally a translation of the English term “magic lantern”) is a still-image projection system that enlarges images on a transparent slide or film and projects them onto a large screen. Most studies argue that the magic lantern, stereopticon, or gentō thrived from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries and that their use declined in the early twentieth century with the arrival of the motion picture. This article examines the revival and redevelopment of gentō in mid-twentieth-century Japan, focusing on its use in 1950s social movements (including labor, social welfare, and political protest movements) and exploring how independent gentō works represented the landscapes, histories, and everyday lives threatened by the presence of U.S. military forces in Japan. It also examines the representation of female gender and sexuality in these gentō works, looking at the ways they depict women as both symbols of a victimized and humiliated homeland and as threats to the order of paternalistic family and society in Japan.
A QUESTION OF CONTEXT
Various private and local archives in Japan contain materials specific to particular research fields such as visual culture. These archives comprehensively collect and preserve materials—often miscellaneous nonbook items—that public libraries tend to exclude from their collections.1 These “alternate” archives function equally as museums, libraries, and archives within their specialized fields. They have played (and indeed continue to play) an important institutional and cultural role in the academic investigation of the social sciences and humanities in Japan. Moreover, they are extremely useful resources for the multimedia archaeological research projects that are burgeoning today.2
Notwithstanding the ongoing generation and use of these archives, the general economic and political condition of local archives, museums, and other cultural facilities in Japan today is increasingly tenuous. Suffering from a prolonged financial crisis and a recurring recession, local governments have been inclined to reduce public support for culture as a means of reducing budget deficits. We have seen this occur in Osaka in particular: this city is the location of various unique local archives. Hashimoto Toru, who was recently governor of Osaka (2008–11), then leader of the local political party Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association) (2010–2015) and mayor of Osaka City (2011–2015), has taken the lead in drastically consolidating and abolishing public cultural services as a key part of financial reforms intended to ameliorate the city's current economic difficulties.
While assigning great importance to the development of commercial and entertainment facilities (including the building of a large casino complex), Hashimoto has shown overt hostility toward existing nonprofit cultural facilities as well as the people involved in their operation. For example, he closed down the International Institute of Children's Literature in Osaka (IICLO), which was known for its comprehensive collection of various materials related to modern children's culture and literature; it integrated its collection and function with the Osaka Prefectural Central Library in 2010.3 When Hashimoto first proposed a bill to abolish IICLO to the prefectural assembly in 2008, he ordered his secretary to film IICLO staff with hidden video cameras to “check on their work situation.” He insisted that IICLO staff did not seem to make enough effort to increase the number of visitors to the site.4
Around the same time, the Hashimoto prefectural government decided to abolish the Osaka Labor Information Plaza (OLIP), which offered library and information services to workers and managers living in Osaka. When it closed, L-Library (Osaka Labor Archive) was established as an independent membership library, assuming OLIP's library functions and collecting materials related to the history of industry and labor movements in Osaka. Yet not only did the prefectural government completely abolish its existing support fund and monies held in trust, it also demanded that L-Library pay an exorbitant rent for its space in the Osaka Prefectural Labor Center. In spite of these severe financial difficulties, L-Library continues its activity as an independent labor library and archive today.5
These incidents—in which public policies have been drastically changed under unstable economic conditions in Osaka—are not unique to contemporary Japan. In such changed circumstances, the government gives first priority to producing cultural content that can serve short-term profit goals in the global marketplace, thus contributing to the national strategy of establishing the “Cool Japan” brand and enhancing “soft power.” At the same time, there is a strong tendency to neglect or downplay Japan's historical and cultural heritage—a tendency especially acute today, as historical (and hegemonic) revisionism attempts to restore the honor and value of the Empire of Japan before 1945. In this context, it becomes difficult to publicly respect cultural artifacts that were created in postwar pacifist, leftist, or countercultural movements. These artifacts strongly reflect upon Japan's imperial past, offering evidence of protest against contemporary politics and unsolved social problems.
