In the early 20th century, the anthropological function of film was carried out on the mimetic dimension of the gesture. Everywhere, from South America to east Asia, intellectuals and theorists addressed the increasing importance of the movies for the transnational transformation of embodied attitudes for modernization, usually highlighting the female body, which became a framework whereby the history of the present could be outlined as desire. Film carried the gestures necessary for modernization. Focusing on the writings by the Japanese modernist Tanizaki Jun’ichiro and avant-gardist Murayama Tomoyoshi, this talk will look into some theories written in and around the 1920s, which conveyed a fascination and dissatisfaction with the medium of film, in order to think the racialized temporality of the female Asian body—a notion that included and excluded the Japanese body. Taking into consideration the circulation of the idea of modernizing as “whitening,” in light of debates happening in post-slavery Brazil on the Asian body, this talk argues that the dissatisfaction with film reveals a temporal inflection to a racial theory of spectatorship. The Asian or “yellow” female body functioned as a temporal figure of the interstice—at once a disputed waiting device for becoming white, in its global functioning, while also revealing the limits of cinema and of racialized social reproduction.
André Keiji Kunigami is a Carolina Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Romance Studies. Kunigami’s work deals with questions of film and aesthetic theory, perception and peripheral avant-gardes of the early twentieth century, in their intercrossing with scientific and political discourses. He is currently working on his first book manuscript, in which he examines the different ways that film produced a particular temporal understanding of the body, in places outside the so-called Western spaces in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on Brazil and Japan.