Women in East Asia Films (early 1996)


Women in Films In China and Japan

Colleagues: Joyce Madancy of Union College was kind enough to prepare the following significant thread for us.

Subject: Re: Women in film thread
From: Joyce Madancy, Union College 

I am preparing to teach a course in the coming spring term on Women in China and Japan. It is a history course, but will progress more thematically than chronologically. I have in mind, for example: women and ideology, women and the family, women and work, women in politics, etc. But what I want to locate are titles of a handful or more good films to accompany the course. I hope to use Small Happiness (but would also appreciate it if anyone has a contact name and number for the Long Bow Group that distributes it), and perhaps one of the recent releases like The Girl from Hunan, but I especially need suggestions for films on women in Japan. Thanks in advance.

From: John W. Israel, University of Virginia
Date: Jan 15, 1996

A number of recent Chinese films such as Ju Dou, Hang High the Red Lantern, and The Story of Qiu Ju would be appropriate for a course on the comparative study of women in China and Japan. Still better, I think, would be two readily available films from the 1950s based upon works of the May 4th period: The New Year's Sacrifice and The Family.


From: Ruth Dunnell, Kenyon College dunnell@kenyon.edu

There are many good Chinese films now available about women (those by Zhang Yimou are always good for discussion, although you should look at some reviews too). The contact for "Small Happiness" is New Day Films, 22-D Hollywood Ave., Hohokus, NJ 07423, tel. 201 652-6590, fax 201 652-1973. As for Japanese films, I like "The Makioka Sisters," "Tokyo Story" or almost anything else by Yasujiro Ozu, "Sandakan 8", Kurosawa's "No Regrets for Our Youth," Itami's "Tampopo" or "A Taxing Woman," Mizoguchi's "Street of Shame" or "Osaka Elegy." I haven't yet seen "Woman in the Dunes" and many others. These films are available from places like Facets (in Chicago).

Good luck!

from: John C. Campbell, University of Michigan jccamp@umich.edu
Date: Jan 15, 1995

The feature film of "The Makioka Sisters" is quite good, the one done in the early 80s I guess. The TV series of three or four years ago called "Double Kitchen," which ran on cable with subtitles, is terrific; the original version is available on video here and there but maybe not with subtitles. Pretty random answers though.


From: Naoko Ogawa, University of California, Davis nnogawa@ucdavis.edu
Date: Jan 15, 1996
Joyce, the following two documentary films may be of some interest to you.

1. Dream Girls (50 min. Directed by Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, 1993) It is about the Takarazuka Revue, a popular theater company in Japan where all roles are played by women. The film gives a compelling insight into gender and sexual identity and the contradictions experienced by Japanese women today. 2. The Good Wife of Tokyo (52 min. Directed by Kim Longinotto and Claire Hunt, 1992) The film introduces a new breed of Japanese woman.

From: Rebecca Karl, University of Florida rkarl@history.ufl.edu
Date: 15 Jan, 1996

Hi: Having just looked for similar stuff for last semester, I found two films on Japan that the students seemed to enjoy (I teach at Univ. of Florida): 1. Sandakan #8: made in around 1974, about a Japanese anthropologist on the trail of a story about the Karayuki-san (the early-century women sent off to SE Asia to staff brothels), who finds one such woman, whom she then induces to tell her story. It is a very effecting/affecting film that brings together issues of contemporary and historical interest, in addition to bringing in a period prior to the "comfort women" episode in which the primary population to draw on for overseas prostitution were rural Japanese women. 2. Nomugi Pass: made in 1979-ish, about the women workers in the silk-reeling industry of late-Meiji (1900s, through the Russo-Japanese War); works well in conjunction with Siever's book "Flowers in Salt" or Tsurumi's "Factory Girls". The latter at least, and perhaps also the former, can be obtained via Video Action, 708 West 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012; 1-800-422-2241; speak to Greg. I, too, have looked for "Small Happiness" -- please tell me if you find out where to get a copy from. I have been unable to locate it at all. I used "Girl from Hunan" last semester; my students, at least, hated it, although when pressed, it was unclear precisely why. I also used one of the Cultural Revolutionary ballet/operas that was made into a film -- White Haired girl (or whatever it is called); this elicited howls of laughter and derision; nevertheless, the point about a nexus between revolution-ideology-images of strong and involved women was successfully conveyed. If you haven't already, look through the Facets catalogue for what they have. Good luck. I hope you post your final findings to the list; and if not, please tell me what you find about Carma Hinton's trilogy.


