CMN! no.1 (Autumn 1996)
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Swarming Ants and Elusive Villains:
Zigomar and the Problem of Cinema in 1910s Japan

A. A. Gerow


  If one narrates the history of cinema in Japan as a chronological series of events, that history might "begin" with such dramatic moments as the arrival of Edison's Kinetoscope in Kôbe in November 1896 or with the first showing of the Lumiéres' Cinématographe in Ôsaka on February 15th, 1897, but when considered from the standpoint of discourse on film, such a historical departure becomes ambiguous.(*1) Beyond critiquing the quest for origins as a cornerstone to teleological histories (which ideologically legitimize the present order through a narrative of progress from start to completion), one can say that the focus on "first moments" so prominent in Japanese cinema historiography occludes the historical and discursive processes through which the medium was received and articulated in Japan.(*1) Only an analysis of these processes can offer us a foundation for considering the place of cinema in the discursive field of twentieth century Japan.
  Although it has been common to attempt to locate Japanese film within the discourse of the traditional Japanese arts that preceded it,(*1) one can seek more modern intertexts. Just as recent research on early cinema in the United States and Europe has pointed to toys such as the Zoopraxiscope or to the popularity of magic lantern shows as a way of extending the beginning of the formation of motion picture culture back to a point before the apparatus was completed,(*1) so it is possible, as the anthropologist Yamaguchi Masao has argued, to point to such phenomenon as gentô in Japan as the "shadow culture (eizô bunka) that prepared the way for image culture (eizô bunka)."(*1) Gentô, first arriving from abroad in the early 1800s, quickly developed into a highly skilled narrative art that took advantage of some of the same cognitive operations as film to produce quite remarkable motion effects in dark theaters.(*1) The fact that the motion pictures were initially articulated not only as an extension of the gentô—one of the first names applied to the medium being "jidô gentô" or "self-moving magic lantern"(*1)—but also in line with supposedly "Western" discourses like science and progress indicates that discourses applied to cinema certainly predate the medium and that the technology's impression upon arrival was neither altogether unfamiliar nor "foreign."
  It can be argued that the dominant discursive construct for discussing the cinema in the first 15 years after its importation into Japan was that of the misemono, or Japanese temple or fairground entertainments, of which gentô was but one. As late as 1909, one can find individuals like the poet and literary critic Kubota Utsubo who, confining cinema's interest only to the introduction of rare sights, simply stated that the motion pictures "were the most interesting of the misemono of that kind."(*1) Legal discourse in particular recognized no unique identity to the motion pictures and censored films up until the 1910s under regulations for theater and misemono that never even mentioned the medium by name. But if film then operated in early discourses as a substitutable sign, as an ill-defined sub-field within the larger field of the misemono where all the components were largely equivalent, the question remains at what point systems of difference were introduced into the discourse to mark (albeit incompletely) the medium as unique and separate from other misemono In describing this history, we can, following Foucault, work "to define these objects without reference to the ground, the foundation of things, but by relating them to the body of rules that enable them to form as objects of a discourse and thus constitute the conditions of their historical appearance."(*1) In other words, instead of narrating a history of discourse gradually approaching and realizing the truth of an already existent object cinema, we can investigate the discursively historical conditions through which cinema appeared as a distinct object, less through a gradual build-up, than through a series of breaks and transformations in the discursive field.
