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Three Japanese actresses of the 1950s: modernity, femininity and the performance of everyday life.

Japan in the 1950s was a period of accelerated social transformation as a new generation came of age in the wake of the seven-year American occupation. The so-called "golden age" of Japanese cinema corresponds to a time when a national culture had to be reinvented that would be both "democratic" and "Japanese." Among the contradictions of this cultural moment was the definition of the feminine. Although the Occupation brought with it the legislation of women's rights, resistance to "women's liberation" was implicitly linked to the protection of traditional values. Analysis of the star-images of female movie stars of the 1950s is a means of tracking the negotiation of gender roles through this contradictory period. Three of the most popular actresses of the time, Hara Setsuko, Takamine Hideko, and Sugimura Haruko, were identified strongly with the gendai geki, or films with contemporary settings, through which their star-images were linked to the discourse of everyday life. These three women represent a range of acting styles which, I will argue, correspond not only to different "images of women", but also to different subject-positions for women within postwar narrative cinema.

Of course there are many other important female stars in the 1950s, including Tanaka Kinuyo, who also directed six films; and Kyo Machiko andYamada lsuzu, actresses who exemplified the physiognomy of the classical beauty. Kyo, who starred in both Rashomon (1950) and Ugetsu(1953 3), may have become the emblematic "traditional" woman for foreign audiences, but in Japan Kyo represented a new sensual carnality. The characters she plays in Mizoguchi's Street of Shame (1956) and Naruse's Older Brother Younger Sister(1953), for example, are defined by an aggressive sexuality, and her physical appeal was particularly titillating to Japanese male audiences for whom her image was linked to the freedoms of American democracy. Certainly the culture of burlesque and striptease that flourished in the postwar period promoted a confused notion of "women's liberation" as a liberation of the flesh. As Joanne Izbicki notes, the subject of this liberation was the male audience, amplified and stimulated by the American G.I.s, whi le female subjectivity was sublimated to the objectified body of the female dancer. The only freedoms for women within this display of sexuality were employment opportunities for performers and cash prizes offered by the plethora of beauty contests. (1)

For the male critic Saburo Kawamoto, Kyo's appeal lay in part in her transgression of the norms of Japanese femininity--her adoption of an American-style openness about sexuality. (2) Indeed, there is a deep ambivalence about the "Japaneseness" of the top stars of this period. Both Hara Setsuko and Mifune Toshiro had slightly Caucasian features, suggesting that their star-images might have been linked to new notions of physical appeal within a global culture. Their popularity in fact complicates any kind of absolute Japanese! Western duality once we consider them within a framework of Japanese modernity, and I would argue that the popular culture of 1950s Japan needs to be recognized, precisely, as a key site of modernity. As Harry Harootunian has pointed out with respect to the interwar period, modernity is a "specific cultural form and a consciousness of lived historical time that differs according to social forms and practices." (3) Japanese modernity differs from European modernity in that the transformat ion of everyday life was also an ongoing "encounter with the new that came from elsewhere." (4)

If Kyo's appeal lay in her transgression of the norms of Japanese femininity, the identity of the modern Japanese woman remains undefined, and arguably erased by the direct appeal to male audiences in Kyo's star image. There is no question that women comprised a good portion of audiences of the period, many of them new wage-earners in the postwar period. In numerous films of the Occupation and the years immediately following it, the ideology of the "good wife and wise mother" confronted the sexuality and independence that the Americans introduced to Japanese cinema. This period, referred to by some as "The Confusion Era" is one in which social mores and customs, and the very fabric of everyday life, underwent a rapid reinvention. (5) I would like to suggest that the task of representing women fell to actresses whose popularity lay in their ability to embody traditional aesthetic and moral values, while by virtue of being film stars, becoming models of independent career women. The star image, which encompasse s film roles, publicity and the larger discursive scope of a given performer's career, is a valuable method of cultural analysis. As Richard Dyer has argued, "star images function crucially in relation to contradictions within and between ideologies, which they seek to 'manage' or resolve." (6)

Japan in the late 1920s and early 30s saw the emergence of the moga or "modern girl," a figure that was especially prominent (and controversial) on the screen. Yamada Isuzu's role in Osaka Elegy may be the most familiar instance of the moga to foreign audiences (although Hiba Sachiko in Naruse's Wife! Be Like a Rose! [1935] was the first to be seen outside Japan). The moga dressed in Western fashions and exhibited a degree of mobility previously unknown to Japanese women, and as Miriam Silverberg notes, the extensive discourse that was produced at the time about the moga subsumed discussion of social change into the controversial and sensational image of the new Japanese woman. (7) While this image disappeared during the rise of nationalist ideology and heavy censorship of the war years, it did not reappear intact in the postwar period. The construction of the feminine could no longer be contained or signified by a single-if complex-image such as the moga, but was divided over several generations of women, an d several different orientations toward modernization and Westernization.

While Harootunian's conception of Japanese modernity includes "the formation of new subject positions and gender and sexual identities," (8) he does not follow up on the significance of this cultural formation to Japanese women. Miriam Hansen has, however, made similar claims about Shanghai cinema in the 1930s, pointing out how the incorporation of American cultural forms into non-Western cinemas constitutes a "vernacular modernism" that can have progressive and positive effects on gender and sexual identities. (9) Once we look closely at the Japanese cinema of the 1950s, it should be clear that these new gender roles involve a complex process of negotiating cultural values, especially given the range of acting styles and characters on the Japanese screen. While many actresses, including Takamine Hideko, played strongly sexual roles as Kyo Machiko did, others, such as Tanaka Kinuyo and Yamada Isuzu starred regularly in period films, and tended to exemplify the feminisuto ideals of beautiful suffering and endu rance. (10) Chika Kinoshita has analyzed Tanaka's acting in the films she made with Mizoguchi, concluding that she participates in a complex "choreography of desire" with the camera, contributing to the spatial configurations of Mizoguchi's distinctive style. The four characteristics she notes in Tanaka's acting are "her smooth, prompt and light way of walking; fluid but restless gestures; inclination to avoid eye-contact; and ambiguity in facial expressions." (11) These traits are of course also features of polite behaviour, key aspects of the ideals of femininity embodied by the female impersonator.