From: Marilyn Young, New York University youngma@is2.NYU.EDU
Date: Jan 16, 1996
Long Bow can be reached at (617) 277-6400, or write to them at 55 Newton St., Brookline MA 02146. You might also be interested in Peng Xiaolian's film "A Woman's Story." I'm not sure who distributes it, but someone else on the list may know. Or you can write to her at 150 President St., #4, Brooklyn NY 11231. Other post '78 films would also be interesting to use -- all of Zhang Yimou's films have representations of women that a class could learn from. Ed. note: An off-line informant has told me that Long Bow Group items were now handled by New Day Films, 22-D Hollywood Avenue, Hohokus, NJ 07423 tel. 201-652- 6590. But Professor Young has informed me that the telephone number contained in her post above is operative as well.


From: Helen Armstrong armstron@unv.ch
Date: Jan 16, 1996

In reply to Joyce Madancy's query on films relating to the position of women in Japan is it too frivolous to suggest "Tampopo"? Its central character is a single mother trying to run a noodle bar, but includes vignettes of women in other situations (a gangster's girl, a dying mother's relationship with her family). The whole thing is set in cowboy formula and is very satirical, but nevertheless very revealing of the position and relationships of women in the family in Japan.
From: Kris Troost, Duke University kktroost@acpub.duke.edu 

Date: Jan 16, 1996

One other film on women in Japan which is compelling but may be hard to find is Nomugi pass. Like Sandakan 8, it is based on oral histories, in this case of women who worked in the silk filatures in the late 19th/early twentieth centuries. It begins with their recruitment and hiking over the Nomugi pass to the filatures based around Lake Suwa, and chronicles their difficulties working in the factories. Some of the same information is presented in the book, Ah Nomugi Toge, as well as Sharon Sievers study of women (Flowers in Salt: The Beginnings of Feminist Consciousness in Modern Japan. Stanford University Press, 1983) and Mikiso Hane's book on Peasant Rebels and Outcastes. Another interesting film which I don't think has yet been mentioned is Family Game, a comedy which depicts a middle class family's battles against the Japanese educational system. Another from a different time period is Life of Oharu (Mizoguchi), which portrays a woman victimized by the strictures of 17th century feudal Japan.


From: Constantine Vaporis, University of Maryland Baltimore County
Date: Jan 16, 1996

In response to Joyce Madancy's request for recommended films on Japanese women, I have the following suggestions: 1) For the Tokugawa period, I have used Shinoda Masahiro's "Double Suicide" for a number of years (a New Wave film that makes for very challenging but nonetheless rewarding viewing). 2) For the Meiji period, Imai Tadashi's "Muddy Waters" (not to be confused with "Muddy River," the Kohei Oguri film.) This film is based on three short stories by Meiji period woman author Higuchi Ichiyo. It is valuable therefore since it presents women from a woman's point of view (the director is male but he faithfully follows the stories -- available in translation in Danly's _In the Shade of Spring Leaves_. I think the film evokes the Meiji period wonderfully. 3) For the Showa years, I use "Twenty-four Eyes" (a student favorite, despite all the tears!) and Kurosawa's "No Regrets for our Youth" (see Hirano Kyoko's book _Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo_ for a lucid analysis of the film and Donald Richie's _The Films of Akira Kurosawa_.) For more recent fare, _Farm Song_ by John Nathan is still a classic in m y book. _The Funeral_ can also work well. While not a film or a history textbook, Marjorie Wall Bingham and Susan Hill Gross's _Women in Japan from Ancient Times to the Present_ (Women in World Area Studies, 1987) has some interesting comparative materials and ideas for discussion. Best wishes. 

