Sunday, February 24

Contemporary Heroines on the Japanese Screen

'Letter from Japan: From Girls Who Dress Up Like Boys To Trussed-up Porn Stars - Some of the Contemporary Heroines on the Japanese Screen'

Rosemary Iwamura

An incredible number of Japanese films are about women. This seems inconsistent in that Japanese society, and its film industry, is dominated by men. But Japanese women see a lot of movies. While there are more women in the workforce than before, it is still common for Japanese women to stop working after marriage - and although this may mean married women are relatively house-bound, it also means that, after they have cleaned their small homes, they are often left with more free time than Japanese men. So, when producers make films about women, they are, in effect, making these films for women. That is, they are acknowledging the importance of female audiences to the industry and are therefore deliberately catering to women's tastes (Richie Lateral View 151-155).

Another possible reason for the number of films about women could be more traditional. Japanese directors have tended to use female characters to communicate social messages (Richie). Indeed, even as early as the late 1920s, Japanese directors made use of female protagonists to criticise gender inequality, class and political oppression. 1 But while it has been a strong tradition in Japanese film making that women's strength, resilience, and ability to cope with problems has been celebrated, moreoften than not these women were depicted leading self-negating lives (and managing in the process to be both appealing and maternal). In addition, female representations have functioned on-screen in largely supporting roles; that is, to reveal more about, or to guide, the male character (as in The Discarnates, discussed below). And until recently, this kind of representation of 'woman' dominated Japanese screens.

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