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!


New beginnings…

Well, since I last posted here over a year ago quite a lot has changed. Firstly I have had another child (another beautiful baby girl) and so have been in the midst of all the wonderment, love and complete and utter exhaustion that comes with every new life.

The second thing is moving job. I left Bangor University after nearly 8 years and I am now at the University of Sheffield, so I have also technically changed country from Wales to England! I have also moved disciple. At Bangor I was part of the Media School but now I am located in the School of East Asian Studies. This move has come with its own unique challenges. The first is the general stress related to a new job, new house, new city with the added addition of a new baby. Although it has worked out well (so far!) I would not recommend to anyone who is considering it doing what are apparently three of the most stressful things to do in your life all inside five months whilst recovering from a c-section with a three-year-old toddler in tow. The process has been rather stressful and the whole family is still in flux as we find our feet in our new environment.

I had forgotten the stress that a new job entails. You have to learn not just all the practical elements (new systems, new organisational structures,  where rooms are etc) but also manage the new expectations that are present when you first arrive. Clearly I am no longer a junior staff member and, as such, you are I think expected to hit the ground running far more than when you were fresh out of your PhD. By the same extension you don’t feel the burden that newly minted lecturers often have to say yes to everything you are asked. You are a more aware of what ‘simple’ tasks can actually entail if you take them on. That is not to say you don’t say yes, but you do try to negotiate more!

The main stress comes from getting to know new colleagues and more particularly new students. I knew pretty much all the students in my Bangor department by sight at least, now I have to learn hundreds of new faces and names. I am someone who really enjoys having a good and collegial relationship with my students. The feeling of a good connection to a class and/or a year group is one of the best things about this job but it does take time to develop.  This semester I have had a new module East Asian Cinema and I very luckily have had a teaching assistant. This is wonderful in someways but for me has hindered developing that sense of connection I like to have when I teach. The seminars, that usual period where you really get to know them have been conducted by someone else. I don’t usually teach lecture/seminar instead I prefer to run more interactional workshops and I have remembered why this term. The TA has been great but I actually look forward to retuning to my usual workshop format next semester when I hope I will start to get to know my classes better as a result!

There have been loads of academic projects that have been finished, started and developed over the last year and I have decided to give each one a separate page. This is a much to keep them clear in my own head! An early New Year Resolution is to post here once a month so we shall see how that goes but I am feeling confident that I will be able to keep to it! We shall see how it goes but readers are free to tweet me reminders if I don’t manage it!

br mad gun



Rape of the Sabine Women – a short debate.

Traditionally dated back to 750 BC the Rape of the Sabine women was a rather troublesome event when the citizens of the newly founded Rome decided to get themselves a wife via alternative means. The went to visit their next door neighbours the Sabine’s and stole all their women. This event has been represented multiple times in the work of countless artists and the most famous versions are of course the rather incredible sculpture by Giambologna located at the Loggia die Lanzi in Florence and the multiple  renditions that Peter Paul Rubens did.

.Giambologna. Rape of the Sabine Women                Rubens: Rape of the Sabine Women

I myself have always been fond of Picasso’s envisioning. The mass of twisted limbs, screaming horses, displayed breasts and giant sword wielding attackers seems to me to truly give a visceral image of what the whole event would have been like. No fair damsel clutching her breasts in panic as you often see in the works of the old masters – just unnamed, undistinguishable flesh coated in blood, sweat, lust and fear (and semen no doubt featured in there somewhere also).

Piscasso: Rape of Sabine Women

The debate on how you represent awful traumatic events is something that multiple authors have debated on over the years. Jacques Derrida, Toni Morrison, Marita Sturken, Paul Fussell, Paula Gunn Allen, Tessa Morris-Suzuki are just a few names from a long list of people. Holocaust studies, rape studies, women’s studies, post-colonial studies, Imperial studies, war studies…the list goes on of disciplines that, at their heart, hold a traumatic event at their core. The question of representation is a complex one and it is fair to say no artist, filmmaker, author, photopgrapher has ever got to 100% accurate.

