The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan

The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan

by Eric Cazdyn

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The Flash of Capital analyzes the links between Japan’s capitalist history and its film history, illuminating what these connections reveal about film culture and everyday life in Japan. Looking at a hundred-year history of film and capitalism, Eric Cazdyn theorizes a cultural history that highlights the spaces where film and the nation transcend their…  See more details below


The Flash of Capital analyzes the links between Japan’s capitalist history and its film history, illuminating what these connections reveal about film culture and everyday life in Japan. Looking at a hundred-year history of film and capitalism, Eric Cazdyn theorizes a cultural history that highlights the spaces where film and the nation transcend their customary borders—where culture and capital crisscross—and, in doing so, develops a new way of understanding historical change and transformation in modern Japan and beyond.
Cazdyn focuses on three key moments of historical contradiction: colonialism, post-war reconstruction, and globalization. Considering great classics of Japanese film, documentaries, works of science fiction, animation, and pornography, he brings to light cinematic attempts to come to terms with the tensions inherent in each historical moment—tensions between the colonizer and the colonized, between the individual and the collective, and between the national and the transnational. Paying close attention to political context, Cazdyn shows how formal inventions in the realms of acting, film history and theory, thematics, documentary filmmaking, and adaptation articulate a struggle to solve implacable historical problems. This innovative work of cultural history and criticism offers explanations of historical change that challenge conventional distinctions between the aesthetic and the geopolitical.

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Editorial Reviews

Terry Hong
[I]nteresting. . . . Cazdyn . . . explores some thought-provoking points. . . —Push NAATA
R. Ducharme
[E]ven readers unsympathetic with theory will find much of interest in this book. The author is extremely knowledgeable about Japanese history, culture, and literature, and he writes with attention to particulars. Every page contains illuminating observations on the relation between Japanese filmmakers within a deep cultural context. Those familiar with Japan's masters of narrative film will find here intelligent criticism. What even aficionados of things Japanese will find illuminating is the information Cazdyn offers on documentary filmmakers in Japan, especially since WWII.—Choice
Ralph Cassell
Let me go out on a critical limb early in 2003: The Flash of Capital-engaging, challenging, maddening-will be one of the year's best studies of modern Japan. . . . The Flash of Capital itself is such 'luxurious reading,' one that will push you where you never intended.—Asahi Shimbun/International Herald Tribune
David Cozy
[T]hose who can find it in themselves to give a project as daring as Cazdyn's a chance will be pleasantly surprised. In prose more lucid than the antitheory grumps might have led one to expect, Cazdyn, rubbing Japanese film up against Japanese geopolitics, produces many fascinating-to borrow his term-'flashes' . . . . [S]o bright is this book with insight and intelligence that it just might serve to win over a diehard theory-phobe or two.—The Japan Times
From the Publisher
“Cazdyn’s work is original, unique, and provocative. He asks hard questions, makes surprising connections, and as a result forces us to rethink the relationship of the aesthetic and the social in Japanese modernity.”—Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, author of Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema

“This book redesigns the way in which Japanese cinema must be approached, taking into account the ‘longer term’ dynamics of economic formations as well as the way Japan is stitched into ‘global’ contemporary processes.”—Paul Willemen, author of Looks and Frictions: Essays in Cultural Studies and Film Theory

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Product Details

Duke University Press
Publication date:
Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society
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Barnes & Noble
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2 MB

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The flash of capital

Film and geopolitics in Japan
By Eric M. Cazdyn

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-2939-5

Chapter One

relation Film, Capital, Transformation

There is a story about Ichikawa Danjuro IX, the renowned kabuki actor who "starred" in the oldest remaining Japanese film, titled Momijigari (Maple viewing) made in 1899 (figs. 1 and 2). Using seventy feet of film and a stationary camera temporarily set up two hundred feet behind the Tokyo Kabukiza (Kabuki theater), Danjuro and Kikugoro Onoe V performed a single scene from Momijigari. In fact, Danjuro had to be persuaded by the director of the Kabuki-za, Inoue Takejiro, to do the performance and did not view the film until the following year, when a screening was held at his private residence. A newspaper at the time reported that during the screening Danjuro exclaimed, "It is terribly strange (fushigi) to be able to see my own dance." At that time, Danjuro also made it clear that the film should never be screened during his lifetime. What did Danjuro find so strange? And, more important, why did he find it so strange?