From: Ken Nolley, Willamette University knolley@willamette.edu
Date: Jan 16, 1996

The following reply was sent to H-film. I am returning it to H-Asia as well: From: Susan Denker, Tufts University/Museum School It's a little weird replying to a cross-post, but presumably our moderator was inviting us to discuss this posting. Roughly a year ago, I posed an open question to this list asking if anyone found that the images of women in recent films from the PRC were disturbing. I would now add demeaning. I would also now add sadistic. And to those who will tell me that the images of women are "symbols" of China, I will reply in advance that the couching of masochistic images of one's country in the body of a woman does not obviate discussion of the images as images of women. The second part of my query is "Why do films from the PRC directed by women (of which there are many) receive virtually no critical attention and is this linked to the fact that these films do not depict demeaning images of women, but instead images of strong, self-sufficient women who have generally improved their condition by film's end?" I have in mind films such as:
Woman, Demon, Human
Good Morning Beijing
The First Woman in the Forests
Sacrificed Youth
Three Women

After reading two papers on this topic to two completely different kinds of audiences, I'm still looking for some discussion. And I'm really fed up seeing Zhang Yimou's films taken as an example of films about women. Whatever they're about, they're not about women.


From: Joanne Izbicki, Wake Forest University 
Date: Jan 16, 1996

With reference to Professor Madancy's query about films: I ditto Professor Ogawa's two suggestions ("Dream Girls" and "The Good Wife of Tokyo"), and would like to add "Eat the Kimono" and "Ripples of Change." All of these are distributed by Women Make Movies, Inc./462 Broadway, Suite 500 C/NY, NY 10013/tel 212-925-0606/fax 212-925-2052. However, only the last is made by a Japanese woman. Also, check out Sekiguchi Noriko's "Senso Daughters" (about sexual slavery in Papua New Guinea under Japanese occupation in the Pacific War) and "When Mrs. Hegarty Comes to Japan." There are interesting individually and when shown together create a different context for discussion as the filmmaker explores through the films her position in and between different cultural codes. Both are distributed by First Run/Icarus films/153 Waverly Place, 6th Floor/NY, NY 10014/tel 212-727-1711. As for features: I think virtually any film by Ozu has characters and situations that can yield productive class discussion and papers in a course on women in Japan. The same for films by Naruse Mikio or Kinoshita Keisuke. Itami Juzo's movies ("Tampopo" and "Taxing Woman" have already been mentioned, but all his films center on women) are perhaps the most readily available of newer films. These directors respectively present very different views of women, however. Do you have specific themes or issues you will be exploring? Are you looking for films that might be seen as reflective of `real' women's lives or as examples of how women are constructed in film? My mind's not very concentrated on film right now but if there are specific aspects that you're looking for, let me know and I'll see if I can come up with some other suggestions (my dissertation's on Japanese film 1945-1952 and I've a long-standing interest in and involvement with Japanese cinema).
Good luck

From: Thomas A. Wilson, Hamilton College twilson@itsmail1.hamilton.edu
Date: Jan 16, 1996

I would remark on Helen Armstrong's modest suggestion of Tampopo as a film appropriate for use as a representation of women in Japan, that I find it often a brilliant parody of Japanese fetishization of food, and conflation of food and sex. Have I been "reading too much" into the film to construe it also as a parody of samurai movies which feature a woman as the hero? The cowboy hat provided for me a signal that this was not so much like a cowboy movie, but a martial arts movie (after all, Kurasawa's samurai films provided the basis for many westerns) on the conflict between competing sword fighting techniques, emphasizing the importance of a master-disciple tradition and rigorous training. Tampopo goes through the same kind of trials and tribulations experienced by Mifune in a number of his films: the initial encounter with the enemy, devastating defeat, retreat and training, and final victory; a victory which is as much of a personal victory as it is a confirmation of the validity of the tradition she represents. Some of my students have remarked that Tampopo seems too much under the control of men in this film. Maybe so, but certainly no more so than a discipline any tradition (doctrinal, martial, noodle vending) who carries forth all the expectations of remaining true to the essential values of the tradition.

