A Re-interpretation of Shimizu Hiroshi’s Sayon no kane (Sayon's Bell, 1943)

Pei-yin Lin (School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong)

Translation is not an innocent process whereby words and ideas are transferred equally from the source language to the target language. Instead, it is often shaped by ideology, either of the translator or institutions. Several scholars have addressed the relationship between ideology and translation. Bassnett and Lefevere, for instance, regard translation as rewritings which “reflect a certain ideology and a poetics and as such manipulate literature to function in a given society in a given way,”[1] whereas Toury claims that norms, general values or ideas shared by a group, govern every level of decision-making in the process of translation from selection of text to translate to the choices of translation strategies employed.[2] Similar to these scholars stressing the importance of ideology in translation, Venuti takes one step further by pointing out the dominance of Anglo-American culture expressed in translation practice. For Venuti, books translated into English are rendered according to the values of the target culture, thus following a “domesticating” strategy seeking fluency and leading to the translator’s “invisibility.” Likewise, texts produced in a colonial context are expected to introduce the colony for the consumption at home and to reinforce the ideology   embedded in a colonizing venture. Representations of the foreign always arise, at the outset, from distinct subject positions whose historical and cultural particularities lend themselves to certain limited and limiting ways of seeing the world.

Employing the term “translation” as an activity involving mediating between two value and code systems, this paper examines how primitivity is rendered in the Japanese director Shimizu Hiroshi’s Sayon’s Bell (Sayon no kane, 1943). Previous scholarship has studied Shimizu’s general cinematic style, or focused on his more renowned film about children. Only recently has his Sayon’s Bell become a subject of academic inquiry. Historians contextualize Sayon’s tale and the film within Japan’s wartime mobilization of Taiwanese aborigines while film scholars discuss the relationship between Shimizu’s “realist” or location-driven style and imperialist concerns. 

In this paper, I will consider the Japanese imperialist motif as a starting point of my inquiry. I propose a combined analysis of the historical context and Shimizu’s cinematic style, examining whether the colonial ideology is successfully relayed in the film. In order to answer this question, this paper will first identify the general colonial ideology, the dominant discourse at that time which often involves the construction of a dichotomy between civility and savagery. It will then compare the various retellings and re-circulations of the motif-an Atayal girl’s life-risking devotion to the Japanese empire-before scrutinizing Shimizu Hiroshi’ s film Sayon’s Bell. Drawing on Lawrence Venuti’s categories of “domestication” and “foreignization” with slight modifications, this paper considers the Japanese colonial discourse to be an example of the former, while the domestic locale of Taiwan/Atayal people is an example of the latter. Rather than dismissing Shimizu’s film as outright “domesticating” propaganda assisting the war effort as suggested by most critics, it analyzes in detail how Shimizu Hiroshi mediates his role as a cultural agent/translator. The trope of empire and the intriguing performance of Li Xianglan (aka Yamaguchi “Shirley” Yoshiko, l920-2014) in the film will also be elaborated. The aim of this paper is to explore whether it is possible to be exempt from “imperial eyes” when representing the colonized Atayal people.


1.  The Making o Barbarians

Othering is frequently a way of defining and securing one’s own positive identity through the stigmatization of an “Other,” especially in a colonial context.[3] Before a colonial discourse can be constructed, it is essential to study the colonized. Unsurprisingly, Japan’s ethnographic efforts concerning Taiwan were initiated with an attempt to facilitate their colonial governance of the island. Major contributions were made by the pioneering anthropologists, such as Inō Kanori (1867-1925), Torii Ryūzō (1870-1953), and Mori Ushinosuke (1877-1926). As Japan rose as a colonial power in Asia, numerous Japanese social scientists and humanists exercised what Johannes Fabian had termed “the denial of coevalness” in order to imagine Japan as a “modern” country in the new world order and justify its “civilizing” mission in its newly acquired colonies.[4] The sustainability of this colonialist discourse often involves a continuous production of otherness. As early as 1895, the first Governor-General of Taiwan Kabayama Sukenori (1837-1922), had already pointed out the aborigines living in Taiwan’s east coast were “enlightened and stubbornly stupid” and suggested a mixed policy of pacifying and controlling.[5] In the same year, Inō Kanori followed the terms used by the Qing government of China, “shengfan” (seiban, raw barbarians/savages) and “shoufan” (jukuban, cooked barbarians/savages), defining Taiwan’s indigenous population according to their degree of submission to the Qing government, which for Inō is associated with civilization.[6] For Kodama Gentarō, the 4th Governor-General of Taiwan, Taiwanese aborigines belonged to the subhuman designation, were equivalent to “wild beasts,” and were therefore difficult to “reign in” properly. Although they might “evolve” in time, it was best to eliminate the total aborigine population in the interests of the colonial administration.[7] Although later on the assimilation policy was confirmed in 1919, and policies for managing the aborigines were moderated from suppression to cultivating, the tropes that differentiated aborigines depending on their degrees of savagery or civility remained coherent in Japanese colonial discourse.

