The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan
224pp. March 2008
The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan
Author: Baskett, Michael;
"Because imperialism has had such an appalling ideological reputation, we’ve lost sight of its excitement, the breathless anticipation of adventures in far-off lands. The Attractive Empire is a tour de force of enthralling historical scholarship that puts the appeal, and seductions, of imperialism on display, without underestimating its ugly consequences. Like its chosen subject, the book covers an astonishing array of texts, events, people, and issues. The clarity and vividness of the writing make it work effortlessly. Baskett’s organizational skills, narrative, and rhetoric deftly orchestrate a complex subject." —Darrell William Davis, University of New South Wales

"Michael Baskett removes imperial Japanese film from its solitary confinement and commandingly analyzes how it functioned internationally. He commits a depth of research rarely found in English-language studies of Japanese cinema, and his mastery of the primary and secondary sources from beyond Japan’s borders distinctly set his book apart from previous scholarship on the subject. Not only is this a work that historians and film scholars will appreciate but also one that I look forward to assigning to undergraduates." —Barak Kushner, Cambridge University

Japanese film crews were shooting feature-length movies in China nearly three decades before Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) reputedly put Japan on the international film map. Although few would readily associate Japan’s film industry with either imperialism or the domination of world markets, the country’s film culture developed in lock step with its empire, which, at its peak in 1943, included territories from the Aleutians to Australia and from Midway Island to India. With each military victory, Japanese film culture’s sphere of influence expanded deeper into Asia, first clashing with and ultimately replacing Hollywood as the main source of news, education, and entertainment for millions.

The Attractive Empire is the first comprehensive examination of the attitudes, ideals, and myths of Japanese imperialism as represented in its film culture. In this stimulating new study, Michael Baskett traces the development of Japanese film culture from its unapologetically colonial roots in Taiwan and Korea to less obvious manifestations of empire such as the semicolonial markets of Manchuria and Shanghai and occupied territories in Southeast Asia. Drawing on a wide range of previously untapped primary sources from public and private archives across Asia, Europe, and the United States, Baskett provides close readings of individual films and trenchant analyses of Japanese assumptions about Asian ethnic and cultural differences. Finally, he highlights the place of empire in the struggle at legislative, distribution, and exhibition levels to wrest the "hearts and minds" of Asian film audiences from Hollywood in the 1930s as well as in Japan’s attempts to maintain that hegemony during its alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

25 illus.

“A book to add to all our reading lists.” —Journal of Japanese Studies (37:1, 2011)

"Michael Baskett’s ambitious work on imperial film culture is a significant contribution to the historical studies of modern Asia as well as that of cinema. . . . Undeniably recommended reading for students and scholars in media and Asian studies." —Asian Studies (1, 2009)

"The author’s exhaustive research and excellent use of both Japanese and English sources make for a compelling study. This is the first title to address the gap in scholarship on Japan’s cinema of empire in a sustained, comprehensive manner. . . . Highly recommended." —Choice (46:2, October 2008)

Author: Baskett, Michael;
Michael Baskett is associate professor in the Department of Theatre and Film, University of Kansas.
Read the introduction (PDF).

Lost Histories

1. From Film Colony to Film Sphere

2. Media Empire: Creating Audiences

3. Imperial Acts: Japan Performs Asia

4. Competing Empires in Transnational Asia

5. The Emperor's Celluloid Army Marches On

Selected Filmography


Selected Bibliography