  In this context, I will argue that one such break occurs around the moment the French film Zigomar became the center of the first major scandal experienced by a young Japanese film world. Directed by Victorin Jasset for the Eclair company in 1911, Zigomar was imported into Japan by the Fukuhôdô Company and opened at their Asakusa theater in Tôkyô, the Kinryˆkan, on November 11, 1911.(*1) The fast-paced detective film, featuring repeated clashes between the debonair criminal genius and master of disguise, Zigomar, and the forces of law, proved immensely popular with Japanese fans. The phenomenal success it enjoyed, and the reaction of the authorities it received, had a major impact on Japanese film culture and created a series of shock waves that would begin to alter the ways in which cinema was discussed and defined. Since some of these transformations in discourse are visible even before the Zigomar incident occurred, I do not intend to cite the film as the sole source of these changes in the way film was defined; rather, I hope to look at the scandal as a condensation of these transformations, one that not precipitated discussion on cinema for contemporary observers, but which can offer us a cross-section of the shifts discourse on film was undergoing at the time.
  The Japanese film industry had been enjoying its own small boom starting in about 1909, before the Zigomar sensation. Bolstered by the success of Russo-Japanese War films, the number of permanent motion picture theaters increased and several companies were formed to regularize production within Japan. Yoshizawa Shôten constructed the first film studio in Tôkyô's Meguro in January 1908 as well as a theme park in Asakusa named after Coney Island's Luna Park; Makino Shôzô began producing the immensely popular kyûgeki (old style) films starring Onoe Matsunosuke for Yokota Shôkai in 1909; and M. Pathé's Umeya Shôkichi sent cameramen off to the South Pole to record the exploits of a Japanese expedition in one of the industry's first feature documentaries. With Fukuhôdô entering the picture in 1909 with a string of well-built theaters, the number of Tôkyô movie houses rose to a total of 44 by 1912.(*1) The movies had finally come into their own as a domestic industry and the papers were replete with comments on how vigorous business was.(*1) In July of the same year, partly in an belated effort to copy the example of the Motion Picture Patents Company in the United States, but also to consolidate the business as a legitimate industry, the four existing film companies merged to form the Nihon Katsudô Shashin Kabushiki Kaisha (Japan Moving Picture Company), or Nikkatsu for short. After the Meiji emperor died at the end of July, the Japanese film industry set out on a new path as Japan entered the Taishô era (1912-1926).
  At this time, any detective stories featuring chase scenes and criminal masterminds seemed to be a hit with Japanese movie audiences. The first Zigomar was followed by a sequel, and other foreign productions were brought in to cash in on the craze. Even Japanese producers began filming their own Zigomar imitations, with such works as Nihon Jigoma ("Japanese Zigomar," Yoshizawa, 1912), Shin Jigoma daitantei ("New Great Detective Zigomar," M. Pathe, 1912), and Zoku Nihon Jigoma kaishinroku ("The Amended Record of Japanese Zigomar," Yoshizawa, 1912) doing much to introduce such European techniques as faster editing into Japanese cinema. The Tôkyô Asahi Shinbun reported that four of the major movie theaters in Asakusa were showing Zigomar imitations on the night of October 4, 1912.(*1) The craze even spread to the publishing industry, which began printing numerous novelizations of these films (or stories based upon them), a successful trend which had a definite effect on the development of the Japanese mystery novel.(*1) Zigomar had become a nationwide sensation and came to represent the success of the motion pictures, if not the existence of cinema itself.(*1) Newspapers reported how the name itself had become part of Japanese slang ("He's a Zigomar!") and that children all over were enjoying themselves creating their own versions in empty lots of the detective Nick Carter chasing the elusive evil doer.
