Knowing and Showing Difference: Sex, Gender and Disability in Japanese Film
Forum Mithani (JRC Research Associate)
Date: 27 January 2021Time: 5:00 PM
Finishes: 27 January 2021Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: Virtual Event
Type of Event: Webinar
The Tokyo Paralympics, now scheduled to be held in late summer 2021, will bring renewed focus to the potentialities of people with disabilities on an international scale. The hosts have been keen to stress the importance of diversity and inclusion under the banner ‘know differences, show differences’ (chigai o shiri, chigai o shimesu). Indeed, people with disabilities will not only be shown, they will be celebrated during this two-week global event. Nevertheless, this progressive slogan may seem remarkable given the long history of denial and ignorance Japanese people with disabilities have suffered in terms of their sexual and reproductive rights. The practice of forced sterilisations of those considered to be suffering from hereditary disabilities, which only ended in 1996, as well as the public uproar over sex education in special needs schools are indicative of a reluctance to address issues of sexuality and desire among people with disabilities. Gender brings an additional dimension to this difficult terrain: although there now exist a range of sexual services aimed at the disabled community, most are designed to fulfil male needs, ignoring the sexual desires of disabled women.
This reluctance to view women with disabilities as sexual beings has manifested itself in cinematic representations, which have tended to romanticise disabled women as persevering, heroic and essentially asexual. However, recent film 37 Seconds (2019), the story of a young woman with cerebral palsy who embarks on an exploration of her sexuality, confronts the stigmatisation of non-normative female bodies from the fore with its frank depictions of nudity and sexual desire. Furthermore, the decision by director Hikari to cast a disabled actor in the lead role makes the film truly ground-breaking. As such, it both complements and contrasts with another recent film, Perfect Revolution (2017), which explored similar themes from a male perspective. Through a discussion of cultural and media representations of disability, gender and sexuality in Japan, Forum Mithani demonstrates how contemporary Japanese film both pushes, while simultaneously reinforcing, boundaries of acceptable discourse in relation to gender, sexuality and non-normative bodies.
Forum Mithani received her PhD in Japanese Studies from SOAS in 2019. Her thesis explored discourses of gender, motherhood and family in contemporary Japanese television drama. Recent publications include a peer-reviewed article in the television studies journal SERIES titled '(De)constructing Nostalgic Myths of the Mother in Japanese Drama Woman.' She is currently co-editing a Handbook of Japanese Media, due to be published in 2021. Her research interests include fictional representations of motherhood, disability and sexuality in Japanese media and the women’s liberation movement.
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Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre
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