With a consequent awareness that the basis for academic research into the history and culture of modern Japan was becoming fragile—and was actually in crisis—I started in 2010 to conduct research in several local archives around the Kansai area. These included IICLO and the L-Library, mentioned above, as well as the Kobe Planet Film Archive. One purpose of my research was to excavate uninvestigated materials that might be in danger of being buried or scattered regardless of their value. It was in the course of this research that I encountered gentō filmstrips and scripts produced in the 1950s.
The Japanese word gentō is used as an equivalent for the English term “magic lantern.” As a scholar of Japanese film history, I already knew, before I began my research into gentō, that the magic lantern was an important medium in the history of modern visual culture. However, I was astonished that many of the gentō films, scripts, and other related materials (such as catalogues and pamphlets issued by production companies) I was shown in these archives were dated to the 1950s. This was contrary to what I had read in historical descriptions about gentō in Japan: according to established sources, gentō was a medium generally consigned to the early twentieth century.6
With a group of scholars and archivists, I started a research project on 1950s Japanese gentō culture in 2011, under the aegis of the Collaborative Research Center for Theatre and Film Arts at Waseda University. As part of the process of investigating geographically scattered materials, we began to cooperate with Kobe Planet Film Archive, which has a unique collection of approximately three hundred gentō filmstrips and accompanying scripts related to 1950s social movements. We also researched in the IICLO, the L-Library, and local archives from Hokkaido to Kyushu. As soon as we started this full-scale investigation, we realized that existing gentō materials included valuable information about real-life activities in grassroots social movements as well as unique, collectively crafted artworks. Besides surveying archival materials, we also started screening gentō for the public—for example, at the biennial Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, where we have shown them since 2011.7
Although we have just begun to study the history and culture of mid-twentieth-century gentō, there are a multitude of difficulties in establishing research, preservation, and exhibition methods in current circumstances. In spite of these difficulties, however, gentō requires further study, as it is a significant missing link between projection media culture and the history of mass social movements in postwar Japan.
In what follows, I outline the history of the still-image projection known as gentō in Japan, focusing on its revival and redevelopment from the 1940s to the 1950s. As I mentioned above, this revival has been almost unknown until today. I then explore the role of gentō in 1950s social protest movements in Japan.
THE EMERGENCE OF
GENTŌ IN SOCIAL PROTEST MOVEMENTS IN 1950S JAPAN
The Japanese word gentō, as I have noted, can be defined as a still-image projection system. It consists of the following four main elements:
The projection device, usually called gentō-ki (lantern or slide projector), equipped with lenses and a light source.
Transparent plate or film, called tane-ita (種板), or sulaido (slide), with painted or photographic images used for projection.
The enlarged image projected onto the screen.
Aural elements accompanying the screening: a live vocal performance including speech, narration, or a lecture, performed by an interpreter called benshi (弁士); music accompaniments; sound effects; and singing in chorus or humming (sometimes with audience participation).
According to Ishii Kendo, the term gentō was originally introduced as a translation of the English term “magic lantern” in the early Meiji period (1868–1912), when the Ministry of Education began to promote this device for the purpose of visual education in schools.8
Though recent studies on the history of modern audiovisual culture have been increasingly interested in still-image projection (variously called laterna magica, magic lanterns, gentō, and so on), most descriptions of still-image projection are dedicated to the pre-cinema period. It is in this period, immediately preceding the advent of the moving image, that they are considered to have thrived. For example, Charles Musser finishes his highly suggestive historiography on magic lantern culture in modern Europe and the United States around the 1880s and then starts to tell the history of another screen medium, namely the motion picture. As he explains, the motion picture was “invented” by Thomas Edison and other engineers in the 1890s.9 In another work, Jill H. Casid discusses the magic lantern, explaining that it was a crucial projection medium that served the modern European project of enlightenment and colonization. She then introduces several contemporary art projects that reactivate in digital form this “dead” medium or “quaint precursor to cinema” from the point of view of feminist or queer artists.10