From: David Tucker, University of Iowa dtucker@blue.weeg.uiowa.edu
Date: Jan 18, 1996

I may have overlooked them, but I did not notice any mention of the following: Audie Bock's book, _Japanese Film Directors_, should not be overlooked. The second edition has more material. (*) There is a lot to be learned from this book about Japanese film, and about women in Japanese film. Mizoguchi's unsentimental 1936 films, Sisters of the Gion, and Osaka Elegy, both short enough to fit some class periods, are now available on videotape. In addition to being able to enjoy Mizoguchi's direction and understanding of the camera (both of these films hold up well to contemporary Hollywood work), we are treated to some very interesting views of family life. The final scenes of Osaka Elegy are especially effective. Again, Bock has some interesting things to say about Mizoguchi's famous sympathy for Japanese women. Of course, in this respect, there are many films by Mizoguchi worth a look. Several films by Naruse Mikio are available on videotape in the US. Some people like Mother (1952). Others find it cloying. It's useful for seeing what strings a tearjerker about an ideal mother is supposed to pull. The 1954 film, Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku) is about a resourceful money lender/land speculator/former geisha, and is very much worth seeing. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, about the attempts of a Ginza bar manager/hostess to get out, has a remarkable performance by Takamine Hideko. There is more than one class of material in her final smile. Like Naruse, Imamura Shohei should be much better known. His 1963 film, Insect Woman, follows a farmgirl from poverty to success in the city. Donald Richie called it "an honest look at a woman's life." "Unflinching" might be better. A very powerful performance by Hidari Sachiko, and direction that puts your face right in her life. Imamura's Karayuki-san, a documentary about Taisho/Showa Japanese prostitutes in and around Singapore, covers much of the same ground as Sandakan 8, but, I think, much more effectively, and with greater dignity. Imamura's adaptation of Ibuse's Black Rain is an Ozu-like, calm and disarming presentation of a young woman who survives Hiroshima, but falls victim to radiation sickness, and will never have children. There are so many remarkable Japanese films with women at their center, that the problem really is not to find films about Japanese women, but to explain why Japanese film has been like this. -----

(*) Ed. note: I have been unable to locate any citation to a second edition of the Bock title noted herein. On the basis of slightly longer page county, the paperbound edition may be revised:
Author:Bock, Audie, 1945-. Title:Japanese film directors; pref. by Donald Richie Edition:1st ed. Pub. Info.:New York: Published for the Japan Society by Kodansha Int'l, 197 8 Phy Descrip:370 p., [24] leaves of plates: ill.; 22 cm. ISBN:0870113046 LCCN:77075968//r86 Author:Bock, Audie, 1945-. Title:Japanese film directors; pref. by Donald Richie Edition:1st paperback ed.Pub. Info.:Tokyo; New York: Kodansha Int'l, 1985, 1978 Phy Descrip:378 p., ill., plates; 21 cm. ISBN:0870117149. 4770012144 (in Japan).LCCN:84082294

From: Michael J. Sullivan, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Date: Jan 22, 1996

The discussion on film and women in China raises an interesting question: are there any female film writers/directors in China? There are female writers, singers and other types of cultural producers. 

