Humanizing Japan After World War II: Motifs of Sentiment and Sensibility as Expressed by the Mother Figure in Kinoshita Keisuke's Hahamono Films
Macovski, Michael S
Hahamono cinema, a sub-genre of Japanese melodrama, focuses on the characterization of maternal figures. The peak in hahamono film production was in the 1940s-50s. This era coincides with the period of war and trauma of defeat. This thesis analyzes how depictions of mother figures’ suffering in hahamono reflect Japan’s war trauma. Through a close reading of director Kinoshita Keisuke’s hahamono films made between 1944-54, this thesis illustrates that the mother figures’ suffering in relation to their national duties and families humanizes Japan, depicting it as a war victim rather than a perpetrator. The rupture between the state and the individual makes it possible for the common people presented in these films to appear as mere victims of governmental policies. In films set in wartime, including Rikugun (1944) that was made during wartime, the maternal figure is forced to passively accept her role as a patriotic mother to a national family; however, in her heart she wishes nothing more than to perform the role of a mother to an individual family. During the postwar era, films such as A Japanese Tragedy (1953) portray a different maternal figure—in this case, one forced to engage in illegal activity to support her children. This mother’s painful choices ultimately come to represent not only the struggles of all mother figures in Japan, but also the position of the Japanese masses—and Japan itself—as war victims.
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