It is important to realize that actresses in Japan from Meiji (1868-1912) into the 1950s, were effectively responsible for inventing the public persona of the Japanese woman. Actresses were banned from the stage near the beginning of the Tokugawa era (1600-1867), and the craft of the onnagata or female impersonator was devoted to depicting an idealized image of femininity, more perfect than any woman could hope to attain. Shimpa theatre began to include actresses in the 1880s in a "modern Japanese kabuki," while Shingeki theatre, more closely modelled on Western realist styles, emerged in the second decade of the 20th century. Sumako Matsui famously played Nora in a Japanese production of The Doll's House in 1911, for which she instantly became "the talk of Japan." (12) Because the character she played transgressed all the norms of polite feminine behaviour, the introduction of Japanese actresses into the psychological realism of Western drama was very much bound up with the emergence of female subjectivity i n 20th century Japan. Matsui's performance of Salome in 1914 in fairly revealing costumes indicated to Japanese audiences and critics that the female body was a necessary component of the essential feminine performance, and the debate about actresses and onnagata shifted toward the former, as a new alignment of sex, gender and performance came into being in modern Japanese culture. (13)

In the postwar period, new concerns about the propriety of female performance were reasserted, especially in light of the new influx of American films. Two of the recommended subjects promoted by the Civil Information and Education division of SCAP in the 1940s were "kissing" and "women's liberation." Japanese actors and audiences were at first resistant to the open display of affection that the Americans associated with "democracy", partially because it blurred the boundary between public and private space. (14) The conception of screen space as public space is key to understanding the dynamics of performance and subjective expression in Japanese cinema. Whereas the "women's liberation" films tended to be biopics of heroic suffragettes whose lives usually ended badly, I believe we have to look to the shoshimin eiga, or home-dramas about ordinary people" where neither kissing nor liberation were taking place, but where a much more subtle and much more profound transformation in the representation of female su bjectivity occurred, primarily after the arbitrary mandates of the Occupation authorities were removed in 1952. It is in these films that the private space of the home and the female homemaker was made public.

Costuming in the 1940s and 50s shoshimin eiga tends toward very plain and conservative dress, as opposed to the more stylish fashions of the early 1930s and the 1960s. Older women wear undecorated kimonos, and younger women wear a virtual uniform of white shirt and knee-length skirt. Dresses tend only to be worn by women of ill-repute or questionable morals. The writer Yasunari Kawabata commented that "Japanese actresses are always expert at playing mizu-shobai roles [geisha, prostitutes, professional entertainers, etc.] but their playing of wives and young women is usually bad. It is because in real life, wives and young women hold back something in their emotions while mizu-shobai women show all."'5 While Kawabata is very wrong about the quality of women's acting, he does point to a certain prejudice in Japanese culture against female expressivity, which is associated with immoral behaviour. In fact, some of the most impressive performances by women in Japanese cinema consist of a subtlety, containment and a "holding back."

During the war years the film industry had been answerable to military censors, so the post-occupation cinema followed over a decade of harsh restrictions and ideological imperatives. It is not surprising that this national cinema flowered in the 1950s. Moreover, the best films of the period combined elements of traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics, with some of the new principles of individualism introduced by the occupation. Women were thus caught between being symbolic of the harmonious beauty of the Japanese home-re-established after years of turmoil-and the opportunities opened up by the new culture of equality and human rights. The nascent women's movements of the 1950s were themselves divided into two camps, one advocating rights for female workers, and the other concerned with the status of motherhood and the family. (16)

Analysis of Japanese women film stars in the 1950s is one way of exploring how these contradictions were played out in the popular culture of the period. I would also like to suggest that from the historical and cultural distance that we now view these films, analysis of acting styles and star images may also help to highlight the gendered dynamics of "Japaneseness" in this national cinema. By comparing acting styles and starimages, moreover, I hope to indicate how the contradictions of Japanese modernity are evident within the regime of film performance. The acting styles and careers of three of these stars are particularly interesting because of the contradictions implicit in their double roles as career women and female icons. And, taken together, these three tend to suggest the diversity of positions represented even within the realist aesthetic of the shoshimin eiga.

Hara Setsuko, Takamine Hideko and Sugimura Haruko all had very long careers, but each of them peaked in the 1950s when Takamine was in her 20s, Hara was in her 30s and Sugimura was in her 40s. A new generation of actresses was also emerging in the 1950s (including Misora Hibari, Wakao Ayako and Okada Mariko), and more than a few films involved confrontations between older and younger female characters representing very different sets of values. However, Hara and Takamine were among the top stars of the period, and the average age of the actresses listed by Anderson and Richie in their 1959 survey of "representative stars" is 37. (17) Among the debates of the period was a comparison of the "well-proportioned" beauty of some of the older stars, compared to the sexiness of the younger stars who were declared to be "not beautiful" but "pretty." (18)

I want to suggest in this paper that different readings of stars such as Hara, Takamine and Sugimura are available to contemporary viewers, and may have been equally available to viewers in the 1950s. In other words, I want to propose a means of reading "against the grain" of the domestic melodrama such as Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953) as a means of challenging the conventional passivity of the Japanese woman. Indeed, I will argue that classical aesthetic codes of beauty and form are not only projected onto the Japanese actress, but through codes of "polite performance," become techniques of inscribing norms of social behaviour. While my analysis of Japanese acting is unquestionably "cross-cultural," the imposition of a feminist gaze is produced by the historical difference/distance that also pertains between contemporary Japanese viewers, and the films produced in the 1950s. Japanese film studies' preoccupation with form has tended to overlook the contradictions of this period which can now be reviewed and re-asse ssed from new perspectives. A better understanding of the acting styles and star system of the period is only one way of gaining such a perspective.