At the beginning of Japanese rule, the colonizers inherited the Chinese term fan to refer to the island’s non-Han inhabitants, yet added the “grass” radical to modify the dismissive Chinese character 番 to 蕃. At the 1935 exhibition in celebration of Japan’s 40th-year rule, a new term takasagozoku was used to refer to Taiwanese aborigines. However, the new term did not necessarily entail great improvement in the status of Taiwan’s aborigines. It was not until 1943 that the aborigines were legally granted status as “human” in the household registration system. Interestingly, this “elevation” of status coincided with voluntarism in which the aborigines were offered a change of transfiguration-to join the war effort as “imperial subjects” and more importantly, to be willing to die for the empire.

Films were recognized as a powerful tool for propaganda from the early stages of Japanese rule in Taiwan. To educate the Japanese in the homeland about the colonies, the colonial government made short films about Taiwan. The 1907 documentary An Introduction to Taiwan’s Reality, that the colonial government commissioned Takamatsu Toyojirō to make, offers an example. It was premiered in Taipei, with some Zou-tribe people’s live performance, with an aim of enlightening the Taiwanese (not only the tribal performers but also the audiences in general).


2.     From an Aboriginal Woman to a Japanese Martyred Maiden

In light of the colonizers’ overall ideological dissemination, the story of Sayon—in which the 17-year-old Atayal girl’s falling into a torrential river and went missing in 1939 when seeing her Japanese teacher off—makes a “ready-to-be appropriated” topic to lift the morale of those conscripted to fight for Japan. It did not take long for the colonizers to officially acknowledge Sayon’s patriotism through a bell-giving ceremony. In 1943, the Manchurian Motion Picture Association released the film Sayon’s Bell, starring Li Xianglan as Sayon. The film has often been seen as a “national policy” film, especially the production studio was built mainly to serve as a medium of propaganda in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo.

Throughout the film, Taiwan is portrayed as an integral part of Japan’s imperialist ideal of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity. Two male Atayal characters, Saburo and Mona, supposedly returning from Japan and both played by Japanese actors, are inserted in the film. One of them even bears the name of Mona Rudao, the Atayal chief who led the Musha Incident. The film was shot in Wushe, instead of Su’ao where Sayon’s accident took place, seems to further enhance the film’s pacifying intention. As the film unfolds, Mona receives a notice summoning him to join the Takasago Patriotic Army. On the contrary, Saburo is disappointed at not being able to join the army. Sayon then comforts Saburo, telling him that there will be more calls for volunteer soldiers. After learning that the Japanese police officer Takeda has also been drafted into the army, Sayon leads the people to sing the “Song of Taiwan’s Conscripted Soldiers.” Later, Sayon shouts out “Long Live Mrs. Takeda” before fatally falling into the river. In fact, even at the beginning, the film opens with some inter-titles stressing Japan’s project of southward advancement (nanshin) and the “unenlightened” and “raw barbarians” (Taiwan’s aborigines) are now “bathed in imperialization and fighting in the warfront as imperial subjects.”

All the devices conveniently make the film a propaganda piece. However, a scrutiny of Shimizu’s cinematic style suggests an oblique response to colonialism. His use of the domestic locale, in fact, generates a strong ethnographic flavor, concentrating on Taiwan’s rural landscape and idyllic daily life of its aboriginal population. As soon as the inter-titles are shown, the camera turns to a peaceful scene in which a country boy rides on a water buffalo’s back leisurely. The music also turns to a comic one. This scene is then followed by long takes of the villagers’ casual walking or hard work. On other occasions, the camera simply sets on the natural landscape or the water buffalo chewing its cud. Subsequently, there appears an inter-title saying that the aborigines lead a peaceful and simple life far away from the secular world. With a very brief shot showing a distant view of the terraced village, the serene mountain village is swiftly transformed into a model village where all the people bow solemnly at a Japanese flag-raising ceremony before continuing with their work.

