Rightward Bound: At the Crossroads of Nationalism and Gender in East and South Asian Cinema

Conference: AAS-in-Asia2020 (AAS-in-Asia2020)
Title: Rightward Bound: At the Crossroads of Nationalism and Gender in East and South Asian Cinema
Stream: Cinema Studies/Film
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Sean O'Reilly, Akita International University, Japan (organizer, presenter, chair)
Kelly Hansen, Kumamoto University, Japan (presenter)
Kristen Luck, George Washington University, United States (presenter)
Liao Zhang, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom (presenter)
Astha Chadha, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan (presenter)
Akira Shimizu, Wilkes University, United States (discussant)


Our panel shows a powerful link between re-imaginings of national destiny and gender normativity in both South and East Asian cinema. We blend accounts from multiple national cinemas and explore both contemporary and earlier films, eschewing a nation-specific focus and moving beyond traditional boundaries of historical and cinematic inquiry. Key for us is identifying the effects this sort of cinematic interpellation has on the imagined community.

Kelly Hansen analyzes wartime Japanese cinema’s notions of femininity, focusing on two co-productions starring Hara Setsuko, whose performance demonstrates that notions of the ‘ideal woman’ were at a crossroads. Astha Chadha examines recent military-focused films from Pakistan and India, arguing such films push a gendered us-versus-them perspective onto these countries’ respective imagined communities. Kristen Luck investigates Japan’s recent cinematic phenomenon wherein women facing a fork in the road increasingly return to their hometowns seeking solace in food-related work. Liao Zhang takes a close look at the fascinating crossroads 1930s Chinese cinema faced vis-à-vis defining the modern girl as either high-class ladies or femmes fatales. Finally, Sean O’Reilly identifies a tipping point in contemporary Japanese cinema’s putative quest to reevaluate World War II positively and promote wartime Japan’s hyper-masculinity.

Taken together, our five papers demonstrate South and East Asian cinema’s past and current preoccupation with nationalism and its putative link with gender normativity. Examining the cinematic crossroads of nationalism and gender—bowed under the weight of military, political and social conflicts—lets us highlight the complexity of gender in Asian cinema across time and space.