BBC: David Bowie’s love affair with Japanese style

A man walks past a 3D wall portrait of British musician David Bowie, created by Australian street artist James Cochran, also known as Jimmy C, in Brixton, South London, on 19 June 2013. The artwork is based on the iconic cover for Bowies 1973 album, Aladdin Sane.
The iconic Ziggy Stardust look has been immortalized in a piece of street art in Brixton

BBC:

David Bowie, who died this week, was a well-known Japanophile, adopting many elements of Japanese culture into his stage performances.

He was someone who knew how to express himself both with music and with fashion,” Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto told the BBC.

Someone like that may not be so rare these days, but he was one of the pioneers to do both.

Make-up artist Pierre La Roche prepares English singer David Bowie for a performance as Aladdin Sane, 1973. Bowie is wearing a costume by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto.Yamamoto designed for Bowie through both his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane eras

Mr Yamamoto, the creative force behind some of Bowie’s most iconic stage outfits, first got to know Bowie in the 1970s, when the singer was often visiting Japan, and trying to break into the US market.

I don’t know why he was so attracted to things Japanese, but perhaps it wasn’t so much Japan or Japanese-ness itself. He knew when he looked good in something.

“When you wear something and you look really good… you feel confident and good about yourself. I think my designs and costumes had that effect on him.”

Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto waves to the audience after his fashion event 'super energy !!' in Tokyo on June 12, 2015.
Kansai Yamamoto said his relationship with Bowie “went beyond nationalities, beyond gender”

Helene Thian, a fashion historian and lifelong fan who has written extensively about Bowie, agreed. She said Bowie had often been noted as having had “this beautiful androgynous face and body, which suited Kansai Yamamoto’s unisex style”.

‘Shapeshifting’ androgyny

Bowie’s Japanese style had already been developing through his interest in Japanese theatre.

In the mid-1960s, he studied dance with Lindsay Kemp, a British performance and mime artist who was heavily influenced by the traditional kabuki style, with its exaggerated gestures, elaborate costumes, striking make-up, and “onnagata” actors – men playing female roles.

Lindsay Kemp performs in 1974
Lindsay Kemp, performing here in 1974, had been influenced by the intensely stylized productions of Japanese traditional theatre
20th October 1981: Ennosuke Ichikawa, Japan's most distinguished exponent of the three hundred year old art form, Kabuki. Ichikawa prepares his costume and make up before leading a prestigious cast at Sadler's Wells.The dramatic makeup used by kabuki became part of the Ziggy Stardust look

Bowie was a natural “shapeshifter“, says Ms Thian, and his training with Kemp and onnagata style helped him as he explored ideas of masculinity, exoticism and alienation.

He even learned from famed onnagata Tamasaburo Bando how to apply traditional kabuki make-up – its bold highlighted features on a white background are evident in the lightning bolt across the Ziggy face.

It wasn’t trying to be literal interpretation” of onnagata, said Ms Thian, “but rather inspired by its gender-bending androgyny. That’s what makes it so powerful, it’s more evocative.”

‘Quick change’ master

Mr Yamamoto said he wasn’t sure why he and Bowie had such an affinity, but that “something resonated between us, something that went beyond nationalities, beyond gender“.

Through his style and performances, he said, Bowie “broke one sexual taboo after another“.

What he did in terms of bridging the male-female gap continues to this day,” he said, including in the increasing acceptance of gay relationships in Japan.

Among his most famous outfits for Bowie was Space Samurai, a black, red and blue outfit adapting the hakama, a type of loose trousers which samurais wore and which are still worn by martial arts practitioners.

This picture taken on February 27, 2015 shows a costume created by Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto and used by David Bowie, during a press preview of an exhibition dedicated to the British singer at the Philarmonie in ParisYamamoto’s outlandish costumes became a central element of Bowie performances
An outfit worn by musician David Bowie is displayed at the 'David Bowie is' exhibition at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum in central London on 30 March 2013
The dramatic cape could be whipped away on stage mid-performance

He also sometimes wore a kimono-inspired cape with traditional Japanese characters on it which spell out his name phonetically, but also translate to “fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner“.

Ms Thian says Bowie was also “absolutely the first” Western artist to employ the hayagawari – literally “quick change” – technique from kabuki, says Ms Thian, with unseen stagehands ripping off the dramatic cape on stage to reveal another outfit.