The Eternal Virgin

Best known for her performances in Ozu Yasujiro's films, Hara Setsuko was known in Japan as "the eternal virgin." When she retired in 1963, shortly after Ozu's death, there was a public outcry, and her disappearance at age 43 was the cause of great resentment, especially as it ran so contrary to the efforts of the characters she played never to disappoint. (19) The epithet "eternal virgin" evokes a certain independence from the family system, and from a social system organized around men. (20) It also, however, evokes a standard of beauty that the actress may have been hesitant to challenge by aging in public. Women's magazines in the 1950s were obsessed with the question of Hara's marriage. (21) At the age of 37 she declared that no one would marry her, despite the rumours. One writer described Hara's plight as "a tragedy of the system of the Japanese film industry that stars have to retire if they get married." Hara was portrayed as being torn between a "natural" desire to be a good wife and mother, and her responsibilities to her large dependent family (including an older brother-in-law who had been purged after the war) (22) and to her fans. (23)

Although Hara acted in six films by Ozu, she also performed in films by many other directors, including Kurosawa, Kinoshita and Naruse. Kurosawa's No Regrets for our Youth is her most exuberant and expressive performance, in keeping with the "democratic" themes of this 1946 film. Her performance was roundly criticized by the Japanese press, who described it as hysterical, eccentric, abnormal and monstrous. (24) She also plays a demonic femme fatale in Kurosawa's The Idiot (1951), for which she was again chastised for overacting--but it is more a matter of her being cast against type that was not accepted. (25) For Naruse and Ozu she gave far more restrained performances, starting with her first Ozu film in 1949, Late Spring. Along with Ryu Chishu, she became a quintessential Ozu actor, which meant, in part, reducing action and movement to a minimum. Within Ozu's rigorous formal system, actors are completely contained and constrained by architecture as well as the systems of patterned montage and graphic match ing that determine the mise-enscene. David Bordwell points out that despite these limitations, actors "could achieve nuances which a less rigorous system could not sustain." (26)

Unlike Bordwell, I prefer to read Ozu's rigour as being emblematic of a repressive and controlling social system. While the harmony and balance of his mise-en-scene is drawn from traditional Japanese aesthetics, the conservatism has often been misread as radical modernism. (27) Hara Setsuko, as Ozu's prototypical actress, demonstrates the way that this contradiction is predicated on certain effects of gender. In almost every film Hara made with Ozu, she plays an unmarried woman whose arranged marriage is a central plot element. One important effect of this repetition of characters and plots from one Ozu film to another is that Hara's character never actually gets married. The term "eternal virgin" thus evokes the sense of her being perpetually on a threshold of womanhood. The other distinctive feature of her performances in Ozu's films is her mask-like smile that serves to hide her characters' emotions, while fixing her image onto the static compositions of Ozu's mise-en-scene. Her smile may be read in some i nstances as a subversive disturbance of the formal rigour of these films, as if she is in possession of some kind of secret.

Very occasionally Ozu allows Hara to release some of the pent-up emotions of her characters. In Early Summer (1951) she plays a scene with Awashima Chikage in which she almost admits that she may be in love with a certain suitor. The two women abruptly rise from the tatami and playfully run around the table, although Ozu's tight low-angle framing depicts the two women as monstrous schoolgirls whose movements are stiffly formal, as though their game were a ritual performance of girlishness. In the last scene of this film, when Hara/Noriko's love-marriage is finally okayed by her parents, instead of the arrangement that they had initiated, and Hara is about to move from the family home to distant Hokkaido she runs from the family table and up to her room, where she bursts into tears. Ozu cuts away from her display of emotion to a shot of the landscape outside the window. The music rises, and the film ends with this transcendent transformation of her confused emotions into an image of beautiful contentment. In h er later films with Ozu, such as The End of Summer (1961), Hara's character is denied even this degree of expressivity resigned to her place within the family. The suggestion of a potential suitor brings about only a slightly pained expression on her face, which is otherwise illegible.

Hara also made four films with Naruse Mikio between 1951 and 1960, a director whose style is similar to Ozu's but who is also much more down to earth in his refusal of any transcendental aesthetic formalism. In each of the films she made with Naruse, Hara plays a married woman who learns to reconcile herself with the dissatisfactions of married life. Her characters struggle to fit in with social expectations and regulations. In Meshi (Repast 1951), Hara plays a childless housewife whose husband (played by Uehara Ken) starts paying more attention to a wayward niece who has come to visit the couple in Osaka. The emotional turbulence of Hara's character Michiyo is depicted by Naruse not through dialogue, but by eyelines and cutting. When Hara learns that her husband's niece has not only been flirting with her husband, but has also gone out with a man who Hara herself has become attracted to since learning of her husband's disloyalties, she says nothing to the girl. Instead she turns away, and sitting on the step to the garden, breaks out into laughter. Fade Out to a new scene. (The niece is played by Shimazaki Yukiko, who would be one of the first Japanese actresses to perform nude in a "sun-tribe film" by Yamamoto Satsuo called To the End of the Sun in 1954.)

