Plasmatic Empire: Animated Filmmaking in the Manchukuo Film Association, 1937-1945
This talk examines animated filmmaking in the Manchukuo Film Association (Manying, 1937-1945), which played an important role in shaping wartime film culture in Northeast China and other Japanese-occupied areas such as North China and Shanghai. Some studies have been conducted on Manying films, but they have focused on documentaries, newsreels, and fictional live-action films, and do not systematically address the cinematic form of animation. Since animation is a different medium, an in-depth study of it will provide a unique perspective from which to understand Manying and the complicated wartime culture of Manchukuo, China, and Japan. The major theoretical problem that this talk tries to address is the convoluted relationship between animation and politics. On the one hand, animation, often regarded as a fantasy art form intended for an audience of children, is widely known for its escapist and apolitical tendencies as it features fairytales, folklore, and talking animals. On the other hand, animation, due to its kinship with caricature and cartoon, can be used as a powerful weapon to disseminate ideologies to both children and adults. In a politically fraught time when the non-political could be highly politicized, how do we locate and dislocate Manying and its animation on the spectrum between escapism and political propaganda?