The way you represent an event is at the heart of the current book I am writing on the visual culture of modern day bride-kidnapping. Bride kidnapping has its roots throughout global culture; from the poetry of the ancient Greeks to the literature of Frances Burney; from the plains of the American Wild West to the mountains of China. What I find rather upsetting is that the most notable film examples that people cite when I mention the topic are the comedy musical Seven Bride for Seven Brothers and Borat. Take Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as the song goes, “and though they may be sobbin’ for a while, We gonna make them sobbin’ women smile!” Why would you not want a suitor who has captured you, taken you to a remote farm with a group of other captive women and then caused an avalanche to prevent your family rescuing you? I think this video from Borat also says it all (poor copy so apologies but it is via youtube). What fun, what laugher…oh, wait.

What I find problematic is how both these examples use the narrative of the kidnapped bride for comedic value and then presents as narratives of ‘alternative behaviours’ whilst actually upholding patriarchal notions of gender. For me in both the cases above comedy used against the female participants and seeks only to enforce the gender status quo rather than offer anytime of subversive laughter. Don’t get me wrong – I think that Sacha Baron Cohen is a clever man who manages to make some very salient political points in his work – I am just not sure this is a fine example of it.  As this project moves into the final stages I will post more on this topic but I would like to leave with the following clip…then go away and read a definition of stockholm syndrome….



Sexism at University: Reflections at the End of the Year

Any comments from any of my readers and friends?


As the academic year comes to an end, I’m asking for people’s reflections on their feelings about gender and university.  At the start of the year, there was some great writing being published about sexism in freshers’ week in the national press, and it encouraged me to open up the subject on the blog, with a piece by Megan Clark and news from Nottingham about what made people uncomfortable (or outraged) and what was being done about it.  A new Feminist Society formed at the university where I work, forged links with the Women’s Network and launched campaigns on various subjects.

This week Cat Humphries sent me the picture below, highlighting the kind of lazy sexism which greets women at the other end of the academic year.  Just when it’s time to be proud of achievements and chill out, she found herself faced with images which suggested her role…

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Devising a national cinema module.

Slightly earlier than usual in the academic calendar I am thinking about new modules. The protocol at my current institution is that you validate a module in the year prior to when you wish to commence teaching so most of us put in vague module descriptions in the broad topic area and then you flesh it out in the weeks before the modules commence. At the current time I am focusing on my Japanese Cinema module. Although I have taught East Asian cinema for years this is the first one that is solely devoted to Japanese cinema that I have taught here in Bangor. Whilst putting the module outline together I have been contemplating how and why we continue to teach national cinema at undergraduate level.

For me Japanese cinema has been a longstanding passion and research interest but writing the module got me thinking about what ideas and concepts I wish the student to take away with them by the end of the course.

We have to put in Learning Outcomes as part of the validation and examining the ones I have to hand (well I wrote last year when I was not really concentration on the topic) you have the aims and objectives to be as follows:

  1. To provide a historical overview of Japanese cinema and its relation to society since 1940.
  2. To introduce students to representative Japanese directors and film genres of the post-war period.
  3. To explore social continuities and change in Japan through the medium of film.
  4. 4. To examine the relationship that exists between Japan and the West and how that relationship has been played out vis a vis film.
  5. 5.to examine question of local, national, international and global as they engage with a national cinema.


All in 12 weeks…you can see the issue.


