The Intersection between Film Industries and World War II
- Film , Japan , Nazi Germany , Propaganda , World War 2
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Film played a vital role in the modern communication system; having originated in the late 19th century. In the past, films have often been produced to express the economic and political climate in a specific country. In many cases, cinema has been used as a tool for propaganda for governments. This paper will address similarities and differences between the German film industry and the Japanese film industry, through content produced. The German and Japanese film industries changed significantly from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, showcasing the impact of World War II on these countries film regulations, social structure, technology, and genre content. The Expressionism movement of German Cinema began in the early years of the 20th century but the film industry in Germany dates back to the late 19th century. During this time, major technological advancements were made in cinematography in order to transition away from silent films. The movies from this time can be classified as abstract and often eliciting emotion. Films produced during this time were an exaggeration of death, light/ shadow and focused on marginalized groups (Vogel, Expressionism and Early Film Lecture).
Towards the end of the Expressionism movement in German Cinema Metropolis (1927), which showcased man versus machine with a futuristic design became one of the last major silent films. However, by the beginning of the 1930s, the government took over a majority of the film industry. The German film industry from the 1930s to 1945 was predominantly controlled by the Nazi Party, especially by the Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Under Nazi control, Goebbels’s produced more than 1,000 films- much of them were indirect propaganda films that highlighted German Nationalism by addressing race, identity and the Nazi aesthetic (Vogel, Nazi Film Lecture) which is exemplified in Leni Riefenstahl’s film, Triumph of the Will. In addition, a majority of the early Nazi films addressed thematic topics of harmony and nature, such as the beauty in nature, the image of heroism in nature, and health through body image (Vogel, Nazi Film Lecture). In the Deutsche Welle article, German Expert on Nazi Films and Propaganda, film historian Gerd Albrecht discussed how many of the films suppressed fear and worries of everyday life in order to focus on producing propaganda films that highlighted the superiority of the German race (Deutsche Welle) and the German Volk (people). According to the article, Films in Nazi Germany, a majority of the films produced from this time ranged from propaganda films to anti-semantic films (Trueman). These films often reflected the ideology of the Nazi Racial Theory, which promoted the Hitler Youth Movement as the future of Germany (Vogel, Nazi Film Lecture).
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The cinema produced during this time showcased many new film techniques such as the use of sound bites, exemplary film framing, and the use of the shot-reverse-shots. These camera techniques expanded and allowed for new methods of filmmaking for the future film movements (Vogel, Nazi Film Lecture). Much of the films created during World War II were used as a form of escapist entertainment and as a way to detract Germany’s population from what atrocities the Nazi Regime was committing by promoting German nationalist propaganda’s and documentaries. As a result of World War II, films produced under the Nazi Regime were banned from being showed, during this time a new film movement known as Post-War German Cinema evolved. The films completed first two years after World War II were classified as the Rubble Films because scenes were often shot in the ruins and the rubble of major cities in Germany. The first film produced post-World War II was Murderers are Among Us, shot in the destruction of Berlin, which addresses the issues of individual guilt and the responsibility within the state (Vogel, Post-War Cinema Lecture) from the actions that took place during Nazi control. Post-War films can be characterized as reactionary and as an attempt for society to come to deal with the atrocities that occurred (K??rten). The years following World War II was a time for Germany to understand the importance of German heritage and culture, through themes of renewal and reality (K??rten). Film was viewed as a form both entertainment and information that was considered to be a part of the new mass media culture (Vogel, Post-War Cinema Lecture). After World War II, the main goal of the Allied Forces was to break up the large film production companies in Germany and go through the process of De-Nazification (Vogel, Post-War Cinema Lecture) of the film industry. Many of the films created during the post-war cinema had to receive a license in order to be produced. Post-War German Cinema was one of the most influential film movements that addressed issues of resentment and both individual and collective guilt, through the legacy of destruction in Germany (Kiang and Lyttelton).
As a result of this post-war German Cinema movement, there became a large separation between politics and the film industry, creating a re-birth of cinema and a transition away from large production companies. In the early 1960s, the Berlin Wall was built to separate West Germany from East Germany and shortly after the Oberhausen Manifesto was signed by young German filmmakers in order to establish a new German Cinema that critiqued Western Germany failing film industry (The Criterion Collection). This film movement is known as Neuer Deutscher Film or New German Cinema, which officially announced death to old cinema and birth of a new one (Vogel, Neuer Deutscher Film Lecture). This declaration for new cinema targeted political issues and social movements that represented marginalized groups and peoples. The films produced during the New German Cinema era focused on having social relevance and was often called amateur cinema because they had no real aesthetic (Vogel, Neuer Deutscher Film Lecture). During the film movement, directors and producers such as Werner Herzog and Fassbinder raddled the film industry bringing new ideas and different approaches to filmmaking. Some of the thematic topics that were touched upon included family, generational conflict society changes, and the emancipation of women (Vogel, Neuer Deutscher Film Lecture). The New German Cinema continued into the 1970s, creating an everlasting influence on the German film industry, opening up new channels of communication and addressing different issues, that had never been discussed in the film industry. The Japanese Film industry also played a vital role in the early international communication system as a platform for entertainment, a tool for propaganda, and as a way to connect with society through culture.
