SOAS University of London

Centre for Creative Industries, Media and Screen Studies

Okada Yoshiko and Natsukawa Shizue: A Clash of Two Modernities on the Japanese Silent Screen

Speaker: Kerstin Fooken

Among many fundamental changes, the 1920s in Japan were shaped by a phase of socio-cultural and aesthetic shift, in which images of tradition and modernity were negotiated towards new visions of a modern Japan. Very important for the comparatively new medium of film as an active constituent of this shift were the changing aesthetics in the images of women who now had a striking public presence in the images of star actresses. In terms of Armstrong and Yuval-Davis I see women as "symbolic border guards of the nation" and understand the acknowledged degree of change in these images of women as an indicator for the boundaries of a socially accepted form of a modern Japanese identity.

In this paper I will analyse the early star personas of Okada Yoshiko and Natsukawa Shizue and how they each came to represent a distinct version of a modern female Japanese identity. The context of a scandalous film production that involved both actresses in adapting a classic French novel to the Japanese silent screen in 1927 will function as a backdrop against which these boundaries between desirability and acceptability became visible and were negotiated in the public discourse. Through my contextual analysis I show the powerful position cinema and its artists had already attained in Japanese society at the time, not only to instigate public discourse on the socio-cultural changes that were taking place, but also how cinema served as a space for experimentation to explore how far these changes were deemed socially permissible to go.