Gambling with the Nation: Heroines of the Japanese Yakuza Film, 1955–1975

Jennifer Coates

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Abstract

A revamped period-drama film genre surfaced after the Allied occupation of Japan (1945–1952), featuring androgynous comic heroines who cross-dressed to perform male and female yakuza roles. By the late 1960s, they had been replaced by increasingly sexualized figures, and later by the ‘pink’ violence of the ‘girl boss’ sub-genre. Yet masculine themes in the ‘nihilistic’ yakuza films of the late 1960s and 1970s have been the focus of most scholarship on the genre, with scant attention paid to the female yakuza film. This article offers an iconographic reading of the heroines of the yakuza genre, arguing that the re-imagining of a postwar ‘Japaneseness’ was conducted as much through the yakuza genre’s heroines as its heroes. Through analysis of key visual motifs, narrative tropes, and star personae, the image of the female yakuza can be read as a commentary on social conditions in postwar Japan. We can see the rapid social and political changes of postwar Japan reflected and mediated through the changing image of the female yakuza heroine during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-369
Number of pages17
JournalJapanese Studies
Volume37
Issue number3
Early online date1 Oct 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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