Early examples of Cinema in Japan date back to the late 19th century. In comparison to early films in Europe, a majority of the earliest motion pictures in Japan often included tales of ghosts or demons (Maher) signifying a culture of supernatural and phantom activity. A majority of early films in the 1900s that were produced were often silent films. These silent motion pictures, also known as Benshi Films, were often performed with a storyteller standing in front of an audience narrating the images on the screen (Maher). In addition to the Benshi films, samurai films were also widely spread due to their feudal relation in society. Due to their [Benshi] popularity, they continued to remain very popular within Japan’s society until the 1930s. The Japanese Film industry during the 1930s and into World War II can be defined as a tool for propaganda. During this time, the government of Japan, especially the Japanese Home Ministry, became heavily involved in monitoring the film industry and issues relating to all Japanese affairs such as the news, advertising, and cinema, etc. (Maher) In 1939, the government passed the Film Law, which wrote legislation into practice that promoted documentaries in the Japanese culture, (Nornes, 56) which created a tighter hold on the film industry in Japan. These cultural documentation and propaganda films were also referred to as Bunka eiga (Maher) which can directly relate to the German nationalist films during the 1930s. During this period of time, Japan was also at war with China, thus it was essential that cinemas featured strong Japanese films that exemplified the Empire of Japan and their strengths as a nation. There was a suppression of all films that scorned the image of the Japanese military and films that had been often cut or banned from being shown/ produced (Maher).
Many of the films that were produced in the 1930s and 1940s were censored due to their content or message, due to their unalignment with the Film Law. Throughout World War II Japan’s unemployment rate increased exponentially and the economy suffered blows, thus, as a result, the production of films decreased (Maher), although wartime films were revered as a way to showcase the dominance of the nation. Throughout the 1940s, Japanese national films that showcased military heroism and patriotism were used as a tool for propaganda in order to ensure stability within Japan. After the loss of World War II, the American Occupation in Japan lead to a decrease in propaganda films and lead to a transition in Japan’s film industry and socioeconomic stability. Post-War Japanese Cinema during the 1950s and 1960s, also known as the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, flourished exponentially. Japan became a powerhouse in the film industry, breaking away from other Asian countries. Many outstanding filmmakers, such as Mizuguchi, Ozu, and Kurosawa (Smith) dominated the film industry with the production of a variety of films that incorporated different film-making techniques and genre content. Some of the film content produced during the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema were animated feature films, now commonly known as anime (Kehr). During this time period, the diversity in the film industry expanded its content and successfully appealed to a larger audience due to opening up the film market. According to the article, Japanese Cinema in the 1950s and 1960, two popular genre of films included Taiyozuko which interested a more youthful audience and the Salaryman Film, which attracted a majority of the middle class workers in Japan, due to their attempt to remove themselves from their everyday lives and escape the post-war society. Like many of the films from this decade, they often showcased dramatically different political points of view and film genres rather followed individual film makers-rather than a generational film movement.
Like in Germany, Japan also developed an interest in the amateur cinema which became increasingly popular during the 1950s to 1960s (Cook and Sklar, 4). During this time many filmmakers address nuisances of expedition of new ideas and Japanese tradition (Asia Society) through new film arts, ideas, and film-techniques. The 1960s influenced a new generation of filmmakers and producers that redirected their films as a way to serve their creativity. The film industries of Japan and Germany had many similarities, but also had many differences in terms of genre content, filmmaking styles, film movements, and technological advancements. Film, in terms of a tool, was used as an international mass media system that was used for distributing information, entertainment, and propaganda. In terms of the early film both Japan and Germany started producing silent films; that focused on ghouls, darkness, death, and shadows; however at the time, these silent films in Japan had more popularity than the ones produced in Germany. During the start of World War II, both governments focused on strengthening their countries’ nationalistic priorities through film. In order to control the population’s perception of the war, a majority of the media industry in Japan and Germany was controlled through censorship by the government. During this time, filmmakers in Germany focused on the German identity and the Nazi aesthetic, which made the propaganda films and documentaries, less direct to the audience, while filmmakers in Japan also focused on promotional documentaries and propaganda their film’s often showcased the nations heroism and patriotism for their country. In terms of film movements, Germany followed more a direct path- transitioning from major themes to new cinema; in contrast to Japan’s film industry that later followed more individual filmmakers than thematic movements.
However, despite these differences and similarities, both Japan and Germany were tremendously affected by World War II. Their nations were occupied by the US and other allied forces, which had a major effect on the de-militarizing and de-Nazification processes that took place in the film industry. The film industries in Japan and Germany post- World War II and into the 1960’s fluctuated constantly but both experienced a new type of filmmaking that emerged from new thinkers, that radicalized art, generational conflict, explored new techniques, and marginalized groups.