The other key film that Hara made with Naruse is Yama no oto (Sound of the Mountain, 1954), based on a Kawabata novel. Here she plays another childless housewife whose husband (played again by Uehara) has an affair. The emotional crux of this film lies in the relationship between Hara's character and her father-in-law (Yamamura So), who is sympathetic to her suffering but incapable of controlling his irresponsible son. Naruse orchestrates a complex rhythm of glances and cut-aways to depict the emotional complexity of the relationships, and also sets the scenes played between Hara and Yamamura in natural settings such as parks and the landscape of Kamakura. The suggested harmony between these two characters is greatly lacking from the husband-and-wife relationship. In Naruse's films Hara's characters achieve a far more nuanced depth of feeling than she is able to achieve with Ozu, although her performances are still much more restrained than the exuberance of No Regrets.

Hara was to some extent a victim of a tendency toward typecasting implicit in the Japanese star system of the period. While some actors, such as Sugimura Haruko, were able to escape its limitations, others were bound to a certain characterization that was sustained in the off-screen discourse of tabloids and film journals. The genre of the home-drama or shoshimin-eiga arguably sustained the aesthetics of transparency in its realist ideology of humanist asceticism, but unlike Italian neorealism, the performers were not deigned to be "non-actors" but were movie stars. The minimalist architecture and sparse furnishings of the Japanese home embodied a realist aesthetic of honesty and transparency that inevitably affected, and was sustained by, the star-images of the actors appearing in the home-drama. The star system itself was to some extent built on a foundation of "typage." Most of Toho studio's postwar stars, including Mifune Toshiro, were trained in Toho's "New Face" programme. (28) In this democratization o f celebrity, applicants were auditioned and trained by the studio and gradually integrated into the production schedule, a practice that prioritized a natural "look" over acting training and experience.

Certainly a large part of Hara's popular appeal was due to a certain honesty and integrity of character, enhanced by the home drama genre that kept her in extremely plain costumes, but one can not sustain the image of the "eternal virgin" forever. Her screen persona is one of tight control, under which a current of strong emotion can often be detected. However, she also excelled in expressing highly contradictory and conflicted emotions. She can be at once hopeful and doubtful at marriage proposals; she laughs when she is most sad and cries when she is most happy. The contradictions and tensions within Hara's star-image are very much bound up with a nativist sensibility, a longing for the past combined with a knowledge of the impossibility of such a return. Her perplexing facial expressions, in conjunction with very correct posture, points to a well-protected privacy that was confirmed with her early retirement. Among her secrets is her reputed quarter-German heritage that may account for her slightly Caucasi an look. The mask for Hara constitutes a kind of doubleness, as if her "well-proportioned beauty" were only one layer, the public one, of a more complex personality that remains hidden beneath it.


Endurance and Tenacity

Actors in the classical era of Japanese cinema were contracted by studios and often made up to ten films a year. Anderson and Richie claim that there were far fewer stars than in the Hollywood system, and they therefore worked much harder. (29) This is indeed one of the key features of Takamine Hideko's star-image: a certain toughness developed over years of work in the film industry. Debuting in 1929 at the age of five, Takamine successfully made the transition from child star, to teenager, to maturity in the 1950s. Her last film was made in 1979, and she published her autobiography in the 1970s. When Takamine got married in 1955 at the age of 31, she boldly stated that she wanted to "create a new style of wife who has a job." (30) Affectionately referred to by journalists as "Deko-chan," she was compelled to answer many questions about her dual status, although she scaled back her acting commitments a great deal once her husband was able to support them comfortably. (31)

As one historian has said of this actress, "Takamine's women were not willing to wait patiently until the next life for their rewards, as Japanese heroines used to do." (32) Indeed it is this sense of impatience and dissatisfaction that characterizes Takamine's contribution to the construction of the modern Japanese woman. During the occupation, she performed for American troops; she played a stripper in the first colour film in Japan, Carmen Comes Home (1951), and she starred in a musical called Ginza Can-Can Girl (1949). But she was only a pin-up girl for a brief period. Having flouted her sexuality according to the demands of the period, she managed to restore a sense of decorum and integrity to her star-image and became an icon of the Japanese woman who is not necessarily beautiful in her suffering, but persevering, dedicated and intelligent. Unlike Hara, Takamine very rarely smiles, but wears a mask that is something more like a scowl or a grimace, as in her various roles she endures an endless series of financial and romantic hardships.

In many of her roles, Takamine displays the seriousness associated with her hard-working star-image; but she also maintains a certain independence and autonomy from the other characters. Takamine made seventeen films with Naruse, of which Ukigumo(Floating Clouds, 1955) is the best known in Japan and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) is probably the best known to English-speaking audiences. In the former she plays a love-sick romantic heroine who is fixated on a man who clearly doesn't deserve her attentions. The tenacity with which she pursues her lover, however, becomes emblematic of the struggle for survival in postwar Japan. In the 1960 film she plays a bar hostess who runs her own business, resigned to her fate as a single woman outside the family system of mainstream society.

Although Naruse was notorious for the lack of direction he gave to his actors, Takamine seemed to work well within his system, perfecting the art of looking away from other characters at crucial moments in a scene, co-operating perfectly with Naruse's decoupage of glances and down-cast eyes. A typical Takamine performance of stubborn aloofness can be found in Nagareru (Flowing, 1956) in which she plays the daughter of a geisha who runs a geisha house on the brink of bankruptcy. The mother is played by the veteran actress Isuzu Yamada, and the film also features Tanaka Kinuyo as the maid and Sugimura Haruko as one of the geisha. Okada Mariko plays a younger feisty geisha. In this company of actresses, in this house of women playing out their anachronistic roles in a postwar society, Takamine's character is the odd woman out. When she goes for a stroll with a young man beside the river, the potential romance of the moment is deflated when Takamine stops and announces that she will never marry because who would marry the daughter of a geisha? Wearing a tight sweater, and framed against the backdrop of an industrial skyline, she is very much the image of the new, independent woman. By the end of the film, she has bought a sewing machine to earn an income her own way.