As I mention above, the magic lantern has often been described as a “precursor to cinema”; in European and American histories, it is situated firmly in the pre-cinema period. We can find a similar situation in Japan. Almost all recent studies on the gentō focus on the Meiji period, especially the military gentō show (sensō-gentō-kai) that gained great popularity in Japan around the time of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95). In these historical descriptions, gentō is gradually replaced by the newly imported motion picture (katsudō-shashin), which gained greater popularity around the time of the Russo-Japanese War (1904). Thus gentō became limited to a narrow range of uses (such as academic lectures and presentations and domestic home use).11
It is true that gentō culture in Japan temporarily declined in parallel with the development of the domestic motion picture industry in the 1910s. However, gentō culture was rapidly revived during the Asia-Pacific War (1941–45) at the request of the Ministry of Education, which was tasked with strengthening national policy and military education. In 1941, the ministry declared that the educational use of gentō should be restarted, especially in rural areas lacking sufficient equipment for audiovisual education. It also instituted a new standard type of gentō projector that used a roll of 35mm film (filmstrip) in place of the traditional glass slides placed one after the other onto a projector. Throughout the war, the use of gentō rapidly grew. Film producer and educator Aochi Chuzō—a figure who explored the revival of gentō in academic and vocational education in Japan from the 1930s onward—states that “the utilization of gentō, which had been stagnant in schools and society over the previous decade despite our struggles, made rapid progress under the military due to the special demands of the war.”12
Even after the Empire of Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allied forces in 1945, gentō continued to develop throughout the occupation period (1945–53) under the General Headquarters of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers' (GHQ/SCAP) educational policies. The education sector of the GHQ/SCAP placed great importance on the use of audiovisual media such as the motion picture, the kamishibai (picture show), and gentō in schools and other institutes. The occupation authorities' educational policy, combined with the severe economic conditions in defeated Japan, rapidly spread the use of gentō. During the occupation, gentō exercised its strength as a visual projection device that was suitable for the large screen but had a lower cost than motion pictures. Furthermore, it was easily operable and did not require a special skill set. Thus teaching materials publishers, photograph equipment makers, and laboratories entered gentō production and distribution business in flocks. Creators with various specialties (including Japanese-style painters, picture book artists, animators, manga artists, and photographers) were engaged in gentō filmmaking as a convenient part-time job.
After the end of the occupation, and the restoration of Japan's sovereignty (with the exception of Okinawa and the Amami Islands) in 1952, gentō also became a convenient visual medium for activists engaged in various social protest movements, including labor disputes, antinuclear protests, anti–U.S. military base protests, protests against false accusations of left activists, and so on. Because gentō filmstrips could be handcrafted easily and screened by amateurs, numerous gentō works were produced independently within grassroots social movements throughout Japan during the 1950s.
A few people engaged in these gentō movements later became famous in their fields of specialty. For example, avant-garde painter Katsuragawa Hiroshi—also known for collaboration with writer Abe Kōbō—drew pictures for a gentō work protesting the false Matsukawa accusation.13 Kako Satoshi, who had been engaged in live-document gentō creation with local children as part of nonprofit social welfare work, became one of the most famous children's picture book artists in Japan.14 The Puppet Theatre PUK—which has the longest history of any puppet theater in modern Japan—created several colored gentō films with puppets and miniature sets in the 1950s. Furthermore, various young artists and activists with various specialties utilized a variety of media (photographs, paintings, cartoons, puppets, shadow pictures, and so on) to create gentō films. They also wrote documents, commentaries, dialogues, and poems for the accompanying scripts that were distributed with gentō filmstrips. These were supposed to be read aloud by the film presenter at the screening.
GENTŌ CASE STUDIES: LOCAL GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY IN ANTI–U.S. MILITARY BASE GENTŌ WORKS
Here I focus on a series of gentō works related to the 1950s anti–U.S. base protest movements. Such works typically show the wide range of functions that independent gentō filmmaking exercised within the protest movements in Japan. Through visual images and scripts, creators of these gentō works tried to portray local geography, history, and everyday lives in their own way. They participated in the construction of an alternative national history and in the broader mission for a better future. I also shed light on the important function of female gender and sexuality in these gentō works, as they depict women as a symbol of the homeland humiliated and threatened by the ubiquitous U.S. military bases.