David Bowie performs his final concert in 1973 as Ziggy Stardust at the Hammersmith Odeon, London. The concert later became known as the Retirement Gig
The kimono robe also influenced some of his fashion, such as this Ziggy outfit which is a shortened version with a classic Japanese print on it
A costume designed by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto for David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust character is display at the Victoria and Albert museums' new major exhibition, 'British Design 1948-2012: Innovation In The Modern Age' on 28 March 2012 in London, England.
The elaborate clash of prints on this knitted bodysuit can also be seen as a reference to yakuza (organized crime syndicates) tattoo patterns, Helene Thian has written

‘A very beautiful man’

It wasn’t just his appearance – references to Japan are scattered through Bowie’s music – his 1977 album Heroes even features the track Moss Garden on which he plays a Japanese koto, a kind of zither.

These days, an artist in Bowie’s position might be accused of cultural appropriation – stealing another culture for his own purposes – but Ms Thian says it was never seen that way in Japan.

David Bowie performing in his 'Angel of Death' costume at a live recording for a Midnight Special TV show made at The Marquee Club in London to a specially invited audience of Bowie fanclub members in 1973
Bowie often wore androgynous or women’s clothing in his Ziggy Stardust phase

Bowie was born to be the ultimate diplomat and artiste,” she says.

He took his creativity and fused it with his impulses to meld East and West and come up with a healing of the world in this post-war period.

This was “a homage to Japanese culture and the Japanese loved it“, she said, as Bowie challenged the tendency of Western fashion at the time to lump all Asian styles together as “Orientalism“.

‘Eternal hero’

Indeed, Japan embraced Bowie back, and he remains an icon there, with his glam rock style influencing generations of bands and musicians.

Photo of Hotei Tomayasu playing with David Bowie onstage at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo in 1996
Hotei shared with the BBC this photo of them playing onstage together at Bowie’s 1996 Tokyo gig

Renowned rock guitarist Hotei Tomayasu, best known outside Japan for composing the theme for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, told the BBC: “[Bowie] is the one who truly changed my life. My eternal hero and inspiration.

Bowie is also known in Japan for his role as Maj Jack Celliers in the 1983 iconic film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, directed by the renowned Nagisa Oshima.

The film, set during World War Two in a Japanese camp for prisoners, pits Bowie’s character and another soldier against two Japanese officers, one of whom is played by the famous musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Tweet by Miu Sakamoto recalling her meeting with Bowie when she was a little girl, 11 January 2015

On Twitter, Sakamoto’s ex-wife Akiko Yano recalled how Bowie carried their young daughter – Miu – on his shoulders when the family visited the Roppongi neighborhood in Tokyo with Bowie in the 1980s.

Miu Sakamoto tweeted this picture of herself as a little girl shaking hands with the singer, saying she vaguely recalled meeting “a very beautiful man“.

(He is) no more. A world in which David is not living still feels totally unreal.

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Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism

CBC News:

Racism complaints force WAG to rework fundraiser theme

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is changing the theme of its Art & Soul fundraiser after complaints of racism.

The theme for the Feb. 22 event was initially called Big in Japan and encouraged people to “grab your chopsticks, show off your jiu-jitsu skills”  and “get noticed by Geisha girls.”

Jenny WillsJenny Wills wrote a blog post criticising the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s theme for an annual fundraiser. The gallery later changed it.

Jenny Wills condemned the event in a blog post that has since gone viral. People flocked to Twitter to criticize the event, using the hashtag #WAGOrientalism.

My initial reaction was that it had to be a joke. The original page has things like, ‘This party will be so epic, you’ll think you’re turning Japanese,’” said Wills, who teaches Asian studies at the University of Winnipeg. “It was just sort of horrifying to me that some of the stereotypes that had been used to make me feel othered as a child were still being used — and being used by a cultural institution in the name of fundraising.”

The website for the event also referenced environmentalist David Suzuki, who was born and raised in Canada. That particularly hit a nerve for Wills.

This is the same kind of ‘forever a foreigner’ that was used to intern and deport over 20,000 Canadians with Japanese ancestry during World War 2, more than half of who were born in Canada,” she said.

It was surprising that the art gallery didn’t realize their event would offend a lot of people, said literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, who specializes in Asian-American studies at Stanford University in California.

If you had an event and called it ‘Let’s be Jewish for a Day’ And you mimicked various Jewish customs and food. I think the Jewish community would think of it as being anti-semitic,” he said. “Just imagine your ethnic background becoming a spectacle.”

“Through social media and emails, several people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme,” Stephen Borys, WAG director and CEO, stated in a press release.

