Thursday, February 13, 2014

Louise Brooks - Her historic appearance in Japan

Lately, I've been reading Making Personas: Transnational Film Stardom in Modern Japan, by Hideaki Fujiki (Harvard University Asia Center). It is a fascinating scholarly work that looks at the way movie stars were "made" in Japan in the Teens, Twenties, and Thirties.

By "made" is meant the way their personas were presented and copied by those both in and outside the film world. This book covers Japanese stars of the time, as well as American stars and how they helped shape Japanese youth culture. It girl Clara Bow figures prominently as leading type of "modern girl" (the Japanese term for a flapper). Louise Brooks also figures in this a recommended book.

In Japan, Bow and Brooks was considered Moga (short for modan gāru, or "modern girl"). The term first appeared in 1923, and wasn't connected with any particular star. Soon enough, however, critics began to associate the "modern girl" type with certain American stars such as Brooks, Colleen Moore, and especially Bow. (Conversely, Mary Pickford, Janet Gaynor, and Lilian Gish were seen as an "old type.")

Eigagaku nyūmon (1928)
The fame these American actresses enjoyed in Japan was such that young women were reported to have modeled themselves after both Bow and Brooks. Critics in the late 1920s even remarked that Japanese youth knew about the two actresses than they did about classic literary figures or contemporary politicians. The two actresses were also compared and contrasted.

Picking through the footnotes and bibliography of Making Personas led me to Kimio Uchida's Eigagaku nyūmon, whose title translates as Introduction to Film Study. The book, pictured right, was published in Toyko in 1928. Remarkably, it's frontis image (I am not sure I can call it a frontis piece, as it does not face a title page) depicts Louise Brooks!

I obtained this scan by borrowing one of the very few vintage copies of  this book in the United States.

As such, this inclusion marks the actress's first appearance in a book of film criticism. It beats by a few years both Cedric Osmond Bermingham's Stars of the Screen 1931 and C.A. Lejeune's Cinema, each of which were published in England in 1931.

Here is the frontis image, a still from Love Em and Leave Em (1926). Can anyone translate the Japanese text below Brooks' portrait?

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