After this this imperialistic ritual, Sayon’s Bell returns to its ethnographic tone by accentuating details of the clothes of the Atayal people, their walking barefoot, carrying babies in bamboo baskets, weaving while seated on the ground, or threshing grain. Shimizu recurrently uses less obtrusive still camera shots to catch life off the planned scenes. Similar to the alternate use of propaganda and documentary at the very beginning, the ethnographic footage is soon followed by four inter-titles indicating various benevolent civilizing projects the Japanese colonizers have managed to achieve in the village. The police officer in charge of managing the aborigines is respectively depicted as a doctor, an educator, a military instructor, and a supervisor for public construction work. After displaying the imperial achievements, the female protagonist Sayon finally appears on the screen. She looks beautiful and energetic in her richly embroidered aboriginal costume.

Sayon shouts out in an endearing manner to herd her piglets back into the pigsty. Her crawling underneath the high-legged wooden house to look for a missing piglet suggests her childlike simplicity and candidness. Ironically, it is within this pure affection (jiinjo) that Sayon’s innocence and devotion to the empire meets and becomes tricky to be differentiated from one another.


3.     A Domesticating Translation or Foreignization

According to Lawrence Venuti, translation is violent because it “reconstitute[s] … the foreign text in accordance with the values, beliefs and representation that pre-exist it in the target language.”[8] In other words, a good translation lies in the degree of fluency and easy readability. Cultural values in source texts arc likely to be neglected, or become “domesticated,” to make the translation more readable and thus consumable for the target audience. This translation strategy is often adopted when non-Western texts a re rendered into English. To reduce the long-term Anglo-American dominance, Venuti proposes a subversive “foreignizing” translation aiming to match the expressions of the original text as much as possible. For him, if a translation could be used to disturb the target-language cultural values, then cultural imperialism may be avoided.

       Venuti’s theoretical notion is clearly not without its flaw. For instance, it is not only over-generalizing but also dangerous to treat the West as monolithic, with consistently homogeneous dominant cultural values. By insisting on “violence of translation,” it also pre-assumes an absolute opposition between the West and its Other. Therefore, all translations immediately become a treacherous act reinforcing such violence and denying any middle ground between a domesticating and foreignizing translation. Nevertheless, Venuti’s advocacy does urge us to redress the asymmetric cultural flows between the East and the West.

In a context like colonial Taiwan, Japanese culture naturally becomes the dominant one in Venuti’s sense. The translations, the colonizer's representation about the colonized in this case, are rendered and evaluated on the basis of the Japanese standard (the target language). That is to say, Shimizu’s film is expected to be an exemplary product of what Venuti has termed “domesticating translation” in which a transparent and fluent rendering of imperialist propaganda is sought for.

Arguably, these documentary-like portraits of Taiwan can be interpreted as complicit with the colonial enterprise. Such a reading becomes convincing particularly since Sayon in some way appear to be an efficient imperial agent assisting with the colonialist's modernizing and civilizing tasks. As a guardian of the village children, Sayon gives order to the younger children in Japanese about their daily chores and competently organizes them to help either on the winding mountain byways or uphill on the fields. When the local dialect carelessly slips out of an aboriginal boy’s mouth, she eagerly corrects him by asking him to speak Japanese. Her fluency in Japanese and the order of the village both showcase to what extent the Japanese assimilation policy has been implemented in the aboriginal community.

However, with a scrupulous examination of the film, one would find that Shimizu’s representation of the Taiwanese aborigines and their culture is not always domesticating. On the contrary, the film to some degree can be read as foreignizing. One salient example is found in Shimizu’s documentary-like naturalistic capture of the daily life of the Atayal people. In addition, Shimizu’s use of children can be seen as a two-fold tactic that is both domesticating and foreignizing. On the one hand, those children appear to become integrated into the grand civilizing project effortlessly through Sayon acting as the mediator. It is hinted that when they grow up, they will be as disciplined and patriotic as Sayon. Yet on the other hand, their innocence seems to remain comparatively uncontaminated throughout the film.

Often in Sayon’s Bell, the children are caught outdoors running idyllically in the village. The camera follows the children as they run up and down the hillside, or stroll on the mountain path. In the final scene a group of children is shown searching for their big sister Sayon around the lake, where they used to pay with her. They remain unaware of the implication of Sayon’s disappearance, simply yelling out her name again and again. The only sound transmitted, however, is the bell-ringing sound from the distance. The closing image, through a static lens, shows the natural landscape with the tolling sound from the symbolically unseen Sayon’s bell. This leads to a contrast between the natural locale of Taiwan and the artificial imposition of colonialist discourse, as well as between the children’s naïvity, and Sayon’s quasi “enlightened” death.