In a 1954 interview with Yukio Mishima, Takamine discusses her favourite Hollywood actors, Ingrid Bergman and James Stewart. Mishima suggests that "someone with strong characteristics has to be a supporting actor," and they agree that Takamine has "no characteristics," which is why she is so well suited to leading roles. (33) Takamine also notes that she respects the fact that Bergman "cannot play a role which is not like herself." This conversation, like much of thepopular commentary on acting in Japan as well as elsewhere, assumes a certain transparency, rather than technique, as the condition of "great acting." Mishima and Takamine's comments also remind us that American films were extremely popular in 1950s Japan, and the influences on film acting cannot be denied. Takamine's role in Naruse's Arakure (Untamed, 1957) suggests the influence of Rosalind Russell and Katharine Hepburn's screwball comedy roles of the 1940s. Set in the Taisho (1912-26) period with bizarre Edwardian costumes, Takamine's character goes through a series of lovers and husbands, as well as professions, from a maid to running a tailoring business. At one point she discovers that her husband (Kato Daisuke) has been having an affair and she lays into him with fists flying. They roll around thrashing at each other until they're tired, then she sits up, fixes her hair and gives him a shy sideways look, and they embrace and make up.

The roles Takamine played are far more diverse than Hara's, not only over the course of her lengthy career, but even in the l950s. Arakure is indeed an unusual and anomalous film. Far more popular was Twenty-four Eyes (Kinoshita, 1954), the film that Mishima and Takamine discuss in their magazine conversation. As a schoolteacher who loses several students in the war, Takamine's character ages 20 years in this film, and we see her transformed from a bicycle-riding young woman to an old grey-haired spinster weeping over photos of her pupils as young children. Takamine's appearance was indeed quite versatile, and unlike Hara, her star-image was not dependent on beauty, although there is no shortage of glamour shots of her in the magazines and film posters of the time. Twenty-four Eyes and Ukigumo were hugely popular narratives of the postwar period. Both are extremely sentimental, in keeping with the tendency of the most popular Japanese cinema. Both films detail the privations and poverty of the postwar period, and might also be read as instances of a restoration of nobility to the national consciousness. But this kind of reading depends a great deal on understanding an actress such as Takamine as portraying a quintessential Japanese woman, a portrayal that had to be sustained on and off-screen.

Maintaining this image was no easy task, as one anecdote about Tanaka Kinuyo suggests. Shortly after the war, Tanaka spent some time in Hollywood, and returned sporting sunglasses and an apparently transformed personality, having abandoned the modesty and reserve associated with so many of her characters. The press, according to one report, "reacted violently to what it saw as a betrayal of native values. Tanaka was scathingly criticized for several years thereafter for almost every role she played." (34) Takamine went to Paris in 1951 for six months, but she reported only loneliness and boredom, this being virtually the first hiatus from her hard-working career that she had ever taken. She may have escaped the negative publicity that Tanaka's trip abroad provoked, but not the double standard imposed on Japanese actresses. She was clearly ill-equipped and unprepared to take. advantage of her foreign experience, and yet her career was not negatively affected.

Takamine's comments on acting suggest that for her it was a job that she could not quit soon enough. She claims that she remained in the business after the success of Ukigumo in 1955 against her will, as if she could not let down her studio, Toho, or the industry itself. Although many actors in Japan received formal training in a variety of acting techniques, including a Stanislavsky-derived method that was introduced to Japan in the Taisho period, Takamine had been trained on the job. Very outspoken about the difficulties of her career (which is also in the interests of preserving a certain modesty and humility regarding her talents), she describes her first twenty years as being a "money making machine" for her family. (35) Like Hara, she manages to turn her career as a movie star into a noble sacrifice. In 1955, when she became the top star in the country, Takamine published a confessional accounting of her reported salary of 500,000 yen per month. At a time when 48% of salaries were less than 8,000 yen pe r month, it was necessary to assure her fans that there were many expenses associated with her profession, including American cigarettes and a private secretary. (36) It is true that studios did not cover these expenses for their stars, (37) but her "confession" is indicative of her need to bridge the class gap that was widening between her screen persona and her off-screen status as a rich woman.

SUGIMURA HARUKO and the Representation of Female Subjectivity

The last actress I want to consider here is Sugimura Haruko, who was never as big a star as either Hara or Takamine, but who is one of the most familiar faces to viewers of Japanese film of the classical period. She was a little older in the 1950s than Hara and Takamine, and she was often cast in supporting roles. One of her most well-known parts is as Shige, the selfish older sister in Ozu's Tokyo Story, in which she is contrasted with Hara, who plays the selfless daughter-in-law. In a 1958 magazine article, critic Tsumura Hideo describes Sugimura's characters as "mannish" and greedy, and admires her series of "bad women," although he assures his readers that she actually has a "nice jovial plain personality" and wishes more directors brought out that side of her. (38)

Sugimura is clearly a very different actress than Hara and Takamine, partly because she was trained in the Stanslivaskian method. Sato notes that actors with Shingeki training, based on Western dramatic models, tended to be cast in supporting roles, more often than as leads. (39) Sugimura was an actor's actor, respected and admired by her colleagues more so than by the public. (40) Throughout the 1950s, she continued to perform in Shingeki theatre, as well as taking on numerous film roles. Sugimura's Variety obituary describes her as "a lady of the stage," and indeed she was a member of an important theatre group, for which she won a cultural merit award in 1974. (41) She starred in more than 900 performances of a play called "Life of a Woman", and performed in at least one TV series in the 1970s as a middle-aged housewife who runs her husband's business. (42) There is no question that Sugimura's contribution to the construction of the postwar Japanese woman was significant. Because she almost always played o lder women, she was more or less desexualized, and could therefore get away with more unorthodox behaviour than some of her contemporaries. She may not have played ideal women, but her characterizations constitute a female subjectivity quite unlike the ideals of stoicism and beautiful suffering associated with actors like Hara and Takamine