I have long given up the lecture/seminar approach believing (and this has been born out over the years), that in the current age of twitter feeds and facebook most students are incapable of taking in, and benefiting from, a 60 mins talk. I have not quite gone towards flipped learning but I am more inclined in that direction. I believe that an active learner is a productive learner but problems arise when you are trying to impart a large amount of new information in a short period of time. Things would be a lot easier if students did the required reading but most of the time we struggle to get them to sit on their backsides and watch a one and half hour film so working on the assumption people will attend with any prior knowledge is a false assumption. (Apologies to all my good students who do the reading – I appreciate you greatly but you have to admit – you know you are the minority…) So we have limited time to teach the entire modern cinema of a nation and the needed cultural and historical information that is required to be able to see and appreciate that cinema in situ. So what approach do you take? Historical? As you move safely though the decades and cover nicely in 12 weeks the 1940 to the 2010s. The problem with that is you are asking students to evaluate the films that are the furthest from their lived experience first. Whilst a modern manga is part of their cultural knowledge that they can link into existing schema, a black and white shōmin gekisuch as Gosho Heinosuke’s Oboroyo no onna/Women in the Mist (1936) or even Kurosawa Akira first notable feature the propaganda film Ichiban utsukushiku/The most Beautiful (1944) has many unfamiliar and complex connotations that students will take time to process. In the historical approach however we are asking them to look at the most difficult films first when they don’t have the tools with which to examine them. So you take the thematic approach and the student duly studies gender, politics, warfare and economics etc. as are they are visualized via the cinema of a nation. Issue that lie with this approach is that you run the risk of essentalising the product you are examining. They become only about that issue and you are missing the wider nexus into which ‘themes’ take place. Do you take the genre approach, the auteur approach or the industrial approach? All have their positive and their negatives. Are you using this nation to debate ALL national cinema theory? Thus you are asking student to make links and connections across the wider cinematic world and run the clear risk of flattering out any cultural specificity to your texts.

Take Suzuki Seijun’s film Nikutai no mon/Gate of Flesh (1964).

A film focusing on a group prostitutes living in a post-war Tokyo ghetto can offer a variety of readings. You could examine it from the viewpoint of the role of women, a political commentary on the state of post-war Japan, a study of post-Imperial Japan, a key example of the Nikkatsu production process, a work of the auteur, star theory with the key presence of Shishido Jo, a genre film that can link into other genre films of its ilk globally…the list goes on. What is the best approach to give to student is open to debate. As I develop the module I will post materials for open discussion but one thing is clear – teaching a national cinema is far from straight forward.

Some sources I have found interesting have included:

Teaching French National Cinema by Christopher Faulkner, Cinema Journal, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Summer, 1999), pp. 88-93

The Cinema Journal Teaching dossier

and this rather weight tome – I have not bough it due to exorbitant cost (plus nearly everything is available elsewhere) but the list of articles is rathe useful depending on what approach you are taking!!


Pax Romana and the barbarian hordes: translating Asian languages.

In my role as one of the editor-in-chief of the East Asian Journal of Popular Culture I have been spending some time recently debating the use of non-English characters in journals. The problem is thus, articles are submitted from all over the world and focus on various aspects of East Asian popular culture. The main areas of study are, rather unsurprisingly, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Each of these nations have there own unique language(s) and for the most part, separate writing systems. Most of the main languages have clear methods by which they are romanised, by this I mean transferred into written English. For example take the Korean film Attack the Gas Station, imagine you, as an fan of cinema, pick up a article on Korean cinema which you have been desperate to read for ages and find, ‘주유소습격사건 is a key film in new Korean cinema…’ If you don’t read Hangual you are in trouble so what usually happens in English language scholarship is that the script is romanised to allow you to read the language phonetically so to speak. That’s better…or is it? Romanization of languages for the obvious reasons raises some issues, least of all how do you romanise what we would describe as tonal languages?