As I mention above, social activists in modern Japan historically used gentō as a low-cost and convenient visual medium. Especially in the 1950s, they created their own gentō works that dealt with the most important social movements, including recurring labor disputes and antinuclear protests. (The latter grew into a nationwide public movement after the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru [Lucky Dragon 5] was impacted by nuclear fallout from the U.S. hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll in March 1954.) They also included protests against false accusations, as represented by the Matsukawa incident. Activists made use of gentō for such purposes as lecturing, organizing supporters, attracting audiences for fundraising or signature campaigns, and recording and reenacting important events or activities related to mass movements. The anti–U.S. military base protest movements that unfolded all over Japan throughout the 1950s were no exception.
Although the newly promulgated 1946 Constitution of Japan proclaimed that the Japanese people had renounced war forever, the U.S. military force in Japan undertook a rapid expansion and construction of bases there. Furthermore, it practiced full-scale military exercises after the Korean War had started in 1950. The rearmament of Japan was also advanced in the 1950s at the request of the U.S. military and the U.S. government. The national armed organization, called the Keisatsu yobi-tai (National Police Reserve), was established in 1950 and developed into the Jiei-tai (Japan Self-Defense Force) in 1954. The reinforcement of U.S. military bases and Japan's rearmament were strongly opposed by those Japanese people who had generally welcomed the idea of reconstructing their postwar country as “the peace state.”
By the end of the occupation era, local protest movements against the expansion or construction of U.S. military bases had spread across Japan. Local residents whose daily lives were seriously affected by the bases played a key role in each movement, and organizations such as trade unions, student groups, pacifist groups, and leftist political parties often gathered to support them.
In the following pages, I show selected images from several gentō works created within such anti–U.S. military base movements and consider how these gentō works, exploring the bases threat, share common images of local landscapes, children, and women.
The earliest existing gentō work related to the antibase movement is Sakyu wa sakebu: Minzoku kaiho no tatakai, Uchinada (The Dune Cries: The Uchinada Struggle for Liberating Our People), produced by the Hokuriku Railroad Union with the support of the Nihon Gento Bunka Kabushikigaisha (Japan Lantern Culture Company) in July 1953. The Uchinada Struggle had begun in 1952 when the residents of Uchinada Village, in Ishikawa Prefecture, started to protest a plan to requisition Uchinada Dune permanently as a live-fire testing site for the U.S. military. The following year, trade unions, student associations, and pacifist groups supported by the Japan Communist Party gathered at Uchinada to support the villagers' protest.
The Hokuriku Railroad Union played an important role in this struggle over the course of 1953: union members participated in demonstrations and sit-ins with local villagers around the Uchinada testing site, and they called several large strikes, refusing to transport supplies for the U.S. military. They also engaged in public relations activities, mimeographed numerous handbills and booklets, and produced Sakyu wa sakebu. The Nihon Gento Bunka Kabushikigaisha in Tokyo, which supported distribution of the film, had been involved in supporting independent gentō production (mostly by trade unions and leftist social activists), and it offered advice and rented equipment in the early stages of production, as well as helping in postproduction tasks such as film processing. It also assisted in distributing finished films.
Below are frames from Sakyu wa sakebu. Following the title frame, the second frame (figure 1) shows an image of a seaside landscape with a superimposed title reading, “To protect their beautiful homeland/Uchinada villagers continue to struggle/With respect and affection for them/We present this film./ Hokuriku Railroad Union.”
The third frame shows a map of Uchinada village and dune. The script explains: “Uchinada Village, Kahoku District, Ishikawa Prefecture is located on a dune between the Japan Sea and Kahokugata. Since the U.S. military appointed their sea and dune off-limits, seven thousand villagers who had been deprived of their living rights stood up in struggle against the military base, against the coming war, seeking the true independence of the nation.”
Next, photographs of the coast, the dune, and the forest are shown from the fourth to the sixth frames. These describe the beauty of the landscape and relate local history. The script also suggests to the film exhibitor that they hum the song “Utsukushiki sokoku no tameni” (“For the Beautiful Motherland”) as an accompaniment to these images.
Images of people first appear in the seventh frame, which shows an old fisherman fixing his fishing net (figure 2). His words are quoted in the subsequent script: “We wish only to have our fishing boats. A fisherman like me without his own boat has no choice but to work in far-off Hokkaido or Kyushu as someone else's employee, where I could only eat dinner with my wife and children two months out of the year.” The eighth frame shows a photograph of an old woman working on a farm. The narration in the script describes the difficulty of farming in this dune environment.