Moreover, the innocent nature of the village children is not necessarily passive. If the bell-tolling is to be read as a symbol of Sayon’s glorified death, then Shimizu’s film ends with ambiguity. Except for two close-ups focusing on two boys listening to the bell-tolling, the film’s camera remains a discreet distance looking down at the natural landscape and engenders a sense of detachments. Instead of manifesting Sayon’s sacrifice for the Japanese empire directly, Shimizu narrates her death through the point of view of the children. By doing so, the intensity of the film’s potential colonial message is mitigated.

The film concludes with the rural charm of the village, which ironically draws a distinction between the natural landscape and the artificial colonial policy imposed by the Japanese. Similarly, the empty lake in the final scene is in stark contrast to the previous boisterous lakeside outing on which Sayon used to embark with the village children. The absence of Sayon and the void space imply how quickly the life pattern of the Atayal people would disappear under the coercive project of empire building. The “invisible’ colonial violence masquerading in the name of civilizing mission after all is perhaps merely an empty echo. In this respect, Shimizu’s film makes deciding whether it is a domesticating or foreignizing translation rather difficult.

Shimizu’s film employs both domesticating and foreignizing strategies. The insertion of the song “The Song of Sayon” in this film is one of the foreignizing attempts regardless of whether it is successful. Despite the popularity of the 1941 song “The Bell of Sayon” sung by Watanabe Hamako,[9] it is only used as an interlude in the film. A new piece “The Song of Sayon” was created and released in May 1943, to serve as the main song of the film. Like “The Bell of Sayon,” “The Song of Sayon” consists of four parts. Though the two songs are arranged by different musicians, they share the same lyric writer, the poet Saijo Yaso, and composer Koga Masao. The lyrics of “The Song of Sayon’s are as follows.


         From the side to that side of the mountain, you pluck flowers continuously.

     花を摘み摘み 山から山を

At the night of the thick dews, you kill time by singing. 歌いくらして 夜露に濡れる

I am a carefree aboriginal girl. をたしゃ気ままな 蕃社の娘

         Parents care for me like clouds and fog. 親は雲やら 霧じややら

         Ha-i-o, Ha-i-o. ハイオ一 ハイオ一


The water of the brook is like a makeup mirror. 穀のながれが 化粧の鏡

The branches of the forest are like green combs. 森の小枝が みどりの櫛よ

I am a bright aboriginal girl. をたしゃ朗から 蕃社の娘

Wearing a flower crown, I dance. 花の冠で  ひど踴り

Ha-i-o, Ha-i-o. ハイオ一 ハイオ一


Listening to the rice pounding song, the moon night has become deeper.

月の夜更けの 杵唄きいて

Why do your tears keep on dropping? なぜに淚よ ほろほ落る

I am a young aboriginal girl. わたしゃ年ごろ

Like the blooming red flowers deep in the mountains. 深山ろだちの 紅い花

Ha-i-o, Ha-i-o. ハイオ一 ハイオ一


Black gairs surge toward the red cypress tree. 紅の檜に 黑髮寄せて

To take a look from far away, the lights of the mundane world. とおく眺める


The crying pitiful bird, please don’t cry. 啼くな可戀鳥 お前が啼けば

Fog is coming to the maintain village. 山の蕃舍に 霧がくる

Ha-i-o, Ha-i-o. ハイオ一 ハイオ一



Compared to “The Bell of Sayon,” which celebrates Sayon’s prettiness and patriotism, and thus can be seen as a domesticating device, “The Song of Sayon” displays a much greater emphasis on the Atayal elements. Sayon’s Atayal identity is repeated three times; each time it shows a positive characteristic of the Atayal people. The Atayal habits, such as singing and dancing, and the domestic village locale (clear mirror-like water in the valley and the tree branches are like green combs) are also accentuated. The first two stanzas describe Sayon as a “high-spirited and cheerful aboriginal girl.” This optimism, however, is replaced with sentiments prevalent in the third stanza in which Sayon becomes a “tender-aged aboriginal girl who is crying.”

Another example showing evidence of both “domesticating” and “foreignizing” elements lies in the celebration for those who are drafted. In this film, whenever a man is drafted by the Japanese colonizers, the farewell ceremony always involves the Atayal tribal dancing and singing as well as the morale-lifting heroic cheering of banzai (long life). Superficially, it illustrates how thoroughly the colonial assimilation is executed. However, a question inevitably emerges-to what extent can one determine a “domesticating” translation if the dominant cultural value (the Japanese way of cheering) are already ascribed to the Atayal people and have become part of their practice? The co-existence of both cultural practices suggest that it is extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible, to be fully domesticating or foreignizing.


