Genre and gender

Romantic friendships and the homosocial imperative in the ninkyō (chivalrous) genre film

Authored by: Isolde Standish

The Routledge Companion to Gender and Japanese Culture

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138895201
eBook ISBN: 9781315179582
Adobe ISBN:


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In earlier works, I analysed the popular yakuza and its derivative ninkyō (chivalrous) genres in terms of socially established norms of gender and relationships between, on the one hand, men and men, and, on the other, between men and women in terms of the Neo-Confucian codes of jingi (morality) implicit within the narrative patterns. I argued that the yakuza and ninkyō genres from the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s ultimately supported a conservative ethos of loyalty to an organisation or institution (the family as the ie or the criminal organisation as the kumi) above personal emotional attachments. In this chapter, I go beyond my earlier analysis and focus specifically on the question of “romantic friendship” as an expression of a sexually non-consummated, homosocial love and the more recent inclusion of female characters into this hitherto exclusive male tradition in the Tōei Studio series Gangster Women (Gokudō no onna) which ran from 1986 to 2005. Furthermore, I argue that in the Tōei Studio’s formulaic yakuza and ninkyō genre series, characters transcend gender, whether biological males or females; through their portrayal in the narrative, they become symbolic representatives of social roles rather than individual men or women per se, and it is this that permits female characters a degree of gender fluidity.

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