Mr. Marshall can't rescue the film from its embarrassing screenplay or its awkward Chinese-Japanese-Hollywood culture klatch, but "Memoirs of a Geisha" is one of those bad Hollywood films that by virtue of their production values nonetheless afford a few dividends, in this case, fabulous clothes and three eminently watchable female leads. Although it's always a pleasure to see these three in action, and there's something undeniably exciting about the prospect of them storming the big studio gate, the casting of Ms. Gong and Ms. Zhang ends up more bittersweet than triumphant. Ms. Zhang, for one, shows none of the heartache and steel of her astonishing performance in Wong Kar-wai's "2046." ... Ms. Gong's hauteur and soaring cheekbones work better for her character, a woman of acid resolve. Although there are moments when Hatsumomo comes perilously close to Dragon Lady caricature ("I will destroy you!"), the actress's talent and dignity keep the performance from sliding into full-blown camp. But even the formidable Ms. Gong cannot surmount the ruinous decision to have her and Ms. Zhang, along with the poorly used Mr. Yakusho, deliver their lines in vaguely British-sounding English that imparts an unnatural halting quality to much of their dialogue. The. Result. Is. That. Each. Word. Of. Dialogue. Sounds. As. If. It. Were. Punctuated. By. A. Full. Stop. Which. Robs. The. Language. Of. Its. Watery. Flow. And. Breath. Of. Real. Life. Even. As. It. Also. Gives. New. Meaning. To. The. Definition. Of. The. Period. Movie.For slightly less breathless period pieces, Sour Duck has a review of a Taisho art exhibit (but missed the complementary Meiji works), which looks like fun, and runs almost until Christmas.
There are basically no publications in English on ninja worth reading--it's all junk. The only serious academic scholarship available outside Japanese language publications would be the material on Roy Ron's website at ninpo.org. Roy is a (fairly) recent PhD graduate from U Hawaii, and has spent a number of years doing research on ninja and related topics. The lack of reliable documents to work with makes ninja and ninjutsu a very difficult subject to research, and the ninja movie and novel phenomenon gives the whole topic a cartoonish aura that further dissuades academic historians from looking into it. Thus there isn't much out there to read, other than what's been written by modern teachers of "ninjutsu," none of whom have an credentials as historians. In English, you're simply out of luck; in Japanese there a few decent books and articles around, but for the most part information on ninja has to be culled in bits in snippets from studies on other topics. The most reliable reconstructions of "ninja" history suggest that "ninja" denotes a function, not a special kind of warrior--ninja WERE samurai (a term, which didn't designate a class until the Tokugawa period--AFTER the warfare of the late medieval period had ended--before that it designated only an occupation) performing "ninja" work. Movie-style ninja, BTW, have a much longer history than the movies (although the term "ninja" does not appear to have been popularized until the 20th century). Ninja shows, ninja houses (sort of like American "haunted houses" at carnivals), and ninja novels and stories were popular by the middle of the Tokugawa period. The "ninja" performers may have created the genre completely out of whole cloth, or they may have built on genuine lore derived from old spymasters. Either way, however, it's clear that much of the lore underlying both modern ninja movies and modern ninja schools has both a long history AND little basis in reality outside the theatre. [emphasis added; quoted with permission]The site which Friday mentions above includes a history section which covers a lot of the same ground as Turnbull (though much more concisely) and some of the primary sources, most of which are either old gunki or 17th century martial manuals. This pretty much puts an end to the remaining questions I had after reading Turnbull's book. I used to tell students that the question of ninja was, from a historian's standpoint, still somewhat open. I think I'm going to take a much stronger line from now on, and point out that there are no historically credible claims supporting the historicity of a tradition which somehow concludes with modern schools of ninjustsu. So, we're back to the problem of created modern traditions in the martial arts and their discursive meanings. Update: Peter Shapinsky's comment about the users of violence and the relative flexibility of the term samurai are also interesting.
