chapter  44
Japan and Indonesia, 1940–46: Film Evidence and Propaganda
Pages 15

IN EUROPE and the United States scholars have long been fascinated by the refined violence of Nazi film propaganda. Its resonant imagery and strident ideology have gripped the attention of historians of Germany, fascism, and the cinema, as well as specialists in the dark abstractions of the human mind. In contrast, the celluloid propaganda of the second great axis power, Japan, has aroused negligible academic interest. Indeed, some scholars might question whether the scale and sophistication of this cinematic field justify serious academic investigation.1 Japan’s cinema was already well established and artistically advanced by the outbreak of the Second World War and her rulers clearly regarded film as an ideological weapon of unprecedented sharpness and significance.2 By the late 1930s this awareness was further heightened by news of the political impact of the German cinema and the term bunka eiga-culture film (a translation of the term kultur film)—had an established place in the language of the Japanese cinema.3 Furthermore the need to mobilise the Japanese people in unprecedented unity in the war against China also dramatised the value of the cinema in political operations. Thus, by the time of Pearl Harbor, a new genre of feature film-kokusaku eiga4 (national policy films)—had begun to issue from Japanese studios while newsreels and documentaries were also well established as sharp spurs to right thinking.5 What was more, this trident of features, news and documentaries was not seen merely as a weapon of domestic mobilization but as a means of international or inter-racial communication to purvey Japan’s ideology of decolonisation and pan-Asian harmony throughout East and South East Asia.6 As a result, Japanese propaganda films possess a broad geographical scope and cultural diversity, which was largely absent from the narrowly European products of contemporary Geman directors.