Performance and the Asia-Pacific War in Contemporary Japan
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
In Transgenerational Remembrance, Jessica Nakamura investigates the role of artistic production in the commemoration and memorialization of the Asia-Pacific War (1931–1945) in Japan since 1989. During this time, survivors of Japanese aggression and imperialism, previously silent about their experiences, have sparked contentious public debates about the form and content of war memories.
The book opens with an analysis of the performance of space at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine, which continues to promote an anachronistic veneration of the war. After identifying the centrality of performance in long-standing dominant narratives, Transgenerational Remembrance offers close readings of artistic performances that tackle subject matter largely obscured before 1989: the kamikaze pilot, Japanese imperialism, comfort women, the Battle of Okinawa, and Japanese American internment. These case studies range from Hirata Oriza’s play series about Japanese colonial settlers in Korea and Shimada Yoshiko’s durational performance about comfort women to Kondo Aisuke’s videos and gallery installations about Japanese American internment.
Working from theoretical frameworks of haunting and ethics, Nakamura develops an analytical lens based on the Noh theater ghost. Noh emphasizes the agency of the ghost and the dialogue between the dead and the living. Integrating her Noh-inflected analysis into ethical and transnational feminist queries, Nakamura shows that performances move remembrance beyond current evidentiary and historiographical debates.
“Nakamura’s Transgenerational Remembrance evocatively traces the spectral presence of the Asia-Pacific War in contemporary Japanese aesthetic and social performances. She not only brings attention to contemporary artistic and commemorative practices in Japan, but importantly situates these embodied acts in the complex politics of memory surrounding the multiple conflicts that constituted the Asia-Pacific War. Her work is an exciting addition to the growing body of scholarship on Asian theater and performance.”—Elizabeth Son, author of Embodied Reckonings: “Comfort Women,” Performance, and Transpacific Redress
“Transgenerational Remembrance is an earnest quest to elucidate the contested memories of the Asia Pacific War that still deeply unsettle people today. Using performance as a means to hear and touch the ghosts of war, Nakamura eventually leads us to the gleaming possibilities of atonement and reconciliation.” —Suk-Young Kim, author of DMZ Crossing
“A brilliant distillation of cultural history and performance theory, Nakamura’s identification of key flash-points in the struggle over history leads her to consider major cultural-ideological sites of wartime memorialization as well as transformational acts of protest, drama, performance art, and visual media.” —Peter Eckersall, author of Performativity and Event in 1960s Japan: City, Body, Memory
"In this fascinating study, [Nakamura] intertwines theories of theatrical and cultural 'ghosting' with images, themes, and ideas from the Nō theatre to examine how contemporary Japanese theatre evokes, contradicts, and explores the cultural inheritance of wartime. The result allows for younger generations to see the multiplicity of meanings involved in the history, testimonies, and official narratives of the Pacific War . . . Among the most fascinating aspects of this book are the multiple connections that Nakamura draws in each chapter between the ghost figures in such Nō plays as Atsumori and Dōjōji and the 'ghosts' in present-day Japanese performances . . . The result is both a new framework for interpreting current texts and a fresh means of reexamining Nō classics." —David Jortner, Theatre Journal