INSULAR POLICIES NO CURE FOR SHRINKING CULTURAL IDENTITY

So this week I decided to shake things up a bit and expand my research into Japan. I wanted to examine whether China is also an obstacle in Japan’s ability to develop its own unique cultural identity. In last week’s post I proposed a relatively underdeveloped theory which I called ‘cultural sovereignty’. It is this concept that I intend to investigate as to whether or not it is prevalent in Japan’s film industry and broader cultural sphere. The crime thriller ‘Cure’ (1997), is an example I am going to use to examine this theory.

Aside from the horrific and confronting murder scenes which I found to be very effective, I lost count of how many times the role of women in Japanese society was blatantly referred to – ‘she’s just a housewife’, ‘you’re just a woman’ and ‘woman is a lower life form than man’.  During the 1990s, the Japanese press were debating contentious social issues specifically – “the large household burden on women and the long working hours for men, as well as the problem of so-called ‘karōshi’ (death from overwork)” (Rawstron, K 2011, p58). In response to these issues, the government implemented a range of measures which included the ‘Labour Standards Law’s Women’s ‘Protection’ which limited women’s working hours and places of employment (Rawstron, K 2011, p58). Hence, the Japanese movie the Cure is reflective of this social upheaval in Japan, given that it was released in 1997. After reflecting on his autoethnographic study into paedophilia, suicide and homophobia, Dwayne Custer (2014) emphasised the importance of having an ‘open-mind’ and putting aside preconceived opinions (p2). In my experience of watching Cure this was certainly a factor as I had strong opinions about gender equity from a ‘western’ context. Hence, such feminist movements are not confined to Japan, as countries across the globe were experiencing similar issues of gender inequality, and as a result I was cautious of examining the Cure through an Oriental lens.

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Cure is situated within a pressurised East Asia market place. While, there are little obvious references to ‘China’ in terms of the actual content and dialogue of the film, the production elements suggest otherwise. For example, the film is an entirely Japanese production – Japanese producers, Japanese actors, Japanese writers, Japanese cameramen…well you get the point. During the 1990s when Japan’s economy stagnated, the media industry became withdrawn and ‘inward-looking’ (Tezuka, Y 2012, p161). The Japanese film industry did not have any interest in partnering with its Asian neighbours, especially its archenemy – the People’s Republic of China. In the last couple of years, Japan’s media industry has continued to become even more reclusive – “all the major Japanese media companies are preoccupied with tightening their oglipoly control of the domestic market. These companies no longer appear to be interested in participating and taking risks in inter/trans-national projects” (Tezuka, Y 2012, p161).

Film’s like Cure are a last ditch attempt by Japan to save its cultural identity from being swallowed up by China and pigeon-holed under the generic title ‘Asian cinema’.

Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, the Qualitative Report, volume 19, p1-13.

Rawstron, K 2011, ‘Evaluating women’s Labour in 1990s Japan: The changing labour standards law’, New Voices: A Journal for Emerging Scholars of Japanese Studies in Australia and New Zealand, volume 4, pp57-77.

Tezuka, Y 2012, ‘Japanese cinema goes global: filmworker’s journey’, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong.

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2 comments

  1. Really interesting blog and I really like your choice of using film to explore Japan’s cultural identity. I think sometimes people forget how important art is to culture. I think you did a good job of pulling out relevant bits of the movie that examine the cultural context of Japan, but in an effort to be more autoethnographic I think you could have questioned your reaction to them more. For example, why did you find the violence and treatment of women so horrifying. In saying that you did pick up on avoiding an orientalist lens and the idea of genre right at the very end, which I think was insightful 🙂

    Like

  2. Hey Caitlin,
    Really great post this week, I like how you have really delved further into your research by exploring Japanese cultural identity and whether or not China is an obstacle in creating this unique cultural identity. I have never really thought about it this way and think it was really interesting how you have approached this interesting phenomenon.
    I can’t believe how shocking some of the scenes in the movies that you were discussed seemed. and it was interesting to read your reactions to these horrific scenes. It was interesting to find out that both of the movies seemed to follow this intense way of showing the murders and showing dramas and by just really thinking about this briefly, it is soooo different to Australian movies. Can you imagine the uproar that would occur if this kind of intensity was seen in our Australian cinemas today. It would be ridiculous!
    Great post Caitlin!

    Like

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