Date of Award

Fall 2020

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Historical & Political Studies; College of Arts & Sciences

First Advisor

Geoffrey Haywood

Abstract

WWII and its aftermath fundamentally changed the collective consciousness of the Japanese people. For the first time in history, and at a tremendous cost, the country was vanquished. By the end of the war, sixty-seven cities had been firebombed, three million people had been killed, and millions more found themselves suffering from poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Most controversially, the USAAF dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—two acts which have been so universally condemned that they’ve never been repeated. For the next seven years, the U.S. armed forces occupied the country and charted its course, effectively operating a colonial puppet regime. But there are limitations to looking at the facts alone. By contextualizing and analyzing four films of the early postwar era, this paper takes an actively empathetic approach toward understanding how the Japanese examined, debated, and eventually came to terms with their own wartime experiences. Drawing on a variety of sources from sociologists, historians, and film critics alike, the aim is to emphasize the incredible power of artistic expression in the complex process of overcoming cultural trauma. One Wonderful Sunday (1947) displays the cathartic release of the war generation’s deep despair. Rashomon (1950) casts light, via allegory, on the problems of memory and truth in a defeated nation. Gojira (1954) explores the guilt and sorrow of the Japanese, declaring “never again” to nuclear war. Finally, Pigs and Battleships (1961) shows the continuing struggles of Japan’s first postwar generation, offering a glimmer of hope to those yet to come. These films, chosen both for the breadth of topics they engage with and their enduring renown so many decades later, tell the story of how the Japanese were able to “endure the unendurable”.

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Enduring The Unendurable: Examining Cultural Trauma in Postwar Japanese Film

WWII and its aftermath fundamentally changed the collective consciousness of the Japanese people. For the first time in history, and at a tremendous cost, the country was vanquished. By the end of the war, sixty-seven cities had been firebombed, three million people had been killed, and millions more found themselves suffering from poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Most controversially, the USAAF dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—two acts which have been so universally condemned that they’ve never been repeated. For the next seven years, the U.S. armed forces occupied the country and charted its course, effectively operating a colonial puppet regime. But there are limitations to looking at the facts alone. By contextualizing and analyzing four films of the early postwar era, this paper takes an actively empathetic approach toward understanding how the Japanese examined, debated, and eventually came to terms with their own wartime experiences. Drawing on a variety of sources from sociologists, historians, and film critics alike, the aim is to emphasize the incredible power of artistic expression in the complex process of overcoming cultural trauma. One Wonderful Sunday (1947) displays the cathartic release of the war generation’s deep despair. Rashomon (1950) casts light, via allegory, on the problems of memory and truth in a defeated nation. Gojira (1954) explores the guilt and sorrow of the Japanese, declaring “never again” to nuclear war. Finally, Pigs and Battleships (1961) shows the continuing struggles of Japan’s first postwar generation, offering a glimmer of hope to those yet to come. These films, chosen both for the breadth of topics they engage with and their enduring renown so many decades later, tell the story of how the Japanese were able to “endure the unendurable”.

 
 

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