It became clear over the course of the last few days that the event itself was being overshadowed by the issues at hand. However, when the community speaks up, we listen.”

The fundraising event “will feature four floors of décor and entertainment reflecting Manitoba’s distinctive seasons,” the press release stated.

We’ve heard opinions expressed across the spectrum, many who wanted to stay with the theme who believed in the event as a cultural celebration, but at the end of the day we needed to do the right thing,” said Borys.

The WAG would never want to reduce any culture to stereotypes and we thank those who contacted us directly with their concerns, and we are sorry for any offence that was caused.

Japan theme at WAGThrough social media and emails, several people expressed dissatisfaction with the Big in Japan theme, said Stephen Borys, the WAG’s director and CEO.

We had several people speak to the issue of cultural appropriation and the offence that this theme was causing. The dialogue around what is respectful and beneficial to everyone is important to the WAG, and that’s why we’ve decided to choose an alternative theme.”

Art & Soul is in its 25th year as an annual fundraiser for the WAG. The event takes place throughout the entire building and centres on a particular theme that changes every year.

Wills said cultural institutions need to be aware of what kind message they are sending with their events.

She has spoken with employees with the WAG about having cultural workshops to avoid something similar happening again, but for now, said she’s happy they listened to her concerns.

I respect them for that very much,” she said.

Check out this link:

Museum cancels yellowface-themed fundraiser after accusations of racism

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Baseball, Japanese Americans, and Southern California’s Pacific Rim

manzanarbaseball.jpgBaseball game at Manzanar War Relocation Center | Photo: Ansel Adams, courtesy of the Library of Congress

KCET: 

If California has made any contribution to sport on a national level, it is in the democratization of pursuits that were previously the prerogatives of elites,” noted the dean of California history Kevin Starr in 2005. “Most of the champions of the twentieth century who come from California first developed their skills in publicly subsidized circumstances: municipally supported swimming pools, golf courses, and tennis courts in particular, where middle class Californians, thanks to the recreational policies of Progressivism, were introduced to these previously social register sports.” 

Indeed, even under the weight of racism, groups denied equal access to mainstream U.S. society found sports as a means to greatness and, in part, as a declaration of their commitment to America. Take two-time gold medalist Highland Park native Sammy Lee, or Hall of Fame baseball player and former South Pasadena resident Jackie Robinson, both of whom labored under the auspices of segregation and racism to assert their own, and by extension their fellow Korean and African Americans’, claim to equality. Indeed, Southern California has proven a vital region for promoting the interests of racial and ethnic equality through athletics.

Undoubtedly, figures such as Lee and Robinson remain critical to postwar civil rights battles, yet more ordinary but nonetheless important examples have often gone ignored. For Japanese Americans, Southern California and baseball, though never producing a luminous icon on par with Lee or Robinson, served as critical factors shaping Japanese American identity, binding ethnic enclaves across the West Coast, forging ties with Japanese culture, and promoting civil rights. Moreover, in the face of debilitating internment policies, baseball provided a way to mitigate the trauma of forced incarceration.

However, before one delves into baseball’s meaning for Japanese Americans and Southern California, Japan‘s embrace of the sport needs to be discussed. In the late 1800s, the Japanese government engaged in a process of industrialization and modernization commonly referred to as The Meiji Restoration. Promoting a new industrialized economy and hoping to stake a claim internationally as a global power, Japanese officials established a constitution, created a legislative diet, and urbanized. Turning away from the more isolationist nature of the Tokugawa period, officials sought to simultaneously assert Japanese culture while advocating a set of ideals based on patriotism, industrial productivity, modernization, and teamwork. Baseball fit neatly into this dynamic.

With the combined efforts of American Horace Wilson and Meiji official Hiroshi Hiraoka, baseball flourished across Japan. In 1871, Hiroshi established the Shimbashi Athletic Club, the first of its kind in the nation, and soon the sport expanded in the Japanese imagination. Americans too saw in baseball the symbol of national ideal and by the 1880s, the sport became widely viewed as “the ‘watchword of democracy’,” notes historian Samuel A. Regalado in his compelling 2013 work, “Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Baseball from Immigration to Internment to the Major Leagues.” 

