Between Ideology and Spectatorship: The "Ethnic Harmony" of the Manchuria Motion Picture Corporation, 1937-45
Following the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Manchuria Motion Picture Corporation (Man’ei) was established in Manchukuo. Aiming to be the “Hollywood of the Orient,” Man’ei operated as the only legitimate film corporation in Manchukuo, and its activities included all aspects of local film production, distribution, and exhibition. Studies of Man’ei have tended to describe its activities as part of the colonial project unilaterally implemented by Japanese officials and ideologues. However, the negotiations and contestations involved in the Man’ei project render any simple interpretations impossible, especially within the broader historical and political context of the Japanese empire. This article explores how the theme of “ethnic harmony” (minzoku kyōwa) became the core issue for Man’ei and how its attempted filmic expressions ended up uncovering the complexity and predicament involved in the problem of spectatorship. Li Xianglan (Ri Kōran), Manei’s best-received transcolonial movie star at the time, represented the multiple ethnicities of Manchukuo; however, it is less well known that her “mainland romance films” were considered inappropriate for audiences in Manchukuo (Mankei). This article will complicate earlier assumptions and show that the theme of “ethnic harmony” came to be marginalized, while entertainment films presumably acceptable to the Mankei audience came to centrally preoccupy the feature films of Man’ei.