Reverse Japonisme : transpositions of Zola, Cézanne, and van Gogh in twentieth-century Japan

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2013-05

Authors

Songkaeo, Thammika

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Abstract

This report examines how twentieth-century Japanese “artists” – Kafū Nagai, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and Kurosawa Akira – applied characters and/or principles of nineteenth-century artists active in France to their works. Specifically, I study the influences of Emile Zola, Paul Cézanne, and Vincent van Gogh. The first chapter examines the way that Kafū adopted Zola’s Nana (1880) in his own novel, Rivalry (1918), arguing that Nana provided Kafū with a vocabulary to express anxieties about Japan’s future. Comparing social conditions in late nineteenth-century France to those in early twentieth-century Japan, the chapter explains how Kafū feared that the debauched world in Nana would be Japan’s new destination. My second chapter moves away from Kafū and Zola, examining, instead, how Akutagawa applies Cézanne’s notions of subjectivity in his Japanese short story, “In a Grove” (1922). Specifically, I argue that Akutagawa and Cézanne both conceive reality as dependent of, and inevitably attached to, subjective truth. My third and final chapter, shifting to a focus on film, examines the way that Kurosawa uses van Gogh’s character to express frustrations about society’s neglect of nature, as well as about his own creative passions as an artist. Through the different mediums discussed in the report – novel, short story, painting, and film – I show that nineteenth-century French influence in twentieth-century Japan was not small in scope, concluding that the great influences merit further study, particularly since Franco-Japanese influences continue visibly today.

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