With Korean for many years people wanting to romanise would use the McCune-Reischauer system. So주유소습격사건 becomes Chuyuso sŭpkyŏksakŏn. This approach used diacritics to indicate the sounds. For those not in linguistics that means the small marks above and below letters to make a further sound eg. ◌́ over a letter is called acute and indicates a higher pitch. The problem with this is that missing out the diacritics (which often happens in for example emails) can lead to mispronunciation and lack of consistency in translation. So, with that in mind, after years of McCune-Reischauer system been the official system the South Korean Government moved towards the Revised Romanisation System. This leads주유소습격사건 to become Juyuso seubgyuksageun. Which is better is still under debate but for the journal purposes we went with the official Korean government guidelines and Korean will be written in revised Romanisation. Those of us like me who are used to McCune-Reischauer system it is quite an annoying change but I slightly digress. Chinese languages are similar. Mandarin Chinese has an official transcription system called pinyin. So to give an example the famous Chinese book on Daoism/Taosim (see, different Romanisation presents different words!) is written in traditional Mandarin as 道德經, simplified (the version used in Mainland China) as 道德, Pinyin translated it to Dàodéjīng. Great! But what if you are not in Mainland China and still using a Chinese script? This can be seen in Southern Min (Taiwan Hokkien), Cantonese and multiple other Chinese dialects. In this case scripts may look the same but they are pronounced very differently indeed. If you just use pinyin to romanise you will not reflect what is been said in that language. With Taiwanese dialects there is not one official way to romanise (unlike with pinyin) so you have a variety of systems which each vary in their approach and end result.

So, we can achieve that romanisation is not an easy process and is open to a large number of issues. Whilst up until now I have discussed the logistics of romanising, what about the actual ethics? Romanise literally mean to ‘make a person Rome’. The whole concept is riddled with issues, not least how to actually write the word – Romanise (UK English) vs. Romanize (US English). When you romanise you literally convert another person language to your own. What often happens in journals and books is that the original language is removed (due to issues with type setting in English language press, word length, complexity for reader etc.) and just the Romanization is left. This is of course when the whole title/word/person has not just been translated to English i.e. most books on South Korean cinema just say Attack the Gas Station and that is that. For most of us this smacks slightly of cultural imperialism. Are we saying that our ability to read easily and save on the word count is more important that respecting another person linguistic and written systems? The answer of course is not simple. On one level yes, it would be ideal to be able to ensure that all options were present but then you do end up with a line in a text looking like this: 悲情城市(bēiqíng chéngshì/City of Sadness) was directed in 1989 by 侯孝賢 (Hóu Xiàoxián/ Hou Hsiao-Hsien) and focused on the events known in 臺灣/台灣(Taiwan)as 白色恐怖; (báisèkǒngbù/White Terror). Over several pages this can be confusing and not that pleasant to read. Still, you remove the Asian language symbols and you could/and do, alienate your Asian language readership. Words in for example, Mandarin and Taiwanese are pronounced differently, so if you are missing the symbols it become unclear who is being talked about and for those who wish to use the journal as a research resources this can be frustrating. For example ‘City of Sadness’ is not what the film was domestically known as – you ask people in Taiwan, even those who speak English, about ‘City of Sadness’ you will likely get blank faces, 悲情城市(bēiqíng chéngshì) will hopefully grant you more success.

In an international journal you are seeking to reach a broad readership and many people overseas who work on aspects of East Asian Popular Culture are not 100% confident in their written skills of a respective language. This does not denigrate their scholarship but they would perhaps be approaching the topic from a different angle for example a writer exploring the success of Japanese horror films inside UK. Still a relevant article for our Journal but unlikely the author would be able to read fluent Japanese and would not be able to successfully provide all the required information in Japanese.

We need to be consistent and for this reason guidelines have to be drawn up. We have to balance international publishing needs with cultural sensitivity and the use of journal articles as reference and educational tools. We came to a balance between the two (to see the final guidelines keep an eye on East Asian Journal of Popular culture webpage!). It is a balance that we are not 100% happy with but also not  100% unhappy. It does to show that cross-cultural work is fascinating and wonderful but even logistics such as how you present a manuscript are fraught with issues.

Sack of Rome: if we are Rome what does that mean for the future of academia!

Sack of Rome: if we are Rome what does that mean for the future of academia!