The recent calls for Japanese film industry activists to adhere to the principle of “MeToo” and the subsequent revelations regarding sexual harassment and assault of Japanese film industry directors were surprising to anyone in the business and are widely believed to be the tip of an immense iceberg. We asked Kinoshita Chika, an expert in Japanese cinema and gender issues, about the roots of the controversy.
From misogyny and gender inequality to the lack of fundamental employment standards, elements from social issues are integrated into my work process.
Issues of gender inequality and suppression of sexual harassment have shaken up Hollywood for several years. After the Me Too movement, women directors have begun getting recognized by film academies. Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) 2021 won an oscar for best director and Jane Campion (Power of the Dog) in 2022. In Japan, Chloe Zhao won the award for Best Director in 2020, as did Japan’s Hideo Hokkaido at the 60th Directors Guild Awards.
Out of the 796 Japanese theatrical films grossing at least 1 billion between 2000 and 2012, women directors accounted for only a small blip, or 3, as calculated by the nonprofit Japanese Film Project. The JFP study found that women directed just one out of every 10 Japanese film (and 23 out of 102 documentaries) produced in 2020.
The reasons for gender inequality run deep, says Kinoshita. Tanaka Kinuyo directed 6 feature films after the Second World War, however, no one recognizes her as a director.
Sexist Icons of Japanese Film
In Japanese cinema’s vision, in which sexism and misogyny have been ingrained in Big Sur, Kinoshita points out that the cinematic legacy needs to be analyzed after its imaginative obsolescence has been effectively advanced. Take genre analysis, or gender consciousness, of at least so-called seminal films into account. This function continues to be essential in the contemporary cinematic world.
According to Kinoshita, many Japanese movies made during the Occupation years through the mid-1950s have graphic scenes of sexual activity that are shown while intoxicated or unconscious. In Kinoshita’s opinion, these films are more realistic portrayals of men’s sex fantasies than depictions of non-consensual sex. Within a few examples, something worthy of note is the 1948 film Women of the Night by Mizoguchi Kenji, a film director highly praised and whom Kinoshita has studied a lot. One particular instance is that her film features a scene in which a man tosses beer down a woman’s throat and rapes her. In the movie, the woman falls for her attacker but is left alone.
The controversial content of the scene of this terrible crime provoked a backlash that outlawed the sale and broadcasting of the film by theaters to minors. But the local populace expressed little dissent to the victim’s image, which the theater authorities regarded as likely to have a corrupting influence on young viewers. It’s not likely that ravishment victims
will respond to such content like this particular one, and it’s debatable whether this particular moving depiction of sexual intercourse fantasies, performed not as well as it did here, is entitled to a place in mainstream cinema. But we must have the ability to have that discussion.
The portrayal of women in movies may have changed a bit since then, but off-screen women continue to face the same barriers and abuses. In fact, things have sometimes worsened since the decline of the studio system in the 1970s.
Concerns about the working environment in movie theaters have grown in recent months following multiple allegations of sexual harassment and assault against directors Hideo Sakagi, Sonono, and others. Industry insiders describe the atmosphere on set, in which men call the shots and producers have absolute power, as the source of sexual harassment.
End of May, JFP organized a webinar on air issues related to gender equality and working conditions in the industry and explored options for systemic reform. Kinoshita was a member of the expert panel along with director Kazuya Shiraishi and labor economist Ryo Kambayashi.
The Japan Film Festival presents the results of a gender survey conducted in various professional organizations related to the Japanese film industry. According to her statistics, Women earn less than 5 percent of the Japan Directors Guild and about 8 percent of the Japan Cinematographers Guild. A notable exception is the Japan Screenwriters Guild, whose members are almost exclusively women. (Writers work closely with directors, acting as liaisons between directors and editors, providing continuity between scenes, and generally coordinating production.)
Through research conducted by the Film Producers Association of Japan (MPPAJ), JFP noted that in Japan Only 8% of management positions at the Big Four film distributors (Toho, Toei, Shochiku, and Kadokawa) are held by women. In short, there is only a symbolic representation of women among decision-makers in the Japanese film industry.
Of course, sexism is rampant in the industry, and women are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment. But part of the problem is labor issues that transcend gender.