From: Kurt Radtke, Leiden K.Radtke@nias.knaw.nl
Date: Jan 22, 1996

I wasn't able to follow this discussion right from the start, but judging on the basis of recent contributions the discussion is not so much about China and Japan, but just another example of that long ongoing debate about the relationship between art and "reality" (that we find so hard to define "objectively"). I always find it very encouraging to note that so many artists and writers in ancient and modern China and Japan, as well as elsewhere of course, have endured many difficulties and pain to create so much beautiful art for us to enjoy. Connoisseurs, readers, and political censors may have divergent ideas about whether a given piece "reflects reality correctly", but the true humanist value of art lies in the fact that we are educated to listen to an understand the artistic language created by the author, and its message, as one possible way of exploring the world around us. If Zhang Yimou creates a film "for the foreign market", does this demean the artistic value of the film? Does a Chinese author have to create "Chinese art"? Fortunately, our modern world is growing together so much that the idea of an "exclusively native audience," or a "native critic" who is more authoritative than others is gradually receding. Talking about foreigners: are men and women eternal foreigners to each other? You do not have to be a man to write about men, or be a woman to be entitled to shoot "proper" films about men --More--(84%) and women. Personally I do not care if a film was made by a man or a woman, or whether it reflects a given theme (women in China) in a "politically correct" way, as long as it is a valuable, enjoyable foray into the follies of our human existence. Philosophically speaking, we *all* are 'foreigners' to each other trying to discover people next to us and the world around us. I have no way to measure to what extent chapter four in Honglou meng (The Dream of the Red Chamber) reflects "women" correctly, but it sure teaches me a lot about the way the author grapples with human tragedy!

From: Don Price, U.C. Davis dcprice@ucdavid.edu
Date: Jan 22, 1996

I may have missed it, but I don't think I've seen mentioned on this thread The Ballad of Narayama. 


From: Kriste Lindenmeyer, Tennessee Technical Univ. 
Date: Jan 22, 1996

I also recommend "Picture Bride." It was filmed in Hawai'i and it concerns the young women who were brought to Hawai'i in the 19-teens as "picture brides" for the Japanese plantation workers in Hawai'i. Last I saw, it was available at Blockbuster. 

From: Cindy, Univ. of Texas at Austin <shinshia@mail.utexas.edu
Date: Jan 22, 1996

This is in response to Joyce Madancy's request for info on video's and such concerning women in China and Japan. I have recently copied Small Happiness for Outreach Asia, a program of the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and we also have a lesson plan that Assignment discovery wrote to accompany the video. This video with lesson plan and others are available for loan from OUTreach Asia. I will be happy to send you our list, or you can browse our web site at (http://asnic.utexas.edu/asnic/index.html). You can contact be directly or oUTreach Asia at (outreach@uts.cc.utexas.edu). The address for Long Bow is:


Long Bow Group, Inc.
617 West End Ave.
New York, NY 10024
(212) 724-9302
If I can be of any further service let me know.

From: Tani Barlow, University of Washington barlow@u.washington.edu
Date: Jan 23, 1996

In response to Michael J Sullivan's query, an interview with Huang Shuqing, a prominent female movie maker, is appearing in the forthcoming issue of _positions: East Asia cultures critique_ issue 3.3 very shortly. To subscribe or to purchase that particular issue consult the journal's home page at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~position/ and press the appropriate buttons. 

From: Helen Armstrong, (in personal capacity) 
Date: Jan 23, 1996

The objective of the original posting was to seek information on films relating to the position of women in China and Japan for teaching purposes, but not, if I remember correctly, for teaching a course on aesthetics in film. Zhang Yimou's films may be "objectively" of "artistic value", but still may not necessarily depict an accurate view of the position of women in China. They may reflect one film director's view of the position of women, which could well be of interest in its own right. The comment re Chinese films `made for the foreign market' was not a judgment on "Chinese" art, but on the Chinese Government's exploitation of Western romanticism about China's past. 

The following posting actually predated my inquiry, but I have included it for the interests of other readers: 

Joyce Madancy

From: Shaoyi Sun 
Date: 27 Dec, 1995

Hi, I just finished a homepage on "Scholarly Works and Articles in English: Chinese Cinema." While the book list tends to be as complete as possible, articles are devoted to three topics which I am now working on: 1) Pre-1949 Chinese Cinema. 2) China's Fifth Generation. 3) Chinese Urban Cinema. If anyone is interested, please visit my homepage at: http://www-scf.usc.edu/~shaoyis/