You Can Succeed, Too: Media Theory and Kitsch in Toho's early 1960s popular song films
Colloquium: Center for Japanese Studies | October 11 | 4 p.m. | 180 Doe Library
Michael Raine, Western University
Andrew Barshay has argued that after the ANPO protests in 1960, "the 'postwar' utopianism that had marked Japanese thinking about democracy was definitively transvalued, literally 'translated' from the political to the economic realm." This presentation explores the role of the early 1960s Toho musical comedy in translating utopia for an aspirational "white collar" urban culture in Japan. By the 1960s, cinema was no longer the king of mass entertainment: it was part of a leisure industry dominated by television that also included popular music and live performance consumed in "amusement zones." Yuriko Furuhata has emphasized the live "actuality" of Japanese television as informing the remediating practices of the Japanese New Wave but it was another aspect of televisuality that was most significant to the Toho musical films: the close relation between product placement, advertising, and "media mix" celebrity on the television variety show. The growth of the variety show, and the talent agencies that produced them, only accelerated the tendency toward paratext and intertextuality in the high volume, low budget film production system, characterized by the ubiquity and propinquity of familiar series and stars. Taking the musical comedy You Can Succeed, Too (Kimi mo shusse ga dekiru, 1964) as its main example, this presentation argues that the films featuring televisual celebrity, often dismissed as kitsch, exhibit an ironic "double coding" that interrogates contradictions that it also magically resolves. Toho took the indigeneity (dochaku) turn of the early 1960s in a different direction than the Toei yakuza genre or Imamura's art films. Drawing on concepts such as "vernacular modernism" and "transcultural mimesis," the presentation argues that the ambivalent copying and critique of American things in You Can Succeed, Too was a form of immanent and "irresponsible" media theory that highlighted some of the questions of modern Japanese history that also occupied the Japanese new wave.