In contrast with the preceding two frames depicting the hard lives of older villagers, the ninth frame shows a smiling young man with a watermelon in his hand (figure 3). The script relays how the younger generation in this village is trying new agricultural methods to green the dune.
The tenth frame introduces the Hokuriku Railway Asanogawa Line, which has supported the local villagers for many years. However, the eleventh frame shows tire tracks on the sandy beach (figure 4), and here the script explains that these tracks were left by U.S. military jeeps.
Once this threatening image of jeep tracks has disrupted the more hopeful images of the Uchinada villagers (who, we understand, are progressing from past hardships toward a better future), the photographs and script proceed to describe the process of land requisition and the construction of a live-fire testing site forcibly promoted by the U.S. military in collusion with Hayashiya Kamejiro, head of the local election board, and other local bosses. These developments occur despite strong opposition from the majority of villagers.
The twenty-second frame of Sakyu wa sakebu shows a barbed-wire entanglement fence built in the midst of a field, separating the military area from the village proper. The following frame (figure 5) shows four children from the back, who look at the shore through the fence. The script recommends that exhibitors, while projecting these frames, hum a popular children's song, “Ware wa umi no ko” (“We Are Children of the Sea”), and read a child's essay describing his or her grief at being deprived of a favorite playground. The subsequent frame (figure 6) shows an old man carrying driftwood on his back and holding a saw in one hand as he stares out from behind the barbed-wire fence.
Through these photographic images and accompanying texts and songs written in the script, the U.S. military presence is depicted as a contaminant leaching into a beautiful and old rural landscape. It is clear, through Sakyu wa sakebu, that this presence prevents both the older generation from being rewarded for their past hardships and the younger generation from achieving a better future.
After Sakyu wa sakebu was produced as part of the Uchinada Struggle, independent gentō filmmaking and screening became an important part of protest activities against the expansion or new construction of military bases in progress throughout Japan. Several gentō works, sporting such titles as Tatakau Sunagawa (Struggling Sunagawa; released in 1957), Kichi Tachikawa (The Tachikawa Base; 1953), Kichi Yokosuka (The Yokosuka Base; 1953), and Fuji-san wo mamorou (Let's Protect Mt. Fuji; 1955), were created by local activists and supported by members of trade union or pacifist groups. Many seem to follow the visual and narrative style of Sakyu wa sakebu. First we see a map and photographic image of the landscape, with a script describing the local history of the area before the war and occupation. Next the faces and bodies of older local residents are often presented in close-up as the script recounts their lives (which are full of suffering). Then young people—especially children, whose bright and peaceful futures are threatened by the presence of military bases—are featured. In this way, gentō works illustrate and narrate how local people are carrying out brave struggles to protect their homes and environment against encroaching U.S. military bases. They reveal the fact that local villagers are uniting with outside supporters such as union members and students.
“WOMEN AROUND THE BASE”:
KICHI TACHIKAWA AND KICHI YOKOSUKA
In addition to the components described above, there is one more important common gentō element: the “women around the base,” as in Kichi Tachikawa and Kichi Yokosuka. Both films were produced by local inhabitants who lived around the U.S. military bases, and both focus on female sex workers who sold themselves to U.S. soldiers.
During the occupation era, the number of unlicensed sex workers who solicited customers on the street, outside the existing and legally managed prostitution system in Japan, increased rapidly. In certain respects, these sex workers—commonly called pan-pan—were regarded as the symbolic representation of postwar Japan. At an early stage of the occupation, these women, who seemed to choose their job and customers freely and dressed like Americans, were sometimes described in popular culture as modern and independent characters. On the other hand, they were also regarded as typical victims of poverty, social disorder, and moral degradation in defeated Japan. In reality, they often experienced unsteady economic conditions and were subject to continuous health issues and other problems, including violence and discrimination from multiple directions, exploitation, and police harassment. Nevertheless, they were also regarded as a powerful menace endangering the social order and patriarchal hegemony of Japan.15
Kichi Tachikawa was made by the pacifist group that acted around the Tachikawa U.S. base. This gentō film makes shockingly offensive comments about pan-pan women, and its script describes them in an abusive way. For example, it states: “Her lips look as though they were painted with blood, her eyes are heavily shaded, and the purple spots and sores on her face are signs of syphilis. Her lifeless face twists hideously when she chews gum.”16 The film also relates an anecdote about children who become blind from venereal disease they caught from pan-pan at the public baths (figure 7).