Danjuro's story is usually interpreted to mean that he was disturbed by the filmic representation of his dance and that he recoiled from the distortion produced by the "popular" and "fledgling" medium of film against the "high" and "traditional" art of kabuki (of course, kabuki as "high" culture had itself recently beenrefigured from its more popular roots). The story becomes more illuminating, however, if we think about it in terms of the rise of Japanese modernity and the role that film and visuality played in its formation. The phrasing of Danjuro's statement is important: "It is terribly strange to be able to see my own dance." It is not strange, in other words, to watch Momijigari, and it may not even be strange to watch film for the first time. What is terribly strange is seeing oneself in this new technological medium.

Danjuro's experience speaks to the emergence of modern subjectivity, in which the strangeness or shock of seeing oneself in film for the first time produces an awareness of being-at the same time-spectator and spectacle, subject and object, seer and seen. For the first time, Danjuro understood what it meant to be himself in the modern world; as spectator of himself, he obtained self-consciousness of that famous kabuki actor called Ichikawa Danjuro. Of course, not every Japanese filmgoer at the turn of the twentieth century was able to see his or her own image projected back. But as was the case during Japan's first public film screening held in Osaka in 1897 (when Louis and Auguste Lumiere screened twenty films depicting New York, France, England, Italy, and Russia) the image of non-Japan can be just as significant in producing the awareness of that new thing called the modern Japanese nation.

Rey Chow, in a different context, calls this the "menace of visuality," by which she means that the shock of the visual medium in the non-West produces (1) the realization of individual and national existence as a spectacle; and (2) the realization of a powerful new medium that threatens the role enjoyed by the more traditional art forms. Simultaneous with this menace, however, is what might be called a liberation of visuality, a utopian dimension of recognition and self-consciousness; a realization of hitherto nonexistent possibilities. In other words, the shock represents-at one and the same time-the liberation from older forms of visuality and older systemic constraints as well as the crucial menacing element in reenforcing a whole new system of control. It is this dual process of menace and liberation that was set in motion at the precise moment in which Japan was transforming from an early modern society to a modern one, from a culture dominated by the oral and written to one dominated by the visual. It was this process, moreover, that broke open a whole new pack of possible modern subjects and modern nations that were realizable in Meiji Japan.

But the emergence of the modern subject and nation cannot be separated from the emergence of Japanese capitalism. Capitalism demands a certain way of coming to terms with time and space, with work, with consumption, with abstraction, with the contract-in short, with the concrete over and above the transcendental, with the part over and above the whole. Capitalism requires the type of "modern self" that film was instrumental in making possible. To underscore this point, we can return to Danjuro's film experience. In the summer of 1903, four years after the filming of Momijigari, Danjuro was contracted to perform in Osaka. Because of a sudden illness (which led to his death later in the year), Danjuro could not make the journey, and he was forced to cancel the performance. It was at this point that Danjuro went back on his word never to screen Momijigari publicly in his lifetime and had the print immediately sent to Osaka to compensate for his absence. Here the cinematic reproduction of Danjuro's performance was recognized as a more satisfactory substitute than a performance by another troupe. Wildly successful, the print remained in Osaka for more than four weeks of screenings, despite the original one-week plan. Film, like the transformation of consciousness that it helped enable, was more conducive to capitalism than the theater. The die was cast.

