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Standish, Isolde (1997) Myth and Masculinity in Japanese Cinema: Towards a Political Reading of the 'Tragic Hero'. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This study argues that in Japanese popular cinema the 'tragic hero' narrative is an archetypal plot-structure upon which male genres, such as the war-retro and yakuza films, are based. I address two central questions in relation to these post-war Japanese film genres and historical consciousness: What is the relationship between history, myth and memory? And, how are individual subjectivities defined in relation to the past? Chapters two and three examine the role of the 'tragic hero' narrative as a figurative structure through which the Japanese people could interpret the events of World War II and defeat, offering spectators an avenue of exculpation from a foreign- imposed sense of guilt. This narrative became part of a wider discourse which developed as a backlash against the criminalization of Japan through the conviction of her wartime leaders. In these chapters I analyse the ideological construction of the filmic 'tragic heroes' and their relationship to the popular interpretation of historical events. War-retro films are examined from the contextual perspective of the structuring opposition of a nativist Confucian ethic, and culture as defined in terms of western 'civilization' and encoded in the War Crimes Charter. Chapter one has traced the roots of this opposition to the formation of a nationalist consciousness through the invention of the kokutai in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to counter western imperialism. I argue in chapter four that the fantasy world of the nagare-mono (drifter) or yakuza film is also based on this underlying consciousness of opposition. However, in the case of the nagare-mono, the archetypal outsider, this opposition is found between the yakuza moral code, jingi, and the restraints to spontaneous male freedom imposed by modem culture and the law - the law in this instance being both the police and courts and the more subtle constraints imposed by social institutions such as the family. In this chapter I therefore conclude that one of the reasons for the great popularity of these films in the 1960s and 1970s lay in their ability to offer men meanings that could help them understand the contradictions between the reality of their everyday experiences and the ideological construction of masculinity. Thus while the earlier chapters were concerned with an ideological deconstruction of the 'tragic hero', the fourth chapter analyses masculine subjectivity as defined by the 'tragic hero' of the nagare-mono fantasy from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:17

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