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Report on “Matsumoto Seichō: Media, Adaptation, and Middlebrow Literature” international symposium

UCLA-Waseda Yanai Initiative International Symposium


On February 14 and 15, 2020, the symposium “Matsumoto Seichō: Media, Adaptation, and Middlebrow Literature” took place at UCLA. The symposium was planned by Michael Emmerich (Professor, UCLA), Yukari Tanaka (Professor, Nihon University), and Hirokazu Toeda (Professor, Waseda University). The varied event program consisted of a film screening, readings, and nine research presentations.

On the first day, Michael Emmerich described the program, and then Hirokazu Toeda started off the research presentations with a talk titled “The Highs and Lows of Matsumoto Seichō: Japan’s High Economic Growth, the Mass Media, and Literature.” The presentation provided a macroscopic overview of the societal background (Japan’s period of high economic growth) against which Matsumoto Seichō’s literature was written and read. Emmerich also described the various adaptations (in film and on television) of Matsumoto’s works that accompanied the development of mass media, employing concrete statistical materials such as graphs, and provided an overarching framework for the symposium.

Prof. Hirokazu Toeda

Next, Kaoru Tamura (Independent Scholar) employed a writing by Mori Ōgai as a key to discussing Mori’s influence on Matsumoto’s works in a presentation titled “Seichō’s Historical Vérité Analyzed in the Context of Mori Ōgai’s Essay ‘History as It Is, History Ignored’.” Deanna T. Nardy (Graduate Student, Columbia University) used her presentation, “The Representational Politics of Black Occupation Soldiers in Matsumoto Seichō’s ‘Kuroji no e’,” to attempt to tackle the problem of Matsumoto and race, analyzing the contradictory paradigm (a black occupying army) present in the representation of black people in Matsumoto’s titular short story. In his lecture “Who is the True war criminal?: Reading Matsumoto Seichō’s The Court Built on Sand: A Novel of the Tokyo Trial,” Kim Young-Long (Assistant Professor, Waseda Institute for Advanced Study) commended Matsumoto for posing new issues in the debate over the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal through the artful exploitation of the methodological similarities between mystery fiction and historical fiction.

After the research presentations and the lively discussion period that allowed the audience to participate, there was, starting at 8:00 pm, a screening of director Yoshitaro Nomura’s 1958 Matsumoto film adaptation Harikomi (also known in English as The Chase and Stakeout).

The morning of the second day continued on with three research presentations on Matsumoto and cinema. Ku Minah (Foreign Research Fellow, Meiji Gakuin University) focused on the 1950s and 1960s, when numerous movies based on the works of Matsumoto were produced, and discussed the “Seichō Boom” from the perspective of the film industry of the era in a presentation titled “The Birth of ‘Seichō Pieces’ in the World of Japanese Cinema: The Case of Shochiku.”

Miyoko Shimura (Associate Professor, Tsuru University) compared Matsumoto’s 1956 short story “The Voice” and its adaptation Voice Without a Shadow—a Nikkatsu production directed by Seijun Suzuki two years later—tackling issues of original works and cinema in her presentation “When A Heroine Is Brought to Life: On Adapting Matsumoto Seichō’s ‘The Voice’.” In her presentation “The Meaning of Tachikawa and Pan-pan Girls in Zero Focus,” Ayako Saito (Professor, Meiji Gakuin University) compared Matsumoto’s original novel Zero Focus and Yoshitaro Nomura’s movie version, discussing the meanings given to Tachikawa (a city in Tokyo Metropolis that is home to an airfield that was then controlled by the US military) and “Pan-pan girls” (a term for sex workers who serviced US military personnel after World War II). Saito also considered the issue of Matsumoto and the immediate post-War era.

The afternoon portion of the symposium started with a presentation by Yukari Tanaka (Professor, Nihon University) titled “The View of Language of the High Growth Period as Reflected in Matsumoto Seichō’s Suna no Utsuwa [Inspector Imanishi Investigates].” Tanaka described how Inspector Imanishi Investigates is a work that reflected views of language among Japanese-speaking society during the time when the novel was published (Japan’s high growth period). She posed numerous novel questions from a linguistic perspective, such as that of the types of language put in the mouths of the characters in the work. Cécile Sakai (Professor, Université de Paris – Paris Diderot) introduced the works of Matsumoto that have been translated into French and then presented broad frameworks—the issue of the construction of realism in Matsumoto’s works, crime and society, the mundane and the unusual, and reality and literature—to further inquire about the significance of re-examining Matsumoto today in her presentation “The Challenge of the Criminal Case: Matsumoto Seichō’s Complex Realism.”

Prof. Sakai & Tanaka

Finally, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator) read from her own translation of Matsumoto’s Kikanakatta Basho [A Quiet Place]. Yukari Tanaka read from the original Japanese text, as Heal Kawai did so with the English translation, allowing the audience to a get a feel for the world of Matsumoto’s works based on both the original text and its translation.

The two days of detailed research presentations and active participation by members of the audience made the symposium an event rich with ideas, confirming that media, adaptation, and middlebrow literature are effective concepts for re-evaluating Matsumoto Seichō’s body of work.





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