Organized Panel Session
A new mode of showing the female body, that of spectacle, is present everywhere in the visual culture of interwar Japan, across cinematic mise-en-scène and camera technique, department store displays and visual advertising. Through composition, framing and lighting, objects and bodies were set apart from everyday life and glamorized; poised between the materiality of their sensuous presence and the process of becoming-commodities or becoming-images. My paper will pursue this logic of spectacle through the figures of the film star and the fashion model, the most vanguard modern girls of the 1920s.
In the 1928 Nikkatsu melodrama The Modern Cleopatra, Irie Takako plays a mannequin girl (a model posing in the show windows of a department store) whose transgressions of sexual mores and class boundaries are symbolically punished by the narrative. My analysis will trace the thick intertextual connections between the mannequin girl and Irie’s star persona. Both stars and models circulated in visual economies and were offered up as spectacle; both could be easily objectified because they lacked an embodied voice. Immobilized in the show window, the mannequin girls were reduced to images. This dynamic of sexualized objectification is held in tension by the considerable independence and mobility that the real historical women behind the images possessed. The new forces of visual commodification undermined the divisions of public and private and the gendered distribution of bodies that were central to imperial ideology. My paper will foreground the moments when, pace Walter Benjamin, mass culture offered glimpses of emancipatory possibility.