Irhe Sohn - Assistant Professor of Korean Language & Literature, Smith College
In 1939, Japan passed the Film Law to mobilize cinema in the empire’s war efforts, and the colonial government in Korea continued moving toward total control of the domestic culture industry. From such political turns, Korean filmmakers and producers found both perils and opportunities in the film business. Korean cinema was on the verge of losing its ethnic ground, as it was to be incorporated into the empire’s greater film sphere; at the same time, the national cinema’s crisis presented an opportunity for colonial filmmakers to explore a larger film market ensured by the empire’s expansion. To examine how colonial filmmakers strove to secure their place in the Japanese empire by redefining their cinema in new geopolitical terms, I investigate the Koryŏ Film Association’s attempts to gain Japanese release of two children-themed movies, Tuition (1940) and Homeless Angels (1941). With the assistance of the Tōwa Trading Company, a film distributor famous for European art films, Koryŏ Film devised plans to promote movies about Korean children to appeal to Japanese audiences’ paternalistic sentiment toward the colonies. By examining the Korean filmmakers’ deliberate strategy to appropriate developmentalist logics—the justificatory claims for colonialism—I will show how colonial cinema was reimagined as a child of Japanese imperial cinema, just as much as those films offered a representation of colonial children.
Irhe Sohn is Assistant Professor of Korean at Smith College. Currently he is working on a book tentatively entitled Promises of Failure: Unmade Films and Unrealized Dreams of Cinema in Colonial Korea.