Presentation Proposal

Arguably there is no other Japanese author more controversial than Yukio Mishima. Mishima is looked at as both a trendsetter in several forms of cultural production yet is still a somewhat taboo topic in discussions of Japanese cultural figures. Filmmaker Paul Schrader attempted to bring Mishima’s story to mainstream American audiences at a time of widespread anti-Japanese sentiments in the country. This presentation takes a look at a film production from a recent period marked by a prominent aura of prejudice within the United States, a period of certain political elements in the country directing contempt towards the Japanese.

Xenophobia is an issue that has become a highly debated topic in yet another election cycle within the United States. One of the key aspects of xenophobia is a process of dehumanization. The contributions to civilization from distant cultures are reduced to single phrases, thinning  the capacity of the contributions (‘The Swiss and their cuckoo clock’), histories of musical development are distorted to three notes from a single instrument (the Vietnamese flute, the Sitar that might belong to India) accents parodied and languages reduced to squeaks and growls. Such are some of the numerous methods used for dehumanization of a projected other.

But what happens when a production, like Schrader’s, strives to put a human face on a subject that has been effectively dehumanized? Does this production have to take extra steps to assure it does justice to its subject in a climate of increasingly hostile assumptions? We examine whether the production’s formal selections were enough to overcome the assumptions of a segment of the American public.  Through this we try to derive what we can learn from the production’s successes and failures about combating methods of dehumanization today.

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