East Asian Girlhood and Cinema Workshop Report

This is perhaps more academic in tone then I would like but when I get 5mins I will create a new more user friendly one!

Girlhood has become a serious point of discussion in academic circles in the last few years and yet a vast amount of work still remains focused on the girl as she has been presented in Hollywood with an increasingly number of studies now beginning to engage with her in the context of European cinema. A series of books and articles including mine and Fiona Handyside ‘s collected edition International Cinema and the Girl: Local Issues, Transnational Contexts, have attempted to enlarge this debate away from the girl in Anglo-American contexts but more work is yet to be done. The East Asian Girlhood and Cinema workshop that took place in Sheffield on the 7th-8th December 2015 aimed to bring together scholars working in the field of girls in East Asian visual products and to explore new ideas and new links between South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and beyond.

Dr Sharon Kinsella started off the debate with her fascinating talk on schoolgirls in the Japanese cultural imagination that took place in the evening of the 7th December. Dr Kinsella has engaged with this topic in series of fascinating articles and books including her seminal 2013 book Schoolgirls, Money and Rebellion in Japan. Offering a historical overview of the role and position of girl, she focused her talk primarily on period of the mid1 990s to mid 2000s when Japanese equivalents of ideas of “girl power’, ‘girlism’ and ‘girls energy’ became central in media image-making in Tokyo”. Examining diverse films such as Love and Pop (Anno 1998), Bounce Kogals (Harada, 1997) Itô Shunya’s Female Convict Scorpion (Jôshû Sasori) series, Kill Bill (Tarantino, 2003) Schoolgirl Guerillas (Adachi, 1969) and Love Exposure (Sono, 2009), Kinsella explored how the schoolgirl has functioned as a powerful, but highly diverse, symbol of multiple narratives in the Japanese cultural imagination.

Colette Balmain’s opening paper of the day-long workshop that took place on the 8th, provided an insight into the various ways in which Japanese and Korean films have engaged with the figure of Lolita. Lolita, removed from her Nabokov literary origins has taken on new meanings and ideologies as she has travelled the globe but, as Balmain notes, the sexualisation of the girl still remains a cause for concern. The South Korean film Innocent Thing, directed by Kim Tae-kyun, serves as a powerful reminder of how the figure of the girl remains a figure of intense cultural ambivalence and conflict.

Dr Jinhee Choi, whose wider work on girlhood as a ‘sensibilty’ provides a powerful and important addition to the debate on East Asian cinematic girlhood examined the Japanese film Rinko’s Restaurant.  In her exploration of the dynamics of girlhood that exist between the main protagonist and her ‘girly’ mother, Choi allows us to see a filmic girlhood heavily informed by the shōjo narratives of the past and contemporary aesthetics of ‘cuteness’ and the concept of home.

The influence of the past was echoed in Chi-yun Shin’s exploration of fan cultures South Korean TV dramas. Focusing on television dramas including You are Beautiful (2009) and Answer Me, 1997 (2012), she explored the interaction between girlhood and fan cultures. Rather than simple dismissing this experience of girlhood she illustrated how the shows situate the girl characters as part of a productive fan culture that allows teenage girls to articulate their own experiences and desires.

Fiona Handyside took a different track in her examination of ‘Western Girl in Eastern Town’s. Focusing on Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) and the less well know Ramen Girl (Ackerman, 2009), she explored how Japan is utilized inside these films as a place of disorientation, lack of connection and utter ‘Otherness’, that ultimately allows the ‘girl’ protagonists to gain a new understanding of themselves.

Eva Li continues this engagement with fan culture but this time focusing on the Taiwanese mandopop group S.H.E.R.O. Examining the interaction between their song lyrics, music videos and the groups wider media identity and fan base, Li showed how complex and potential disruptive and empowering ideas around girlhood can be found in even the most mainstream of products.

For many East Asian girlhood can be defined by the plethora of Japanese manga and anime figures that circulate globally. Rayna Dennison gave a marvelous examination of the shoji character as she operates across a wide range of anime genres and styles. Engaging with the work of husband and wife animation team Kabushiki-gaisha Kyōto Animēshon or KyoAni, Dennison explored shōjo characters as both a site of both franchised (similar meaning across a multiple products) and individual meaning (unique reading inherent in an individual product).


FullmetalpanicfumoffuThe final paper turned to the more upsetting topic of girlhood and sexual violence. Looking at two South Korean films that have taken the real life events of miryang Middle school rape case as their inspiration (Hang Gong –Ju and Poety), I explored how girl’s culture is seen as potentially productive but also fragile in the face of the ever-present potential of rape and sexual assault and the subsequent public shaming that can follow.


More work will follow on this topic and plans are already underway for another workshop taking place in 2016 so watch this space!


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