Screening Enlightenment: Hollywood and the Cultural Reconstruction of Defeated Japan

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Screening Enlightenment: Hollywood and the Cultural Reconstruction of Defeated Japan. Hiroshi Kitamura. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2010.

This is an engaging study of the cultural occupation of postwar Japan in the years 1945-1952. This pivotal period marked a remarkable transition for a nation imbued with a sense of cultural purity into a market cracked open for "Hollywoodization." Hiroshi Kitamura argues that the U.S. military and motion picture producers formed a mutually beneficial partnership during the occupation and, with the necessary participation of the Japanese themselves, reformed postwar Japan with a heavy dose of American-styled bunka (culture). In a theoretical sense, he adds to a growing body of scholarship on the cultural dimensions of twentieth-century American foreign policy. While many of those histories have focused attention on Europe, Kitamura builds on the work of John Dower, Naoko Shibusawa, and others who have examined the political, diplomatic, and cultural relations between the United States and postwar Japan.

Americans, of course, had entered the Japanese cultural market before the Second World War, but militarists in Tokyo in the 1930s and 1940s soon insisted on motion pictures that reinforced its imperial ambitions in the Pacific and depictions that idealized its military actions in East Asia. Protectionist policies further limited American influence. After the war, Allied occupation fell under the auspices of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), which joined diplomats, policymakers, and motion picture studio executives in a corporatist partnership to reeducate and to bring "enlightenment" to the defeated Japanese. Working with the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE), SCAP coordinated Hollywood distribution in Japan with an eye for promoting liberal values that complemented political reforms- in Kitamura's words, "to replace the perceived militaristic tendencies with peace-oriented, democratic values" (33). The first shipment included wholesome fare: Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Going My Way (1944), Our Town (1940), and Tall in the Saddle (1944). In an effort to secure the industry's place in the occupation project, distributors marketed these and other films as bunka to American officials and Japanese audiences alike, whether their products truly reached the status of high culture or not.

Kitamura does an admirable job showing the complexities of cultural reeducation plans during the occupation. Clearheaded SCAP officials avoided playing favorites by undertaking actions that occasionally relieved many Japanese and confounded some Americans. At the same time that SCAP used its authority to open the market for Hollywood, for example, it also liberated the domestic Japanese motion picture industry from years of imperial control. …