Keio University baseball team in Tokyo, with visiting players from Chicago White Sox and New York Giants, 1914 | Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Keio University baseball team in Tokyo, with visiting players from Chicago White Sox and New York Giants, 1914 | Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Americans like Wilson wanted to export baseball as a means of spreading democracy and opening markets, while simultaneously promoting individualism and teamwork. With that said, such attitudes came with more than a touch of colonialism. Baseball, argued historian Edward M. Burns, “would fire the imaginations of foreign people and stir their countries from sluggishness and from enslavement to outworn habits and institutions.”  In the Philippines, American officials oversaw the development of a physical education program meant in part to instill American values and “discipline,” through sport. Baseball occupied a central place in this configuration. Colonial governors sponsored nationwide baseball tournaments, and by the 1920s more than 1,500 schools fielded teams across the archipelago. Ultimately, basketball would win the hearts of Filipinos, but from 1910 to 1930, the U.S. heavily promoted its national pastime among its colonial subjects. 4

Whatever the colonial associations, Japan saw similar promise in baseball, believing the sport to be an important part of exerting Japan’s new international image. Meiji leaders supported the sport’s ability to reshape the image of Japan while also facilitating international connections. As industrialism and Japan’s standing expanded between 1880 and 1910, so too did baseball’s popularity among the nation’s citizens.

Undoing tropes assigned to Asian nations and their peoples has long been a struggle. In the 1970s, the late great Edward Said documented the West’s tendency to portray Eastern nations as feminine, sensual, and erotic, which within the context of gender relations of the nineteenth and twentieth century assigned Asia and its residents to a secondary status, in comparison to the rational, masculine, and scientific West. Known as Orientalism, this theoretical formation facilitated European imperialism and created an uneven dichotomy for Japanese leaders and its people. Baseball, its inherent masculinity, pushed back against such negative idealizations, or to paraphrase Harvard historian Akira Iriye, Japan went from sensual exoticism to masculine competitiveness. 

Unfortunately, for many Japanese farmers, modernization efforts resulted in the loss of whatever lands they had for cultivation, as industrialization resulted in higher property taxes that pushed 300,000 farmers from the fields. From 1885 to 1907, 155,000 Japanese traveled East to Hawaii and the American West Coast. Hawaii provided the first stop for many of these migrants, with nearly 25,000 settling there by 1896. Unsurprisingly, Japanese baseball leagues first emerged in the U.S. territory and often featured multi-ethnic/racial competition, as caucasian, Filipino, Portuguese, and Japanese laborers exhibited their skills on the diamond. As more Japanese immigrated to California, Washington, and Oregon, the leagues followed. By 1900, over 24,000 resided in mainland America, with just over 10,000 in California alone. San Francisco fielded the first U.S. mainland team comprised of Japanese American players in 1903, with the creation of the Fuji Athletic Club. 6

As baseball grew in popularity in California throughout the nineteenth century, the California League was developed in the 1880s, which eventually morphed into the Pacific Coast League (PCL) in 1903. “For more than half a century,” points out Starr, this league proved an “extraordinary popular and successful venture in terms of the number of cities represented, of successful stadiums, and of notable players,” among them Joe DiMaggio of the San Francisco Seals, and Ted Williams of the San Diego Padres.  Banned by segregation, Japanese American leagues developed alongside the PCL, and though they produced few, if any, players of the stature of Williams or DiMaggio, they nonetheless sutured the community’s urban-rural diaspora across the state and the West Coast.

San Pedro Skippers, ca. 1930 

While the first clubs formed in Northern California, by the 1920s and 1930s the best team, the San Fernando Nippons (later the Aces), could be found in Los Angeles. Likewise, by the mid-1930s worthy competitors such as the San Pedro Skippers emerged from Japanese American enclaves around Los Angeles. Southern California’s weather enabled year-round play, which helped to give coherence to the Japanese American community across the “vast” expanse of Los Angeles. In this way, these baseball clubs cultivated Japanese American civil society in an era of “yellow peril” and anti-Japanese legislation, which ranged from discriminatory state laws prohibiting Asians and newcomers from land ownership, to immigration legislation like the 1924 Johnson and Reed Act, which more or less banned citizenship for Asian immigrants.

Clubs soon emerged in Fresno, San Jose, Stockton, and elsewhere, including Portland, Seattle, and their hinterlands. Japanese American presses, like San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Shimbun (1899) and L.A.’s Rafu Shimpo (1903), played critical roles in baseball’s popularity, while contributing mightily to the kind of civil society so important to American immigrant groups by providing first generation Japanese, commonly referred to as Issei, with information on local enclaves and news from Japan.