  The popularity of Zigomar, arguably the first example of a truly mass, modern entertainment fad or fashion in Japanese history, was not always greeted with favor in public discourse. Education officials began wondering aloud about the potential harmful effects movies were having on children, prompting a Tôkyô school board committee to issue a report in July 1911 warning of the dangers of the medium and its places of exhibition and recommending that area lower schools bar filmgoing by their pupils.(*1) As if to verify those worries, rumors spread of minors committing crimes based on what they had learned watching films like Zigomar. Without mentioning the French production, the powerful Tôky&ocicr; Asahi Shinbun newspaper first ran a ten-part series in February 1912 warning of the dangers of motion pictures to children and then, on October 4, 1912, began an eight-part series of reports on the Zigomar phenomena which characterized these films as "inspiring crime" and roundly criticized the Tôkyô Metropolitan Police for not banning them from the start. Almost as if directly reacting to these criticisms (the Asahi actually took credit in print), the police announced on the 9th that they were banning Zigomar and other similar films from Tôkyô screens (films that had already started their runs, however, were allowed to be shown until the 20th; new films of a similar vein were not to be given permission to screen after the 10th). Other localities soon followed Tôkyô's lead, so that in this way, Japan's first experience with film as a mass cultural phenomenon was deemed injurious to public morals and effectively stamped out. It is in this action itself, as well as the discussions surrounding the Zigomar craze, that one can sense a shift taking place in the way cinema was defined in discourse in Japan.
  The Tôkyô Asahi took considerable efforts to introduce the Zigomar phenomenon to its readership, starting the first article in its series with the inquiring title: "Just What is Zigomar?" The subsequent articles attempted to answer this question, explaining that this was "the last phenomenon of the Meiji era"(*1) and offering a detailed summary of the plots of the first two French Zigomar productions. But this was an Asahi that had riled in February that "There are a 100 evils [to the motion pictures] and not one benefit."(*1) The series did not stop at objectively describing the craze: in a mixture of reportage and editorializing common to Japanese journalism at the time, the paper unequivocally stated: "If you see Zigomar, you cannot call it a detective film, but rather a film promoting crime or a film glorifying criminals."(*1) Declaring that "the fact that [the Zigomar films] have a bad influence on or corrupt audiences is a fact that no one can deny,"(*1) the Asahi proceeded to claim the existence of two or three cases of such corruption. No specifics were given, and the claim itself seems rather suspicious when looked at from our point in time. To date, no newspapers articles have surfaced detailing such "corruption" (e.g., examples of crimes being committed because of something the perpetrator witnessed in a film) except, ironically, ones after the banning of the film.(*1) One may wonder if the ill-effect claimed was more a result of the media coverage and police reaction than of the film itself (where cinema was not evil until named so officially), and this problem urges us to focus on the role discourse played in defining cinema in Japan in the early 1910s.
  The TôkyôAsahi Shinbun was quick to offer various objects of blame for the Zigomar phenomenon. Part of the problem lay with the film and its producers. In a world of cut-throat competition, companies had to spare no cost to top both their competition and previous successes. Works like Zigomar were thus "born of the ferocious competition based in commercialism," exposing the fact that the profit motive was not always consistent with the quest to effect a positive influence on society. The Asahi was thus introducing a theme that would influence many discussions on film up until World War II: that the problem of cinema lay in part in the fact it was an industrial art based on capitalistic practices which did not always support the Neo-Confucian national and social goals central to post-Meiji ideology.
  At the center of the TôkyôAsahi analysis ultimately lay a detailed consideration of the uniqueness of cinema as a medium. The first concern lay in the fact that films like Zigomar were the products of fiction. Reflecting a Neo-Confucian mistrust of fiction, the Asahi began its series by openly wondering why it was possible for a fictional creation to have so much power over people. Answering its own question, and thereby underlining its own worries about cinema, the newspaper declared:

Even if one can say that every villain is the product of a serials author's imagination, it cannot be neglected that once he appears in a work of the moving pictures, the sense that one is touching the real thing is more prominent than one's feeling in watching theater. Accordingly, the degree to which film itself exerts a lasting influence on audiences is a problem that cannot be neglected.(*2)

The fact that cinema could make the fictional seem real was a major problem because "simply ingeniously flavoring the work with fantasy and fact is itself enough to strengthen and spread the film's lasting influence."(*2) In emphasizing cinema's unique capacity to turn the imaginary into reality, the Asahi was constructing a narrative of influence based on a difference represented by the cinema. Here was a quality to the motion pictures that distinguished it from other entertainments such as the theater; in the discourse on Zigomar, film was beginning to peek out from the shadows of the misemono. But ironically, in the Tôkyô Asahi's view, this uniqueness only existed to the degree that it was a social problem.
  Not only the realism of the films themselves, but also the entire space surrounding cinema distinguished it as a dangerous medium and created a plethora of strong stimuli which left a lasting mark on spectators. In the eighth part of the Zigomar series, the Asahi offered a vivid account of the sensory experience of going to the movies in 1912:

Beyond the electric lights that dazzle the eyes and the noise from the bands that tend to stray off-key-both of which lead astray the minds of passersby—the first set of stimuli offered by the moving picture district are the placards painted in strong colors of red, blue, yellow, and purple which incite curious hearts. Men and women who set one foot in this area quickly become the prisoners of the moving pictures even before they watch a film, already losing their mental balance.
  Audiences stimulated and led on in this way first taste an unpleasant feeling as they enter the darkness from the light. Their state of mind, having lost its balance, eventually falls into an uneasy mood. Here the air inside the theater, inadequately ventilated, assaults people with a kind of unclean humidity and attacks the sense of smell with tobacco smoke, the fragrance of face powder, and the odor of sweat.
  In an insecure and unpleasant theater, what is projected into the eyes of people having lost mental tranquillity is Zigomar. . . . The conditions for extending an evil influence and for causing corruption have all been prepared in these points.(*2)

Not only the specific films themselves, but also cinema as a geographical and spatial experience encompassing all the senses seemed to contribute to the motion pictures' influence. As the paper had previously stressed, the movie hall represented a dangerous, crass, and almost obscene form of physicality, harming not only the spirit of spectators, but their very body (as such, cinema became the object of not only legal and educational, but also medical forms of correction).(*2) Another example of such medical discourse was the recurring emphasis on film as a form of "stimulation" ("shigeki"), where the cinema's influence seemed to bypass the filtering effects of reason and judgment to affect character bodily and directly. Unique not only as a technology, film was identified as a central facet of a new but disorientating culture in which both the boundaries between mind and body as well as the divisions between social groups were undermined and confused, creating a kind of “heterotopia” in Foucault's sense of the term.(*2) Such boundary transgressions were a source of fear to the Asahi and cited as the basis of the kind of demolition of normal modes of thought which distinguished the moviegoing experience.
  The conditions of reception were not completely to blame for undermining spectators' processes of reason: in the Tôkyô Asahi's vision, moving picture audiences were somehow different from the start. Why, after all, would any normal human being stand time and time again the inherently "insecure and unpleasant," the physically damaging conditions of the theater as movie fans did? Implied in the paper's account was a picture of the cinema audience as almost abnormal in character, as possessing an addictive personality which forced fans to become "prisoners" of the unpleasant as a perverse necessity. As a whole, the paper characterized movie audiences in less than complementary terms, stating that those "sucked into this Zigomar" were “like ants swarming around a piece of sweet sugar."(*2) With the Asahi claiming that "sensible minded people without a doubt frown on this fashion for crime films within the moving picture theaters,"(*2) it is clear the paper was distancing itself from regular film goers, placing them on a lower rung in a hierarchy of right-mindedness and siding itself (and its readers) with the "sensible” who refrained from the mob-like behavior of the movie masses. Reflecting a fear of the modern crowd common in later Japanese intellectual descriptions of mass culture, the discourse was molding an "us" versus "them" division which defined the medium in class-based terms and placed cinema spectatorship outside the boundaries of right-minded behavior. It was this other set of people that were the main focus of concern about the cinema's influence.
  A description of the composition of the film audience served in part to justify this hierarchy. According to the Tôkyô Asahi, "the grand majority of the audience is young boys and girls of lower or middle school age"(*2) , as future leaders of society, it was these children who were of most concern in the paper's narrative of the motion pictures' influence.

With these scenes and props, the film first leads the audience into a field of realistic impression and there puts into motion and shows various evil deeds. Even adult audiences with good sense and judgment seem impressed to the degree of calling it "An interesting novelty that works well." All the more, in the minds of the young who like both adventure and the strong and who idealize the winner in any situation, the film naturally offers strong excitement.
  For instance, even if the end results in the death of the villain, just how much does the acquired moral point of view of the death of the villain transmit an authoritative impression in the minds of the young living in today's society? Most of them will only see the success of the elusive hero on screen, and think in the end how they would like to become a figure on the screen themselves, and act and appear like on screen."(*2)

On the one hand, children (as well as other lesser spectators, like women) were not seen as possessing the discernment necessary to both read the film's ending properly and ward off the pernicious stimulations of cinema, especially since the motion pictures offered them modes of identification that were heretofore unheard of. Given that it is debatable whether the audience was as dominated by children as the Asahi believed (Kubota Utsubo, for instance, in his account of going to the movies, registered surprise that his fellow spectators were mostly adult), the problem concerning the film audience was less one of age than of modes of understanding and knowledge.