Sugimura's characters often reveal levels of disappointment, ambition and excitement that would more typically be hidden and kept private by Japanese women. Sugimura has a way of sneering that is especially transgressive of the norms of polite society. As Shige in Tokyo Story, she runs a beauty salon from the street level of her home, brusquely ordering around her husband as well as her employees. One of her starring roles was in Naruse's film Late Chrysanthemums (1954) in which she plays a retired geisha who lends money to her former down-and-out geisha friends. As in Tokyo Story, her character is associated with the new values of independence and economic survival of the postwar period. Here she has a submissive deaf maid who she keeps around so as to protect her conversations, all of which concern money. While she is cold and uncaring about one former lover, she becomes girlishly excited about a visit from another man (played by Uehara, in yet another role as a delinquent salary-man). She primps and preens for him, but when he, too, asks to borrow money, her disappointment is conveyed by a palpable shift in expression. She sighs, throws her handkerchief on the table, and looks at the man sideways, saying in voice-over, "I was a fool to be happy." It is her accomplishment as much as it is Naruse's to have developed this character who is at once cold, calculating, and committed to living alone, but who in this scene is suddenly sympathetic and deeply hurt.

Sugimura's acting achievement in film has not gone entirely unrecognized. The German director Daniel Schmid has described meeting Sugimura and being greatly impressed by her commitment to "the holy idea of the medium itself, which did not consist of the film roles in the movie theatre, but rather of the illusion, which appeared on the screen." (43) And yet it is precisely her technical ability to create characters who were entirely "realistic" that kept her on the margins of the Japanese star system at the height of her career. Schmid claims that Sugimura saw herself as an "intermediary" between herself and her characters; and indeed she had nothing of the iconicity of Hara's beauty or Takamine's stoicism, but instead had the flexibility of a highly developed technique. In Ozu's 1959 Floating Weeds she plays opposite Nakamura Ganjiro as a long-suffering mistress in kimono pouring sake for her man, endowing the role with far more pent-up emotion and regret than any other female role in Ozu's oeuvre. Instead of Hara's enigmatic smile, she uses vocal range and the movements involved in domestic chores to convey her unarticulated desires, much as Hara does in her roles in Naruse films.


The three actresses I have discussed here might be seen as representing a kind of continuum of acting styles that range from Hara's mask-like ritualistic stiffness at one extreme, to Sugimura's more expressive use of body language and props at the other. Takamine we can place somewhere in between, as she has more of an emotional range than Hara, yet retains some of the modesty and moral integrity associated with Hara's restraint. Several theorists have argued that traditional Japanese culture lacks the duality of exterior and interior, body and soul, that is such a cornerstone of melodramatic acting styles in the West as well as a key component of method acting. (44) The introduction of realist acting styles to Japanese theatre and cinema thus entailed a shift in the very conception of the subject. If in Japanese the same word omote refers to both mask and face, (45) the "meaning" of an actor's expression is legible on its surface; as Roland Barthes has argued, "there is no inwardness" in classical Japanese t heatre. (46) There is something callednetsuen, or intense display of emotion, derived from Kabuki, which refers to excessive performance, perhaps like the domestic violence performed by Takamine in Arakure. However, the privacy of intimate emotions is traditionally absent, like women, from public view.

The production of an inwardness of subjective expression is implicitly linked to modern acting techniques. However, the withholding of inwardness, in the context of cinematic narrative, can also signify a morality linked to a national culture that protects a certain reading of the body. The spectacle of the woman's body may have been a key ingredient of Japanese modernity, and a liberation for the male viewer, but the emergence of female subjectivity was grounded in the "everyday" genre of the home-drama. In the 1950s the construction of femininity remained precariously balanced between the emergence of female subjectivity and a protection of traditional gender roles. The three actresses Hara, Takamine and Sugimura were involved in a complex production of femininity which could still be identified as "Japanese" in its restraint, but also signified the desiring subjectivity of the modern woman.

I would like to conclude by returning to Ozu's Tokyo Story, in which both Sugimura and Hara have key roles. The Sugimura character, Shige, might be described as the film's anti-heroine. Within the terms of the film's own moral universe, she is unquestionably the bad sister, especially when she starts requesting her mother's best clothes and jewellery within hours of the old woman's death. She refuses to take the time to entertain her parents when they come to Tokyo, and instead she phones Noriko/Hara, the wife of her brother who died in the war. Noriko works in an office and politely asks her boss for time off. Hara's character is unquestionably the "better daughter," and Hara the bigger movie star, while Sugimura, as an actor, is practically invisible. Her realist method acting provides the background for Hara's formal beauty; and in this sense she is very much part of the city that the film is named for, which is depicted in the film as an ugly sprawling metropolis. It is only perhaps within a cross-cultura l, or historically displaced, analysis that Sugimura's performance comes into legibility--that we can read her as an expressive subjectivity. In an inversion of the Hara and Sugimura characters in Tokyo Story, Shige can be understood as refusing to make the sacrifices that Noriko makes, and refusing to accept the disappointments of life to which Hara's character is so emphatically resigned.