“The working environment for filmmaking has deteriorated significantly,” Kinoshita said. She cited the collapse of the vertically integrated studio system in the 1970s as a key factor. In the past, a film crew consisted mainly of people recruited, trained, and promoted by the studio as regular employees. Creative teams are now made up mostly of freelancers, many of whom work without written contracts.
Based on preliminary results of a questionnaire survey of film production workers (500 questionnaires were returned and tabulated), the JFP reported that it was common for production workers to work overtime without a written contract covering their base salary. , overtime wages, hours, etc.
“Most crew members prefer written contracts, but they are afraid of being seen as troublemakers,” Kinoshita said. “Young people, in particular, are in a very vulnerable position, fearing that if they complain they will be blacklisted and not be able to find another job.”
But many doubt that the industry can be reformed from within. Currently, discussions among film executives favor the creation of each of them as an ombudsman-type unit project’s “production committee.” (The production committee is the governing body, giving multiple investors, such as entertainment companies and advertising agencies, a say in the creative process.) Naturally, it doesn’t make sense, since victims would be afraid to entrust themselves to production committee employees. “The film industry is such a small, closed world that any complaints like this end up being passed on to the producers,” Shiraishi said.
Labor economist Kanbayashi Ryō, who also spoke at the May symposium, called for broader labor reforms, including the creation of industrial unions and the drafting of standard basic contracts to protect workers’ minimum rights.
The stain of the industry
The video production improvement committee will work will begin next spring and their impact on the abuse clause is uncertain. Many believe more urgent measures are needed to improve working conditions and solve problems of sexual harassment and violence plaguing the Japanese film industry.
One area that needs special reform is the shooting of intimate scenes. In the West, there are trained professionals, called “intimacy coordinators” (ICs), whose job is to ensure that the shooting of these scenes is done according to a pre-set “choreography” and that participants are at each stage All agree. Since the #MeToo movement raised awareness of issues on set, demand for trained CIs in the West has skyrocketed.
In Japan, such experts are hard to find. “This is a job that requires first-hand knowledge of the production process as well as advanced communication skills,” Kinoshita points out. In Japanese filmmaking, screenwriters are often responsible for making sure that sex scenes go smoothly and that everyone’s rights are respected throughout the process. “The position of script supervisor has traditionally been assigned to women,” Kinoshita explained. “She is part of the internal team of directors and can often speak out on management issues. But today, some projects are not fully using Script Supervisor to save money, and they plan to increase the number of women directly involved in the giving birth process should be a priority.
The status quo isn’t just bad for women; it also threatens the quality and prestige of Japanese cinema. In the #MeToo era, rumors of sexual harassment and assault have a direct impact on box office revenue. “Many people don’t want to watch movies they know are filmed in an exploitative environment where employees are not only chronically overworked but also subjected to acts of sexual abuse daily,” Kinoshita noted.
“If we don’t quickly address sexual harassment, abuse, and poor working conditions in general, the industry will suffer. There is already a labor shortage as everyone is giving up production jobs. At this rate, all the talent is may disappear soon.
Pioneer of Japanese film Cinema
Promoting the meaningful participation of women in the film industry is one of Kinoshita’s top priorities. He hopes his new research project “Pioneers of Japanese Cinema” will help inspire a new generation of creators.
The female pioneers focus on the birth of the walkie-talkie in the 1920s to the 1970s, the heyday of the Japanese studio system. At the time, female directors were virtually unknown in Japanese films.
“Under the studio system,” Kinoshita explained, “there is a meritocracy track. To get the director’s title, you first have to become an assistant director, and only male college graduates can be hired as assistant directors, which is pretty much closed. Undeterred by this, women have found other avenues for their creativity: as writers, screenwriters, and film editors, as well as art, lighting, makeup, and costume directors.
“I feel like the world has forgotten the creative contributions these women made to Japanese film history,” Kinoshita said.
“Creators of that era rarely talked about their work,” he noted. “I think they realize that if women don’t speak up properly, it can cause problems in the male world. But I want to know how they can build creative careers in a male-dominated world. Hopefully, we can do this by showing the richness of individuality and diversity to empower today’s younger generation with the contributions of these pioneering women.”
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