  On the other hand, contemporary discourse was describing a potentially ineluctable historical difference which posed a distinct threat. The Yomiuri Shinbun cited the motion pictures (along with the phonograph) in an editorial as one of the great modern inventions that had truly penetrated the everyday lives of normal people.(*2) But to the Tôkyô Asahi Shinbun, this modernity served as the background for a new breed of young Japanese who were increasingly expressing desires that were not accommodated in approved modes of moral discourse. The problem was not of a minority of children who were cruel and mischievous by nature, but of a majority who were born that way.(*2) The cinema then does not simply produce but "conforms to these instincts and tastes," representing a new age that threatens to overturn established orders.(*2) Film spectators were thus not simply seen as undereducated but also as fundamentally different in their way of perceiving the world and acting on their desires.
  As a problem of knowledge, cinema was interpreted as an educational issue by many officials from the 1910s on.(*2) Film viewers both young and adult required instruction, a mental preparedness that would protect them from the disorienting assault of the cinematic experience and enable them to produce approved meanings from specific film works. Logically, the issue revolved around the application of discourse, the administration of proper interpretative categories to the film to receive the correct lesson. In this regard, the commentary of the benshi, the lecturer who stood next to the screen and explained the film during projection, became of central concern to film reformers and censorship authorities throughout the Taishô era.(*2) But what surfaced in the Zigomar incident, and what presented an obstacle heretofore unencountered, was again the problem of alterity, this time as represented by the question of the image. The Tôkyô Asahi noted:

As expected, the style of explanation of the benshi charged with lecturing did not neglect the lesson that good is rewarded and evil punished, . . . but in the minds of audiences who were watching the changes appear before their eyes on screen, no sense arose of good being rewarded and evil being punished.(*2)

For some reason, spoken language was unable to direct the interpretive processes of cinema audiences; there was something in the image which exceeded or even worked against the word. An official from the Tôkyô Metropolitan Police, in explaining their difficulties with the film, also noted the difference between the film summary submitted as part of the censorship procedure and the film itself:

At police headquarters, it was thought that, looking at the original story of the French Zigomar, there was nothing much to it. Even among works of this kind, if you inspect the moving picture license, you would think it is only a kind of child's play. That's why we approved it up until today thinking it had no effect on public morals. However, looking at the actual film, there is a world of difference from the explanation in both the scenery and the characters.(*2)

Since the written account of the film was different from the meaning acquired by actually viewing the cinematic text, there was increasing concern that the motion pictures were a medium fundamentally different from existing linguistic arts, one which posed unique problems. As the Tôkyô Asahi defined this difference,

More than from jôruri and Naniwa-bushi(*2) which specialize in the aural, and more than from theater which attacks with both the visual and the aural, the impression received from the moving pictures is stronger and the influence caused greater.(*2)