In contrast is the gentō film Kichi Yokosuka, released in the same year (figure 8). This work is a little more moderate or sympathetic toward pan-pan women. According to the colophon, Yoshioka Taeko, a female member of the Yokosuka consumers' cooperative association, wrote the script, which makes reference to poverty and the exhausting lives these women endured. It also addresses the local economy's dependence on their presence. However, Kichi Yokosuka also alerts viewers to the risk of children coming into contact with pan-pan by showing a photograph of a pan-pan woman flirting with two soldiers on a street where children are playing. Such an image endorses Kichi Yokosuka's conclusion that it is urgently necessary to seclude these female sex workers from the local community, and especially from children. The conclusion excludes the possibility for social inclusion and solidarity from public consideration.
Both of these gentō works represent the threatening power of female sex workers who depended on U.S. bases for their livelihood by prostituting themselves to soldiers or military workers. In these gentō narratives, sex workers are depicted as representations of the corrosive effects of the U.S. military presence in Japan. They disrupt familiar scenery with their “Americanized” appearance and divide generations by “contaminating” children (who are imagined on film as the most vulnerable victims of the U.S. corrosion mediated by these women). These representations suggest that Japan's 1950s antiwar and antimilitary movements tended to prioritize “peace” for the patriarchal family and local community but not for individuals (specifically women) outside these familial groups and communities.
KICHI OKINAWA NO UTTAE: “SHARED EXPERIENCE” BETWEEN OKINAWA AND MAINLAND JAPAN
Among gentō works related to the anti-U.S. protest movement is one film about the problem of the U.S. base in Okinawa: Kichi Okinawa no Uttae (Appeal from the Okinawa Base), 1956. Its title credit says that this gentō film was produced by the Okinawa sokoku fukki kyogi-kai (Association for the Reversion of Okinawa to the Fatherland), with support from the Heiwa yougo Nihon iin-kai (Japan Peace Protection Committee), which had a close relationship to the Japanese Communist Party.
From the details provided by the script, the film seems to have been part of the large protest movement called the Sima-gurumi tōsō (“Whole-Island Struggle”), brought about by the “Puraisu kankoku” (“Price Report”), which was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives by a special subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee, chaired by Representative Charles Melvin Price in June 1956.
Since the end of the Battle of Okinawa, in June 1945, Okinawa had been separated from mainland Japan and placed under direct rule by the U.S. military administration. When the Korean War began, in 1950, large-scale construction and expansion of U.S. military bases were carried out throughout Okinawa. After the Compulsory Purchase of Land Imperative, declared in 1953, the U.S. army started to take away—by “bayonets and bulldozers,” in popular parlance—a vast amount of land where local residents lived and worked. Acting against this compulsory requisition, Okinawa residents and their local council demanded the “Four Principles for Protecting Land” from the U.S. government and army: “(1) opposition to lump sum payments for the land, (2) opposition to the new requisitioning of the land, (3) proper compensation, [and] (4) proper damages.”17
However, Representative Price (who had carried out an on-the-spot investigation in Okinawa), in his eponymous report mentioned above, argued for the strategic importance of Okinawa to the United States and upheld the authenticity of U.S. military rule there. The report also favored requisition and a lump sum payment to landowners, rejecting the demands of local people. The people of Okinawa then united in Sima-gurumi tōsō, demanding the “Four Principles” itemized above.
Traffic between mainland Japan and U.S.-occupied Okinawa was strictly limited during the 1950s. Accordingly, visual works that were made and released on the mainland and addressed conditions in contemporary Okinawa (such as Kichi Okinawa no Uttae) were relatively rare. We can assume that the Okinawa sokoku fukki kyogi-kai, which is credited as the producer of this gentō film, was established by Okinawan residents in Tokyo.
