Wednesday, 15 August 2018 – Dr Eriko Ogihara-Schuck, Visiting Fellow at ISEAS and lecturer in American Studies at the Technical University of Dortmund, spoke at a Regional Social and Cultural Studies (RSCS) Programme seminar on Japanese popular cultural products, or cultural narratives, that emerged during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. These products were introduced for propaganda purposes and they include military songs, films and comics by Japanese authors as well as locals working for Japanese agencies.
Dr Eriko Ogihara-Schuck during her presentation (Credit: ISEAS Yusof – Ishak Institute)
Unlike war-related documents that the Japanese military systematically destroyed when World War II ended, Dr Ogihara-Schuck said that many of these popular cultural narratives have survived. More easily accessible and disseminated than the autobiographies and memoirs of those who participated in the Occupation, such materials have also transcended time and space. She cited examples of songs and films that continues to be familiar to her Japanese and Singaporean respondents who lived through the Occupation.
From left to right: Dr Ogihara-Schuck and Dr Benjamin Loh (Credit: ISEAS Yusof – Ishak Institute)
In particular, Dr Ogihara-Schuck examined the films of Ozu Yasujiro, and also the military song “Senyū no ikotsu o daite” (Carrying the Ashes of My Comrade) that was written by Tsujihara Minoru on the night of the Fall of Singapore. According to her, these popular cultural products shed light on how people who lived through the war remember and communicate the Occupation to the post-war generations, and also reveal both the politics of remembering as well as individual selective memory about violence.
Overall, the seminar provided alternative portrayals and stories of the Occupation that may not have been made widely available, talked about, or taught in schools, but nevertheless are valuable sources for research into the war experience. The cultural narratives also highlight a more human aspect of some of the Japanese who were involved in the Occupation.
The audience listening intently during Dr Ogihara-Schuck’s presentation (Credit: ISEAS Yusof – Ishak Institute)
The seminar attracted a thought-provoking discussion between Dr Ogihara-Schuck and the 38-strong audience on a variety of issues such as censorship of popular cultural products during the Occupation, the romanticisation of the war in some Japanese films and songs in which Japan is depicted as a victim and not an aggressor, the selection and production process of the products, and the motivations of the authors and artists in producing their work.