Like modern visuality, capitalism in Japan also came equipped with its own menacing/dystopian and liberating/utopian possibilities. My point here is to relate the emergence of film with the first moment of capitalist development in which a new individualism was required to meet the needs of Japanese consumer society (a domestic market) and service an ever specializing division of labor; at the same time, limits were placed on this individualism by the new categories of capitalist production, such as commodity exchange, labor-management relations, the extraction of surplus value, and the modern contract. For example, as commodity production became dominant, the new form of money as an "abstract thing"-itself a contradiction insofar as money is immutable, exchangeable, and perfectly replaceable (abstract) at the same time that it is concrete, material and destructible (a thing) -corresponded to a new form of thinking, a form of thinking that experienced different possibilities and limitations in its quest to make sense of everyday life. Or there are labor-management relations: The contract Danjuro signed with the Osaka Kabuki-za obliged the screening of Momijigari, forcing Danjuro to break his promise with the theater's management and enter into unfamiliar relations. Moreover, forms of distribution and consumption enabled by the reproducible film negative itself were transformed, thus reconfiguring the way Danjuro's performance produced value. Repetition, reproducibility, exchangeability, ubiquity, simultaneity, circulation, distribution, mass production-these were the new categories of film and capitalism.

Let us jump ahead almost one hundred years to an event in which another famous kabuki actor watched himself on screen. In 1994, Kataoka Nizaemon was helped onto the stage after a screening of all five parts of Haneda Sumiko's eight-hour documentary about Nizaemon's life, Kabuki yakusha: Kataoka Nizaemon (Kabuki actor: Kataoka Nizaemon). Ninety-one years old and blind, Nizaemon remarked after extended applause from the audience: "Although I could not see the screen, because I could hear the film, I was still able to see it" (figs. 3 and 4). Whereas Danjuro could see but not hear the silent Momijigari, Nizaemon could hear but not see Haneda's film. I will use this inversion as a way to think about the first great transformation of visual representation and reception that occurred in modern Japanese history.

Nizaemon was born in the same year that Danjuro died (1903). Although he had been on stage from the age of two and led a very confined life within the kabuki world, Nizaemon lived during the age of film, during the age of the mechanical image. One of the most powerful scenes in Haneda's film comes when Nizaemon, now fully blind, is shown riding the Tokyo subway by himself. Nizaemon navigates the huge staircases, the train cars, the ticket machines, and the throngs of people with the greatest precision and ease. Since childhood, Nizaemon explains, he has adored the trains and has ridden them so many times that to do so without seeing is no feat at all. But, of course, Nizaemon is not alone: Haneda and her cameraman follow(or direct) his every move. What is stunning about this scene is how similar Nizaemon's movement through space is to the film's. For example, there is a close-up of a ticket dispenser, then a medium shot of the crowd, followed by a quick cut to a close-up of the ticket gate. The spatial and temporal categories that govern the scene in Haneda's film and the perceptual ones that the film anticipates of the viewer-forms of memory, attention span, imagination, spatial and temporal mapping-seem to be employed by Nizaemon. The shots selected by Nizaemon are organized to construct continuous movement in a thoroughly discontinuous spatial reality. In other words, Nizaemon, notwithstanding his blindness, apprehends the reality of the train station with what might be thought of as an interior camera of his own so that he can "see" and "direct" his way through the station. Nizaemon is not only the subject of Haneda's film; he is film itself.

This is to say that Nizaemon's ability to see through his blindness occurs not only because he knows his life and craft so well, but also because he has internalized the conventions of film so well: The moving image becomes his own thought, just as thought becomes the moving image. Like the shock that Danjuro experienced, this cinematic visuality contains both utopian and dystopian dimensions. Unable to throw the on-off switch to suspend dominant visuality-with no chance, in other words, to leave the theater of our historical situation and turn off the film that is our individual lives-a very dark side emerges, one that is inextricably connected to all new means of circulating mass ideology and, thus, connected to the horrors of the twentieth century. But to be able to see even when one does not see produces new possibilities for change and social collectivization, an imagined community vis-a-vis the image. Indeed, the dynamic play of utopian and dystopian events throughout Japanese modernity-militarism, fascism, social welfare, large-scale collective movements-seems to attest to this dual dimension.