As the Japanese and Japanese American population grew, generational differences emerged. For example, in four years between 1926-1930, the percentage of Nisei households among the larger Japanese population increased from 26.7 percent to nearly 50 percent. As a result, by the 1930s, with a rising Nisei generation, Rafu Shimpo began to also print English portions of their daily. The Los Angeles daily was not shy in its endorsement of baseball for Japanese Americans. The Nisei generation showed little interest in traditional Japanese sports like Kendo or Judo, the paper reflected, “[r]ather we should prompt them to take up whatever sports they like. Baseball it is!” The Los Angeles Nippons figured prominently in the paper as few other Japanese American teams received the amount of coverage bestowed upon the local team. 

Around Los Angeles, teams played at public facilities such as Griffith Park, which in the late 1920s remained a rural area just north of the city. Additionally, Japanese Americans built new fields, often within the vicinity of foreign language schools, in places like San Fernando Valley. This required no small sacrifice from the Japanese themselves. “They may have been poor farmers,” acknowledged writer Wayne Maeda, “but when it came to donate money for uniforms and equipment, they reached down into their pockets and always came up with something to help the team out.” 

Part of the game’s utility lay in its appeal across generations. “Baseball allowed each generation to interpret the meaning of the sport,” noted Maeda. Issei saw it as a means to connect their American-born children with Japanese culture, and believed it emphasized Japanese values of loyalty, honor and courage. In contrast, Nisei saw the sport as more modern than Kendo or Judo; it also provided an expression of their patriotism to the United States. Both believed the sport would serve as testament to their dedication to American ideals. In this context, baseball became a “safety net from the outside and allowed [Japanese Americans] to demonstrate their cultural traits before an audience of their own,” argues Regalado. For parents, simpler explanations also existed: it kept their kids out of trouble as more than a few older Issei worried about their children boozing, drugging, or gambling their lives away in American environs. 

Los Angeles Nippons, ''Pride of Lil' Tokyo'' in 1931 during a tour of Japan
Los Angeles Nippons, ”Pride of Lil’ Tokyo” in 1931 during a tour of Japan

Japanese Americans’ place in Japanese society also became an issue. As a result of being in America, some Issei and Nisei worried about their status among Japanese nationals in Japan, believing that their more tenuous connection to their ancestral homeland might make them less than equals in the eyes of some Japanese. Baseball enabled the Issei and Nisei to assert their equality with their counterparts living in Japan.

Baseball helped to promote transnational interactions so common today in baseball, soccer, basketball, and other sports. In 1931, the Nippons traveled to Japan, where they barnstormed across the islands and, according to catcher Ken Matsumoto, established “the best record of all teams that have invaded Japan.” When a team of American All-Stars including Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth toured Japan in 1934, they inspired near riots. On November 2, 1934, historians estimate that nearly 500,000 Japanese attended the team’s informal parade up the Ginza (Tokyo’s Broadway). When the Tokyo Giants returned the favor by coming stateside in 1935, the three-game series with the Nippons drew crowds as large as 5,000. In the end, the Nippons could lay claim to being the best Japanese American side, encountered by their Japanese rival.

Due to the aforementioned generational change, transportation innovations that enabled for travel abroad and within the U.S., and the sport’s malleability among Nisei and Issei, the 1930s represent the high water mark of Japanese American baseball, particularly in California. By 1930, 70% of America’s Japanese population resided in the state. This period coincided with the creation of Los Angeles Nisei Week in 1934, which attempted to draw Japanese Americans back to Little Tokyo, while also demonstrating a connection to American cultural activities in “their own ethnic context,” points out Regalado. Similarly, in 1936, Northern California communities started the first July 4th tourney, a clear attempt to display attachment of American traditions and ideals.

Tragically, none of this helped in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the simmering racism of WWII California. The “White California” movement of the early twentieth century stemmed from a “racism of envy,” notes Starr, and it persisted through WWII as some white farmers resented Japanese and Japanese American agricultural acumen. Moreover, unlike Americans of European descent, notes Regalado, Japanese American guilt for the war was viewed as collective. Though government studies like the Munson Report upheld Japanese American loyalty and pointed out the racism of anti-Japanese rhetoric, U.S. officials forced Nisei and Issei into concentration camps. Only Nisei old enough for military service escaped internment.

In the camps, baseball provided an outlet for the trauma of incarceration. White WRA administrators provided very little for internees, with a dearth of recreational facilities and equipment, Issei and Nisei created their own. Baseball once again took center stage. At the Merced County Fairgrounds, internees transformed an empty landscape into a diamond though the surroundings remained sparse. “We had to make the baseball diamond, and there were no stands, no seats, no nothing, so the crowd just stood around the field and watched the game,” remembers internee and baseball standout, Fred Kishi. Camp newspapers devoted nearly as much coverage to baseball as to those Nisei serving on the front. Far from inconsequential or frivolous, baseball occupied an essential place in internee life. 