Working on a register dominated by the visual, cinema was then seen as exerting an influence greater than that of the other arts. Resistant to the restrictions of the spoken or written word, the image was posing a problem wherein desired meanings were not guaranteed to be produced in the minds of audiences. It was the alterity of the image, coupled with spectator desires associated with it, that helped define the cinema and mass cultural modernity as a threat to a Meiji order that had just seen its leader pass away.
  It is important to underline that the problem of the image was not one exclusive to Zigomar, in the end, cinema itself was more the issue than this one individual text. Zigomar was merely seen as leading a dangerous trend in motion picture culture that necessitated banning not just this French production, but all others similar to it. Zigomar had become a problem in other nations as well (it was eventually banned in France, for instance), often for its supposed elevation of criminality through the figure of an upper class criminal. While class would become a central problem in later film censorship discussions in Japan, Zigomar's social portrayals were barely mentioned in the discourse surrounding the film. Many did voice concern that the film was teaching minors the methods of crime, but it is significant that, despite the recommendation of several newspapers,(*2) police never pulled any of the Zigomar influenced novels from the bookstore shelves. It was Zigomar's new and unique depiction of crime through the image that was the issue.
  The Asahi in particular was already citing a driving force behind this evolution in the image: "When people get used to the moving pictures and will not be satisfied with most products, it is necessary to provide something unprecedented and strongly stimulating in order to shock the visual senses."(*2) This, the Asahi Shinbun felt, was what Zigomar and its ilk were doing, offering a thrilling and singular mode of visual sensation which the paper would name with the adjective "motion picture-like" (katsudô shashinteki).(*2) This emerging uniqueness to cinematic narration was itself cited as a problem. Earlier, the newspaper had complained in general about the "unnaturalness" and incomprehensibility of such new film techniques as ellipses and cutting within the scene, arguing that jumping from scene to scene or cutting out (what, in the classical narrative economy, are determined unimportant) actions confused and fatigued spectators, especially younger ones.(*2) In Zigomar, this was coupled with the villain's ability to appear and disappear, to change costumes in an instant and mysteriously jump from one place to another in eluding his pursuers, but in a way that, the Asahi acknowledged, proved absolutely fascinating to new Japanese youth.
  This fluidity of space and identity, analogous of the circulatory anonymity of the modern crowd, was, according to Tom Gunning, a central concern of not only early trick films, but also of 19th century phenomena like photography (which both undermined established forms of identity through mechanical reproduction and reinstituted new ones by documenting the individual body) and detective fiction (which tried to reassert the certainty of an individual's guilt against an ever changing urban environment).(*2) We can speculate that it was this transcendence of space and time, Zigomar's ability to disguise himself and change identities, aided by Jasset's skillful use of trick photography—not dissimilar to the "motionless voyage" Noël Burch cites as central to the classical film experience-that both fascinated and disturbed contemporary observers. That is perhaps why so much of the discourse on these films worried about the audience's ability to recognize and identify who was the villain and who was the hero. If, as Gunning says, Zigomar "envisioned a new cinema of narrative integration, moving towards the paradigm of classical filmmaking,"(*2) the discourse on film in Japan marked it as the point at which the moving pictures broke with previous paradigms and stepped into the unknown-the simultaneously alluring and threatening realm of the new and different—and thereby posed the problem of what cinema is. (Here we can say that cinema became foreign after it was familiar.) Just as Gunning emphasizes the important role of regimes of knowledge in processing photographic information so as to refix and re-establish identity within a modern social context, so we can investigate how discourses after the Zigomar incident attempted to name and classify this particular visual experience. On the one hand, such discourses, represented at this time by the efforts of educational authorities and newspapers to describe and categorize cinema and its individual texts, laid the foundations for film study in Japan. On the other, in the hands of film reformers like those in the 1910s Jun'eigageki Undô (Pure Film Movement), these discussions would work to merge the cinema with the culture of the new Japanese middle class and transform the status of Japanese film and its audiences.
  The Zigomar incident in this way helped define a central problem which would face authorities and social leaders with regard to the motion pictures for some time: how to control an alluring but elusive visual mode of cinematic signification that was resistant to the regulation of the written or spoken word. The recognition of this unique problem was reflected in the police's reaction to the incident. A few days after the order to ban the film, the Tôkyôpolice issued a set of internal procedural guidelines regarding what films to guard for when evaluating applications for film exhibition:

1. Works constructed from a framework that suggests adultery.
2. Works liable to invite or support the methods of crime.
3. Works bordering on cruelty.
4. Works constructed from a pattern that concerns love relations or which descend into obscenity, especially ones capable of exciting base emotions.
5. Works contrary to morality or which induce mischief by children or bring about corruption.(*2)