Nizaemon's experience can be used to mark off the second great moment in the transformation of visuality and image culture in Japan: the first being when a spectator gains self-consciousness at the strangeness of seeing images projected onto a screen, and the second when one sees even when one does not see. The first moment gestures to the relation between technologized images and visuality and the formation of the modern nation and modern subjects, and the second gestures to the transformation of modern subjects that have been born into an existing situation of technologized visuality. This second moment, moreover, relates to the first significant transformation of the capitalist system (which occurred in the late 1920s and '30s) in coordination with Japan's colonial project, during which there was a radical consolidation of industry and banking organized around the strengthening of the zaibatsu (privately owned industrial empires) system. Before incorporating difference and the dialectic into the moments that these two stories represent, and before elaborating on the historiographical problem of transformation and on the very knotty relation between culture and capitalism, there is a third moment to be delineated: the contemporary moment of globalization, a moment in which one sees but does not see.

The 1995 release of sarin gas on a Tokyo subway by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult serves as a striking example of this third moment. After the incident, the Japanese police commenced a full-scale hunt for seven Aum fugitives. No matter where one went in Japan-from urban side streets to village telephone booths-it was impossible not to run into leaflets, flyers, posters, placards, billboards, lanterns, full-body replicas, and other types of visual advertisements of these seven fugitives (figs. 5, 6, and 7). And at home, one could not escape the barrage of the fugitives' images on the television. In 1996, the advertisements were still ubiquitous, but everyone in the country was so familiar with the seven faces that the police altered their strategy. One advertisement, for example, no longer showed the fugitives' faces; instead only the outlines of their faces remained, with their individual features cut out (fig. 8). The advertisement read: "Do these shapes remind you of anyone?" The police assumed that, without seeing the faces of the Aum fugitives, everyone should still be able to see. They were relying on the logic that accounted for why the blind Nizaemon could still see Haneda's film: The installation of visuality was so complete that, when the images were finally shut off, they would doubtless persist, still organizing the lives of those who lived through them-not unlike the way in which a recent amputee might still feel and live with his or her severed limb. It is a logic to which any advertising executive can attest: The more images of a product that abound, the more a potential consumer-at the point of purchase-will remember. Apparently not. In December 1996, one of the Aum fugitives walked into a neighborhood station in downtown Tokyo. No one recognized him until, after patiently waiting his turn, he identified himself. Information circulated by way of the technologized image, but reception to these images and their effects have been transformed. Unlike Danjuro's seeing but not hearing and Nizaemon's not seeing but seeing, in contemporary life, people are saturated with images and tend to see but do not see.

To not see what one sees suggests a certain degree of collective unconsciousness, a sort of automatonization by which awareness and sensitivity to one's everyday surroundings and life are severely weakened. But, as usual, things are more complicated than this. There is another dimension in which not seeing what one sees turns out not to be an altogether regrettable situation. In fact, wrapped up in this non-recognition is the possibility of recognizing something else, something that does not yet exist, something that can exist in the future. Or to come at this from the other direction: This non-recognition might be a symptom of a different way of seeing, of different subjectivities. Perhaps the sheer abundance of images might shape a symptomological subject, one (however split) that sees something other than what she or he is looking at. But what else is there to see in the mug shot of an Aum fugitive?

Triggered by the global capitalist crises of the 1970s, capitalism has been reconfigured-marked by the greater flexibility of accumulation methods, information technology, supranational institutions, and the emergence of cybernetic currency markets that absorb and expand idle capital without resorting to the usual fixes provided by what used to be called the welfare state and the Third World. Compared with earlier moments of capitalist global relations, this reconfiguration betrays different circuits and flows, different temporalities and spaces, different dynamics of cause and effect. These dynamics appear unthinkable at present; they currently exceed the possibilities to properly map them. In other words, the dynamics produce a train station that is no longer navigable.


Excerpted from The flash of capital by Eric M. Cazdyn Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto
Cazdyn's work is original, unique, and provocative. He asks hard questions, makes surprising connections, and as a result forces us to rethink the relationship of the aesthetic and the social in Japanese modernity.
— Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto, author of Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema
Paul Willemen
This book redesigns the way in which Japanese cinema must be approached, taking into account the 'longer term' dynamics of economic formations as well as the way Japan is stitched into 'global' contemporary processes.

Meet the Author

Eric Cazdyn is Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, Film, and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto.

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