Mass Culture in Postwar Japan: As Seen Through the Films, Tokyo Drifter and Ohayo
Post war Japan was flung into a mass market that was unlike any she had ever seen before. Old cultural ties and values were challenged and sometimes discarded. Everything from traditional gender roles and family standards to westernized dress and mass media. The challenges that people faced were enormous and included a generation gap that might have paralyzed the entire culture. The changing values associated with family, respect, love, work and many other factors required many adjustments, for both the generation that remembered a more traditional past and the one who recalled only war and technology. One possible way to interpret such cultural changes is through the relatively modern cultural art of film. The Japanese films Ohayo and Tokyo Drifter both embrace and challenge mass culture in different ways.
In a film review which, contextually analyzed the popular media of the culture in Japan and especially Tokyo many situations can be seen that are dealing with just these cultural issues. In a review of a film which, focuses on the challenges of a new regard for family values Ohayo (Good Morning) can be seen countless symbolic and overt challenges and changes in culture from traditional to mass culture. In contrast the film Tokyo Drifter analyzed has little visible conflict between old and new culture yet may symbolically challenge old loyalties and ties.
Overall, Ohayo expresses a much more traditional sense of Japan as Tokyo Drifter expresses little if any traditional visual messages yet hidden within the dialogue and the character development there are messages about the rejection of loyalty, a profound cultural issue. At least one scene is devoted to a cultural bashing of westerners, yet this seems almost incongruent against the backdrop of people, young and old dressed exclusively in western clothing and embracing both technology and culture. The single scene that depicts the rejection of westerners can be found within the bar brawl that takes place in Southern Japan near the end of the film, almost as an aside women patrons are seen manipulating western soldiers into acting in a foolish manner. This scene seems to be a caricature of western foolishness and give a hint of the type of cultural rejection the Japanese may have felt in the undercurrent of post war life.
Yet, so much of Tokyo Drifter seems to be an embracing of western ideals from dress to the gangster/hero film genre. The young people dress as their contemporaries in the west would be dressed and listen to Jazz music rather than traditional Japanese music, even the song that the movie is based upon has very little traditional elements. In fact there is not a single scene within the Tokyo Drifter that conjures any traditional Japanese culture, not a single person on the train or on the street who is wearing traditional Japanese clothing or doing anything that would be considered a Japanese practice.
The single ideal of the embracing and then rejecting of old loyalty is the only theme within the film that might express some semblance of Japanese cultural values. The sad and hard won realization, by Tetzu that even the loyalty of a man he embraced as a father, Kurata is false as Kurata has betrayed him for money. Though Kurata does redeem himself through a more modern hara-kiri, slashing his wrist rather than stabbing himself in the belly, his attempt to remove sin from his connections is futile as Tetzu realizes the damage is done and wanders out into the world to become the drifter from Tokyo, eternally.
Though gender roles may be seen as another possible cultural overflow as the women in the film are seen as relatively passive in their roles, seemingly trying to reach for the traditional goals of marriage and family. The first woman in the film to challenge the passive ideal is the bankers secretary, who turns out to be a double agent working for the Otsuka gang, yet during once scene her interest in marriage with one of the gangsters is made clear as she begs him to marry her in exchange for her loyalty to the rival gang and her invaluable information about the lenders business exchanges with Tetsu's gang leader Kurata. Yet the other female character, Chiharu sadly and passively watches as Tetsu rejects love and a possible family life and expresses his unfortunate desire to remain a drifter after being betrayed by Kurata. Tetsu expresses his rejection in the final scene of the movie when he states, "A drifter needs no woman."
In Ohayo, traditional dress is still shown as the standard for at least the mothers in the film and the homes are more traditionally set with the shared spaces and the preference for sitting upon the floor. Women at home do traditional things, chatting with neighbors about old and new values, trying to understand and best raise their children, who are all boys and support and maintain their husbands who all either have work outside the home or are looking for it. They dress as their mothers would have and work in much the same ways trying to keep the home clean and the family fed.
There is a challenge within the film of traditional familial respect for the old, when one women insults her mother as senile and wishes her to go off to the Mountain where old people go to die. Her mother is a symbol of the old Japanese traditions. She is a member of the family yet, in times of strife her daughter, a mother herself disrespects her openly. Her mother has misplaced the dues paid by the women and delivered by the treasurer, another neighbor woman. The scandal grows when it become common knowledge that the family has just purchased a much sought after new technological gadget, a washing machine. The loss of the dues is seen as a huge scandal and the daughter as the leader of the women's group is ultimately responsible for paying the dues to the chairperson of the group. There is no clear mention of what the group is but it could be seen as a vestige of possible communist societies.
The challenge within the home of the treasurer is directly related to technology and a generation gap between the parents and their two young boys. Another neighbor, an ex-cabaret performer, a scandal in itself has a television and all the boys in the neighborhood repeatedly sneak over to watch Sumo wrestling on the television when they are supposed to be at their English lessons. Because the parents are getting older and worried about money as they watch their retired neighbor suffer through unable to live well on the pensions they are paid and needing to get jobs the strain of the new economy is seen.
In their thrift as well as their desire to maintain the proper upbringing for their children causes them to resist buying a television for their home. Even though they do not want their boys to go over to the cabaret pajama wearing woman's house in defiance. The boys go on a speaking strike and cause much confusion in the neighborhood ultimately running away to eat, as they have been unable to ask for food while on their strike and to watch TV.
The melding of traditional values and modern values can be seen in the last scene of the film as the Aunt to the two young boys on strike and their teacher exchange the beginning of courting, expressed through the small talk that the boys made fun of when they began their speaking strike. In the scene the young couple is seen standing, in western cloths on the train platform, waiting to be taken into town, presumably for work.…