John Junkerman: Returning to the Nanking issue, we were at a bookstore the other night, filming there. They have huge stacks of a new book by Higashinakano Shudo, who’s one of the key and very prolific Nanjing massacre deniers. His new book, which argues that a Guardian correspondent named Harold Timperley, who was responsible for many of the reports to the West of the massacre and wrote a book called What War Means, was on the payroll of the KMT and therefore he was writing propaganda. This is based on a fundamental historical error. Timperley was apparently hired by the KMT to write foreign press releases and such in 1939, but he wrote his book in 1938, before he was on the payroll. But that doesn’t really matter to Higashinakano. The point is that there were stacks of these books laid out flat at the end of the aisle with a big display, “the latest book by Higashinakano.” One of his other books has sold 80,000 copies. Another example of rising chauvinism is the recent Hate Korea manga that has sold 650,000 copies.
David McNeill: That to me is much more dangerous than academic books. I know that academic books have an influence, as well. We went on holiday last year, my wife and I, with her son who’s 21, and he’s a smart kid and his mother’s a progressive and his grandfather’s one of the most famous activists in Japan, so he has every reason to have a different take on the way things work in this country. But all of his attitudes and beliefs were pro-Koizumi. “Why should he not visit Yasukuni? The Nanking Massacre has been exaggerated, it was not a massacre. There were no comfort women.” All of it. Somehow he got all of these ideas, and he didn’t get them from school. Because, if you read the students’ essays, they say over and over again, “Well, actually, we don’t remember covering the war issues.” They spend so much time covering the long glorious history of Japan, for 2000 years that they often don’t have a lot of time to cover the war. So they get it from popular culture, they get it from manga, they get it from TV.
The core of the discussion is about Article 9 revision and the relationship between that, the Fundamental Education Law revision and the creation of a very restrictive constitutional amendment process (the outlines are in the Constitution itself, but concrete procedures have never been laid out in law). Junkerman sums it up pretty well here (emphasis added)
It depends in part on how the referendum law shapes up. The original versions of it were quite draconian, very restrictive/ But even the modified version, if it goes through, would prevent showing my film in Japan, for example. Public employees and teachers won’t be allowed to speak about the proposed revision, the media will be expected to observe self-restraint, all sorts of restrictions, which could create an environment in which people would be unable to discuss it in any substantial way. They will also be looking for the right, strategic moment. There is fundamental support for Article 9, but it’s very mushy and weak. If there were to be another incursion from a North Korean boat, or if there was a clash with Chinese forces over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, , that support would crumble overnight. Then they’ve got their referendum law, they take the revision to the Diet, you’ve got 60 or 90 days to hold the referendum, and the constitution gets revised in the heat of the moment.
I'm not sure how I feel about the Weimar comparison which comes shortly thereafter: I think there's some more elements of comparison which could be made, but it's too offhand to be a really serious historical analogy at this point. I don't know why they don't make the analogy to Japan of the 1920s instead: internationalist, democratic, cosmopolitan, but also Imperial, nationalistic, anti-Leftist, and politically adrift. Then you don't need to posit a Great Depression -- when the Japanese economy seems stronger than it's been in fifteen years -- to argue that things could easily go in the wrong direction (the Depression did contribute to the sense of crisis in Japan, but not to the mass mobilization the way it did in Germany).
The article ends with a statement of appeal from the "Article Nine Association," signed by Nobel Laureate Oe Kenzaburo, "New Left" novelist Oda Makoto, literary critic Kato Shuichi and philosopher Tsurumi Shunsuke, among other luminaries. It's an interesting ongoing discussion, but it's very important to separate out the tendentious past, partial present and speculative future in this argument....
The following words are found in Norman's Soldier and Peasant in Japan. Of the books I've read recently, this one made a particularly deep impression, striking me as virtually a work of art. It hits home through the weight of its content. The text possesses a formative logic, with the wealth of its resources rising up like a Rodin sculpture. It is classically beautiful in its abundance of life force. Toward the end of the book, when the militarists become the tool of capital (which lagged behind European capital) and set off for the mainland invasion, the inevitable process of barbarization on the part of the modern army is captured in precise psychological realism: "The common Japanese man, himself an unfree agent enrolled in a conscript army, became an unwitting agent in riveting the shackles of slavery on other peoples." After this Normand adds, "It is impossible to employ genuinely free men for enslaving others; and conversely, the most brutalized and shameless slaves make the most pitiless and effective despoilers of the liberties of others." (80)