The analysis that I am suggesting here is one that reads performances against the star-images that contextualized the original, indigenous, screenings. And yet perhaps those meanings were also available for the huge audiences of women who we know were there at the cinema. (47) Perhaps Sugimura's invisibility also speaks to the films' discourses of realism. Her technique of acting out, of her subtle resistance to the ongoing disappointments of life, may have carried some weight with Japanese women in the 1950s as well. Sugimura makes extensive use of props, in keeping with her method training. As she talks to Noriko on the phone, she fans away the oppressive heat with a fan decorated with a woman's picture, and although the face is indistinguishable, it could easily be Hara's own face printed on it. I wonder if women in the audience would have felt closer to that idealized image, or to the woman using it to cool herself off? Indeed the textual openness of Japanese cinema of the 1950s that has been privileged b y auteurist and formalist critics needs to be extended to its complex modes of address, including the codes of performance and stardom by which new gender roles were negotiated during the postwar, post-Occupation, period.

The few comments from journalists of the period that I have cited here suggest that popular actresses like Hara and Takamine were treated as tragic royalty. As rich and powerful women, they were "outside" society, and yet they had deep obligations to preserve certain ideals of gender, such as beauty and "naturalness." While different directors elicit different performances and enabled these actors to develop a range of characters, the popular press tended to reinforce a banal image of the nice, gentle, good-humoured woman. In fact, I believe there is far more complexity to these stars and their various roles than conventional film criticism has thus far revealed. As Walter Benjamin has argued, "the history of works prepares for their critique, and thus historical distance increases their power." (48)

Insofar as Japanese cinema of the 1950s constitutes a vivid engagement with rapidly changing cultural norms and values, it exemplifies Benjamin's observation that "the meaning of the concrete realities in the work will no doubt remain hidden from the poet and the public of his time." (49) From the perspective of 50 years later, in a greatly altered global cultural landscape, the "concrete realities" of 1950s Japanese cinema might begin to come to light. Specifically, the mixture of acting styles that informed the films of the period can be understood as being at once culturally coded, and gender-biased. While the protection of interiority and limited range of expressivity associated with Hara's star-image served to perpetuate an image of gendered "Japaneseness," the method acting of Sugimura made the actress virtually unknowable and slightly threatening.

These actresses, along with many others, including not only Takamine Hideko, but Tanaka Kinuyo, Kyo Machiko and others, were among the most visible women in Japanese popular culture. Their vital contribution to the cinema of this "golden era" of the 1950s was also a contribution to a redefinition of the feminine in the postwar period. In the ongoing construction of Japanese modernity, their roles were particularly crucial in that this cinema of the 1950s was also an incursion into the international, global scene of popular culture--even if it was framed as "art cinema" outside Japan. Within this exportable form of Japanese culture, Japanese audiences were also able to see how others saw them. These "new subjectivities" need to be recognized as inhabiting and constituting a Japanese modernity that may not have been invented in the 1950s (and in fact dates well back into the Tokugawa era), but for the first time features a public display of many complex female subjects. The contradictions embodied in their star -images and performance styles are deeply embedded in the conflicting ideologies of what some have described as "the confusion era" of postwar Japan.


This paper was researched with the assistance of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would like to thank Toshiko Kumagai for invaluable research assistance and translation of Japanese-language materials and Louis Pelletier and Adam Rosadiuk for additional research assistance. Thanks also to Chika Kinoshita for her comments on an early draft of this article.

Please note that all names are in Japanese name-order with last names first, except for those writers who have published in English with their names in Western name-order.

(1.) Joanne Izbicki, "The Shape of Freedom: The Female Body in Post-Surrender Japanese Cinema," US-Japan Women's Journal English Supplement No. 12, 1996, p.118.

(2.) Kawamoto Saburo, "Postwar lapanese Cinema Revisited" part 15, in Sekai (The World), June 1993, pp. 3l2-20. Translated and quoted by Izbicki, p.117.

(3.) Harry Harootunian, History's Disquiet; Modernity, Cultural Practice, and the Question of Everyday Life, New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, p.62.

(4.) Harootunian, p.66.

(5.) Mark Sandier, ed, The Confusion Era: Art and Culture of Japan During the Allied Occupation, 1945-1952, Washington DC: The Smithsonian institute, 1997.

(6.) Richard Dyer, Stars, London: British Film institute. 1986, p.38.

(7.) Miriam Silverberg, "The Modern Girl as Militant," in Recreating Japanese Women, 1600-1945, Gail Lee Bernstein ed, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991, p.240.

(8.) Harootunian, p.66

(9.) Hansen's argument has been developed in AThe Mass Production of the Senses: Classical Cinema as Vernacular Modernism,@ in Reinventing Film Studies, Christine Gledhill and Linda William eds., London: Arnold Publishing, 2000, pp.332-350; and Miriam Bratu Hansen, AFallen Women, Rising Stars, New Horizons: Shanghai Silent Film as Vernacular Modernism,@ Film Quarterly 54:1 (2000).

(10.) Sato defines feminisuto thus: "The image of a woman suffering uncomplainingly can imbue us with admiration for a virtuous existence almost beyond our reach, rich in endurance and courage. One can idealize her rather than merely pity her, and this can lead to what 1 call the worship of womanhood, a special brand of lapanese feminism" Currents in Japanese Cinema, trans. Gregory Barrett, Tokyo: Kodansha, 1982, p. 78.

(11.) Chika Kinoshita, "Choreography of desire: analysing Kinuyo Tanaka's acting in Mizoguchi's films," Screening the Past a.htm 12/14/01, p.8.

(12.) Phyllis Birnbaum, Modem Girls, Shining Stars, the Skies of Tokyo: Five Japanese Women, New York: Columbia University Press, 1999, p.26.

(13.) Ayako Kano, "Visuality and Gender in Modern lapanese Theatre: Looking at Salome," Japan Forum 11:1 1999, p.48.

