In 1935, actress Shiga Akiko was arrested for an offense under the Criminal Abortion Law. From 1936 to 1937, her case generated substantial media coverage and public debate. Liberal intellectuals generally viewed Shiga as a victim of the pronatal state; her scandal provided feminists with an opportunity to analyze the relationships among working women, their work environment, and the politics of reproduction. On the pages of women's magazines, readers avidly followed Shiga's case because she was caught up in contradictory forces, as most of them were: pride in work, love for movies, fascination with celebrity culture, and normative femininity.
This essay contextualizes discursive and filmic responses to the Shiga scandal within historical processes in the late 1930s Japan. The state attempted to fully incorporate women into the nation-state as subjects for the imminent war. In order to mobilize half the population—indispensable for reproduction—without granting them full rights, various forms of negotiations, persuasions, and seductions took place. The Home Ministry increased control over the film industry by tightening censorship, particularly on representations of women. This essay demonstrates the film industry's response to the scandal, which initially took shape as Shiga's unsuccessful comeback projects, resulted in the emergence of a cycle of new seduction stories in which a heroine bears an illegitimate child and yet regains personal integrity and economic independence. This example of a compromise among commercial cinema, active women, and the state's pressure offers a new perspective on wartime Japanese film culture as a field of negotiations.
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