The second frame of this gentō film, following its title frame, shows a statement from Kamiyama Seiryo, who had emigrated from Okinawa to Tokyo to become a bureaucrat in the late Meiji period and who served as a representative of this association from its establishment around 1953. In it, Kamiyama claims: “This gentō conveys an appeal from the 800,000 people of Okinawa, who earnestly long for the day they may return to their fatherland Japan, though they still live under hellish conditions ten years after the end of the war.”
Just as Sakyu wa sakebu does, Kichi Okinawa no Uttae opens by showing a map of the Okinawan islands, followed by a photograph of coastal scenery with tropical plants and the sea. It then relates the hardships of wartime Okinawa, showing a photograph of a destroyed building and a still frame of an injured girl from the fictional film Himeyuri no to (The Tower of Lilies), directed by Imai Tadashi and released in mainland Japan in 1953.
Next it starts to describe the contemporary threat experienced by the people of Okinawa under U.S. military administration. From the eighth to the twelfth frames, it focuses on an elementary school girl whose house was destroyed by a military bulldozer for base expansion. Following that incident, we learn that her family has been forced to live in a humble tent in a small residential area assigned to them by the U.S. army. Here she and other children have to study in a shacklike school without a proper ceiling or walls.
After the story of this girl, a map of the main island of Okinawa is again shown (in the seventeenth frame). At this point, the script and photographs explain that a large percentage of Okinawa flatland, populated with farms, fields, villages, and graveyards, is being requisitioned as U.S. military property at an extremely low price. The following images (figures 9–12) show how people who have been forcefully deprived of their homeland have congregated in a makeshift town outside the U.S. base. Young girls are selling sweets on the street or being sold to cabarets and nightclubs patronized by U.S. soldiers. Old women who have lost their homes are selling sundries on the street to stave off starvation. And in a teahouse, geisha girls with traditional hairstyles are serving soldiers, with the accompanying narration telling us: “Once the women of Okinawa were known for their unyielding chastity. Today, if they reject flirting with foreigners, they cannot survive.”
Following these intergenerational scenes of female persecution and humiliation, the film shows contrasting images of base workers striking and students appealing for peace and the reversion of Okinawa to Japan. We also see meetings of the two hundred thousand Okinawans who live in mainland Japan, who exhort mainlanders to “save our brothers and sisters in Okinawa.”
The climax of Kichi Okinawa no Uttae shows the 1955 Isahama and Iejima incidents. Here, armed U.S. soldiers drove villagers away from their homes and farms “with bayonets” for the construction of the base, in spite of villagers' disagreement and resistance. Because photography had been prohibited at the site, these scenes of compulsory land requisition are re-created through illustrations. The illustration in the forty-sixth frame (figure 13) shows a sixty-year-old Iejima villager lying down on his field to plead with the soldiers, saying, “If you take our land away, Papa, Mama, baby, and seven families will die.”
After introducing these recent compulsory land requisition cases, the film then reports on the ongoing “Whole-Island Struggle” throughout the Okinawa islands. It also shows the response from mainland Japan, where people have begun to reconsider their attitudes toward the pain suffered by Okinawans. In the final frame (figure 14), three members of a family are shown from the back, staring at U.S. housing. The script demands: “Everyone! Give your helping hand to Okinawa! Bring all nations together to demand that Okinawa's “Four Principles” be met! Oppose the “Price Report” that threatens the people of Okinawa! Okinawa has belonged to Japan from ancient times. Let our government stand at the forefront of the nation to negotiate with the United States!”
Even though there was substantial division between mainland Japan (which had regained its state sovereignty in 1953) and the Okinawan islands (which remained under U.S. military administration until 1972), Kichi Okinawa no Uttae shared a certain narrative and visual style with Sakyu wa sakebu and other anti–U.S. military base gentō works produced in mainland Japan.