San Fernando Aces at Manzanar War Relocation Center

San Fernando Aces at Manzanar War Relocation Center

Still, baseball could not settle intraethnic disputes. Organizations like the Japanese American Citizens League, who helped administrate the camps in an attempt to improve conditions and demonstrate continued loyalty to the United States, came to be seen by some as collaborators. Some of baseball’s Japanese American proponents were viewed in like terms. James Sakamoto, the publisher of Seattle’s Japanese American Courier, endured such criticism after internment and died, as Regalado describes him, “a broken man.”

Others, like Fresno’s Kenichi Zenimura, who embraced interracial play and took teams abroad to Korea, Manchuria, and Japan in an effort to promote peaceful international relations, faced residual discrimination from whites. Zenimura returned to Fresno and reestablished local teams, but continued to encounter racism. One of Zenimura’s players, Dan Takeuchi, recalled enduring racist taunts from white fans; he and his teammates toughed it out in order to “let others know we were going to go on very positively.” 

Still, bright spots surfaced as well. South Pasadena native Jackie Robinson grew up playing sandlot ball with Japanese Americans from local enclaves. At Pasadena Junior College, Shig Takayama played with Robinson and the two roomed together, often experiencing the effects of segregation together. In 1975, Ryan Kurosaki became the first Japanese American player to reach the pros when signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a reliever. Lenn Sakata followed for the Milwaukee Brewers two years later.

Internment had robbed many of the best Japanese American players any opportunity to compete at the professional level. Talented players like Fred Kishi joined the military during the war, thereby eluding internment, but missing any possible window for a professional career in baseball. While Japanese nationals eventually became a common site in Major League Baseball, facilitated no doubt by these earlier transnational connections, their American counterparts failed to achieve such success.

Nonetheless, the number of professional Japanese American baseball players remains beside the point. Baseball shaped Japanese American identities, stitched together communities and generations, and provided solace to a people traumatized by unjust incarceration. If the journey matters as much as the destination, baseball took Japanese Americans across oceans and cultures while rooting them more firmly in Southern California on their own terms.

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Baseball, Japanese Americans, and Southern California’s Pacific Rim

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Film Noir: “The Crimson Kimono” and Asian American Sexuality in the Age of the Cold War

crimsonkimonoposter

Here’s a great article on the film “The Crimson Kimono,” and the genre film noir.

In its early years just after WWII, film noir depicted the racial and sexual anxieties confronting urban America. “While law enforcement in Los Angeles and other American cities of the 1940s policed the city’s racially mixed venues in their efforts to fortify the boundaries between whiteness and non-whiteness,” notes cultural historian Eric Avila, “film noir sided with the law, implicating the city for its betrayal of a racialized vision of civic order.”

Within this context of noir Orientalism and Cold War America, enter Sam Fuller’s 1959 noir, “The Crimson Kimono.” The story of two Korean War veterans, now partners in the LAPD homicide division — Detective Sgt. Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and Japanese American Detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) — both embodies and pushes back against the kind of noir framing of the period, while also providing insight into the genre’s interaction with Cold War tensions.

In the heat of the Cold War, few things signified loyalty to America and the right to citizenship more than military service. The exploits of black, Asian, and Latino Americans in WWII buoyed the civil rights efforts of each. African Americans returned from the war with a new vigor for integration and equal rights. For Mexican Americans, the G.I. Forum, formed in 1946, emerged in the post WWII decades as a critical force for equality. For Japanese Americans, the military service and bravery of many Nisei, who served while their own families languished in internment camps, reinforced the symbolism and importance of their contributions. In several scenes of “Crimson Kimono,” posters advertising for military service can clearly be viewed in the background. In these ways, the movie highlights wartime sacrifices of the nation’s Japanese Americans and, by extension, other minorities as well… The movie focuses intently on the fusion of Japanese and American culture.

… The film’s posters made such statements as “YES, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy!” and “What was his strange appeal for American girls?” Shallow and exploitative? Yes. Still while certainly essentialistic, many would agree, even if a cheap and crude play at interracial sexual titillation, an improvement on previous stereotypes.

Check out this link:

Film Noir: “The Crimson Kimono” and Asian American Sexuality in the Age of the Cold War

crimson4learntolead