The sections covering adultery, cruelty, obscenity, and morality differed little from the theater regulations in force at the time. What had changed in confronting the problem of film was the perception that cinematic works could not merely offend established sensibilities or directly harm public morals, but also induce objectionable behavior in spectators, especially in certain sectors of the audience. Theater regulations at the time never posited in this way a narrative of behavioral influence, nor specified audiences that should be the object of regulative concern. This was a problem specific to cinema, which was posited as having an influence on a newly defined object of correction and control: thought and behavior.
  Cinema was a unique problem that demanded particular modes of correction. As a Tôkyôpolice official himself said, there was "a necessity to more strictly watch [the moving pictures] than the theater."(*3) It was as cinema that Zigomar was banned, not as literature. The special attention-or fear, one could say-to which cinema was subject is evident in reports that authorities even tried to prevent producers from making films on the life of General Nogi Maresuke, the military leader who committed junshi (ritual suicide on the occasion of the death of one's lord) on the night of the Meiji emperor's funeral, only one month before Zigomar was banned.(*3) Despite the fact Nogi was already being praised by many as the epitome of bushidô, the perfect example of citizenship for Japanese children, cinema and its form of spectatorship was apparently too dangerous to trust to spread even this important message.
  The procedures for censoring films started to change. The Tôkyô Metropolitan Police acknowledged that their mistake in approving Zigomar for exhibition was due in part to the fact that they had not seen the film before they approved it(*3) , given the misemono regulations that covered cinema at the time, all that was necessary for an application was a written summary of the film or of the benshi's narration.(*3) The police did often send out officers to investigate the films while they were being screened in the theaters, but this procedure was no different from foot patrols of the side-show tents.(*3) What the Zigomar incident made clear was that in order to censor the content of a film, it was inadequate merely to review a written representation of the cinematic text. The Tôkyô police acknowledged that they now needed to base their decision on whether to approve a film on a preview screening of the work.(*3) The definition of the filmic text itself began to change as censorship procedures started to place importance in the text as visual object, not just as a written story, as well as in the text as viewed, not just as read. New censorship technologies were deemed necessary (and later proposed, for instance, in the groundbreaking 1917 Tôkyô Moving Picture Regulations), ones that molded modern models of subjectivity centered on promoting the internal mental faculties capable of accommodating this visual "stimulation" and that created a homology between the structure of the individual subject and the social hierarchy, where the mental (the upper class and the state) would rule over the body (the lower class, the people).
  In conclusion, it is clear that the history of discourse on cinema in Japan as a specific object began with the realization that discourse was completely adequate to define or accommodate its object, that cinema was other to existing modes of understanding. Such an interpretation itself was not sufficient to generate a discourse on the motion pictures, however, unless it was linked to a description of the medium as a social problem in need of solution. Only with such a perception did the fact that existing discourses, such as those on the misemono, did not treat the cinema as a differentiated sign itself become an issue. Discourse on cinema developed by first negating existing discourses, establishing the basis of a semiotics of difference within which the cinema would be defined. Such a semiotic negation was doubled in the social realm as the motion pictures had to be, in a sense, rejected or posited as objectionable in order to gain a definition. The question would remain, however, how to solve the problems posed by cinema. The very fact that the motion pictures posed a problem that sparked objections meant that film was durably establishing itself in discourse in a way that other misemono that soon faded away, like the panorama or the Western looking glass, never did. Cinema became distinguished in discourse precisely as a medium that exceeded current discourse (if not the word itself), one that utilized a mode of signification that could not be accommodated in existing forms of speech and writing. It was this contradictory task of delineating in discourse an object as elusive as Zigomar that could not be described, of making familiar again what had been posed as other, that became the central dynamic of 1910s discourse on cinema in Japan.


(*1) "Jigoma (yon): Shigeki no kyôretsuna mono," Tôkyô Asahi Shinbun, 8 October 1912: 5. Given the ill-effects it felt competition had on the industry, the Asahi actually welcomed the formation of the Nikkatsu trust.

(*2) For a copy of the 1900 theater regulations, see Takazawa Hatsutarô Gendai engeki sôran, 2nd edition (Tôkyô Bunseisha, 1919): 211-229, especially Article 23, which regulated the content of theater plays.