(14.) Kyoko Hirano, Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the American Occupation, 1945-1952, Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1992, p. 156.

(15.) Joseph L Anderson and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry Expanded Edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, p.396.

(16.) Sandra Buckley, "A Short History of the Women's Movement in Japan," in Women of Japan and Korea: Continuity and Change, Joyce Gelb and Marian Lief Palley eds., Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994, p.153.

(17.) In Anderson and Richie's The Japanese Film: Art and Industry their list of stars includes a combination of "the best" (who have moulded personal styles) and "the most popular" (397). The following actresses are included: Awashima Chikage (b, 1924), Hara Setsuko (b. 1920), Hidari Sachiko (b. 1930), Kagawa Kyoko (b. 1931), Kogure Michiyo (b.1918), Kyo Machiko (b. 1924), Misora Hibari (b. 1938), Mizutani Yaeko (b. 1906), Mochizuki Yuko (b. 1918), Otowa Nobuko (b. 1924), Hideko Takamine (b. 1924), Tanaka Kinuyo (b. 1910), Wakao Ayako(b. 1933), Yamada Isuzu (b. 1917).

(18.) "Sugimura Haruko's Personality and Performance," Syufu no Tamo June 1958, 6, trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(19.) Donald Richie, Different People: Pictures of Some Japanese, Tokyo: Kodansha, 1987, p.12.

(20.) Robin Wood, "Resistance to Definition: Ozu's 'Noriko' Trilogy," in Sexual Politics and Narrative Film: Hollywood and Beyond, New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, p.115.

(21.) See the following articles from the women's magazine Syufu no Tomo: "Film Star Hara Setsuko: Home Album of the 100 Top Women" (September 1953); "Hara Setsuko Returns," (May 1955); "Visiting Stars" (a picture of Hara Setsuko and Mifune Toshiro, June 1951), "Stars Dressing in May" (a picture of Hara Setsuko, May 1952); "Film Star Hara Setsuko" (September 1953) "Hara Setsuko Gets Married?" (April 1957), all trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(22.) Ohi Kosuke, "Hara Setsuko" Fujin Koran May 1951, trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(23.) "Film Star Hara Setsuko," Syufu no Tomo September 1953.

(24.) Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema, Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2000, p.116. Ohi Kosuke wrote in Fujin Koran, "I was sorry about her serious passionate acting" May 1951.

(25.) Stuart Galbraith IV, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, New York: Faber and Faber, 2001, p.146.

(26.) David Bordwell, Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema, Princeton University Press, 1988, p.85.

(27.) (The best account of the critical polemics about Ozu's modernism is Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, Logic of Sentiment: The Postwar Japanese Cinema and Questions of Modernity, PhD Diss, University of California, San Diego, 1993.

(28.) Galbraith p.68.

(29.) Anderson and Richie, p.393.

(30.) "Visiting Takamine Hideko, who got engaged," Syufu no Tomo April 1955. trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(31.) Birnbaum p.249.

(32.) Birnbaum (p.242) does not name the historian she quotes, although the only historian she cites in her "bibliographical note" is Sato Tada.

(33.) Mishima Yukio, "Talking about Cinema and Marriage with Takamine Hideko," Syufu no tomo, December 1954. trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(34.) James O'Brien, "Takamine Hideko: The Actress," in Heroic with Grace: Legendary Women of Japan, Chieko Irie Mulhern ed., New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1991, p.291.

(35.) Birnbaum p.213.

(36.) Marcel Giuglaris, Le cinema japonais (1896-1955), Paris: editions du cent, 1956, p.56.

(37.) Anderson and Richie, p.394.

(38.) Tsumura Hideo, "Sugimura Haruko's Personality and Performance," Syufu no Tomo, June 1958, trans. Toshiko Kumagai.

(39.) Tadao Sato, "The Multilayered Nature of the Tradition of Acting in lapanese Cinema," in Cinema and Cultural Identity Reflections on Films from Japan, India and China, Wimal Dissanayake ed., Lanham MD: University Press at America, 1988, p.50.

(40.) Takamine actually cites Sugimura as one of her models, and specifically mentions a scene from a film called Spring on Leper's Island in which Sugimura keeps her back to the audience, because, says Takamine, "she probably didn't want to expose her ugly, disfigured face" -- as she was playing a leper (Birnbaum p.230).

(41.) Jon Herskovitz, "Haruko Sugimura" Variety Jan 19, 1998, p.100.

(42.) Sato, Currents In Japanese Cinema, p.82.

(43.) Daniel Schmid, "In Memory of the great actress Haruko Sugimura," in Mikio Naruse, Shigehiko Hasumi and Sadao yamane, eds., Festival Internacional de Cine de San Sebastian. Madrid, 1998, p.147. Schmid directed a film partly about Sugimura entitled The Written Face (1995).

(44.) Megami Sakabe, "Mask and Shadow in Japanese Culture: implicit Ontology in lapanese Thought," in Modern Japanese Aesthetics: A Reader, Michele Marra ed, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999, pp.242-251; Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, Richard Howard trans., New York: Hill and Wang, 1982, p.62.

(45.) Sakabe, p.244.

(46.) Barthes, p.62.

(47.) Suzanne Audrey, "Les femmes et le cinema au Japon," Cahiers du cinema 30, Noel 1953, p.42.

(48.) Walter Benjamin, "Goethe's Elective Affinities," trans. Stanley Corngold, Selected Writings Vol. 1, Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings eds., Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press, 1996, p.298.

(49.) bid, p.298.

Catherine Russell is Associate Professor of Film Studies and Director of the PhD in Humanities Programme at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of Narrative Mortality: Death, Closure and New Wave Cinemas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), and Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1999). She has also published numerous articles on Canadian film and video, and lapanese cinema. See
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