As I mentioned above, Kichi Okinawa no Uttae is a rare work for the 1950s. It tried to project images of contemporary Okinawa for mainlanders and make them feel a “shared experience.” A shared experience between Okinawans and mainland Japanese seemed to be most possible around 1956, when this gentō filmstrip was released. After that point, the closeness of feeling and experience that could be shared through anti–U.S. military base gentō works produced by both Okinawan and mainland activists faded away as the United States offered restitution for bases in mainland Japan while concentrating its military presence in Okinawa islands. This separation continued until the 1960s, when the Okinawa sokoku fukki undo (Movement for Okinawa's Reversion to the Fatherland) was on the rise.
CONCLUSION: COLLECTIVE STORYTELLING IN
The 1950s anti–U.S. military base gentō works were produced largely by local activist groups in various regions throughout Japan. Each work shows local landscapes and narrates local history and everyday lives from the points of view and in the voices of local people and residents who were apt to be overlooked in reports by Tokyo-based mass media.
In spite of the geographical and political differences that separated the regions (especially mainland Japan and Okinawa) where each gentō work was produced, the works share common images and narrative. They show the beautiful scenery of an old and traditional homeland, older people who have survived hardship in a feudalistic social system and (subsequently) the war, children forced to live under the direct influence of expanding military bases, and the younger generation of the peaceful and democratic future promised by postwar reforms. The films then reenact ongoing protest events and activities carried out by local residents. Through this narrative process, the gentō films collectively show and tell the story of “our” land, history, and struggle for Japanese audiences.
In gentō productions, the images of the bodies and faces of suffering people, projected onto the screen in close-up, were able to evoke the empathy of watching audiences. The element of aural live performance during the screening—the narration of the film presenter, humming or singing in chorus—also emphasized the feeling of closeness between audiences and the onscreen image. Indeed, gentō audiences often voluntarily took part in the screening performance by cheering, shouting, or singing popular protest songs together.18 These visual and aural reenactment processes had the advantage of involving audiences in a shared experience.
In the 1950s, these gentō filmstrips could circulate widely. They were not limited to particular groups or areas. In addition to their high mobility and low screening costs, the expanded distribution of gentō works was also supported by the large networks of the national organization of labor unions—Sōhyō (the General Council of Japan Trade Unions)—and other left-wing political parties, which were able to mobilize affiliates into various activist movements.
By examining 1950s anti–U.S. military base gentō films, we can show how gentō filmmaking exhibited its own potential within Japanese 1950s social movements. It represents an alternative national history rooted in the points of view and experiences of grassroots people. Theirs was a history and experience that differed from the one sponsored by the Japanese and U.S. government. This characteristic also makes existing gentō materials unique in terms of their historical and cultural heritage.
However, this alternative national history was also significantly predicated on patriarchal, family-centered values that demanded the control or exclusion of female sexuality. Michiba Chikanobu points out, “As patriarchal values, including a strong tendency to emphasize the ‘chastity’ of the nation,”19 were part of the 1950s anti–U.S. military base protest movements, so too did anti-base gentō works always raise the image of the paternalistic family as a central value that needed protection from the invading U.S. military. Let us recall Kichi Okinawa no Uttae: the lament for lost “chastity” in the script is attached to a photograph of geisha girls in a teahouse, and the final frame of the film features an image taken from behind of a father, a mother, and a baby—three nuclear family members—staring at U.S. military housing. In the images of the desirable future shown in these gentō works, female sexualities that cannot be contained within a patriarchal household structure tend to be singled out and excluded. Such women, who provided sexual services to U.S. bases, were regarded as dangerous outsiders from the patriarchal family and the fatherland, and anti–U.S. military base protest texts and images, including gentō works, represented them as strong evidence of the corrosive effects of the U.S. military presence on Japan.
All figures are courtesy of the Kobe Planet Film Archive.
The author thanks the Kobe Planet Film Archive, the International Institute for Children's Literature, Osaka, and L-Library for their kind support of research for this article, as well as coresearchers on “Research Concerning the Revival and Original Development of Japanese Showa Era Gentō (Magic Lantern) Culture” (JSPS, grant no. 15K02188). My heartfelt appreciation goes to Lori H. Morimoto for proofreading and to Saito Ayako for her kind advice. I also appreciate the anonymous reviewer for Feminist Media Histories for thoughtful comments. This article is based on research supported by the Mitsubishi Foundation's research grants in the humanities, 2013–14.