4.   Female Body, Romance, and Natiolist Motif

As mentioned above, Sayon’s Bell is often seen as one of the many “national policy” films made in Manchuria and in Taiwan during the second Sino-Japanese War, particularly after 1940. In her analysis of Li Xianglan’s wartime cinematic performances, Isolde Standish argues that an “inter-Asian ‘Orientalism’” in which Li’s body is endowed with a sexualized image for the Japanese, is noticeable.[10] Drawing on both Suzhou Nights (Soshū no yoru, 1941) and Sayon’s Bell as examples, Standish elaborates that Li Xianglan’s body/femininity is connected or equated with “nature and a fertile penetrability.”[11]

If the term “Orientalism” is understood as a tendentious and often stereotypical (mis-)representation of the “Other,” then one can easily detect such an inclination in Suzhou Nights. In this film, China is frequently represented as fragile and feminine, in contrast to Japan, which is linked to masculinity and modernity. This reading becomes more eloquent in the end of the film when the Japanese doctor seems to be ready to embark upon a new journey (either a civilizing mission or another unfruitful romance), yet the Chinese girl played by Li is left behind and pushed into marriage.  

Interestingly, the Japanese doctor in this film rejects not only a potential interracial marriage with the Chinese girl but also his Japanese fiancée. This indicates that Japanese nationalist discourse is a profoundly gendered practice in which only men are invited to participate in the pure and grand imperialist project, while women are expected to remain in a private domain. According to Standish, the Japanese doctor’s rejection of his fiancée implies a rejection of Japan’s excessive social relations and a preference for freer relations possible in Manchuria. Li’s body thus functions as a site of freedom, and her wedding en tails the taming of the seemingly less restricted body.[12] Although the application of this “inter-Asian ‘Orientalism’” is straightforward in Suzhou Nights, it becomes quite vague in Sayan’s Bell. In this film, Sayan is comparatively much more vivacious (and perhaps more sexually enticing) than her lady-like Japanese female confidant Namina.

Yet she is quite different from the stereotypical passive or inferior Chinese women waiting to be rescued hat Li routinely performed in other wartime films. Instead, Sayon is portrayed as an innocent teenage girl and an amiable big sister for the village children rather than as a sexualized woman. Her determination of seeing her teacher off can be construed as her wish to be part of the (male-centered) nationalist discourse. It is ironic that only through self-sacrifice for the cause of Japan is Sayon able to transgress both gender and racial divisions and finally be recognized as a patriotic heroine.

In other words, the female body of Sayon is invested with a meaning exactly because of her failure to take part in the nationalist discourse. Death unfortunately seems to become the only way for her to succeed as a Japanese national subject. This interpretation of the story fits in well with Standish’s analysis, in which she claims that Li’s body/femininity is equated with nature and fertility, especially since Sayon is often associated with children and animals.[13] Standish’s Said-inspired observation, which sees Li’s body as a site of “not only fecundity but a promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies” is plausible.[14] However, instead of reading Sayon’s Bell (Japan’s) inter-Asian Orientalist practice, which exoticizes or eroticizes the colonized, I would push Standish’s reading further by arguing that Li’s body itself is a site of contesting meanings.

In my analysis earlier, I have already demonstrated that nature in this film need not be taken as an outright opposite to modernity and   progress represented by (masculine) Japan. Conversely, the vastness and tranquility of the landscape signify the artificiality and aggression of the externally imposed assimilation. It is true that the nationalist discourse in Sayon’s Bell is predominantly gendered as male, just like man y other wartime films. As a result, Sayon’s femininity is often overshadowed by the Japanese nationalist agenda. For instance, in Sayon’s Bell, Sayon is usually placed in a domestic sphere, either busy instructing the young village children or looking after the animals, whereas the young men are mostly absent from the village. Besides being excluded from joining the army, both Sayon and her female friend Namina are expected to be emotionally supportive to the wartime mobilzation, prioritizing it before the pursuit of their personal desire.

Other examples showing this gendered nationalist motif can be found in the insertion of the quasi love triangle, Sayon’s “body-offering,” and her idolization of the Japanese officer. The employment of romance (either interracial or not) is rather common in wartime movies particularly those "national policy" ones in which Li Xianglan often appeared. Both (Shina no yoru, 1940) and Suzhou Nights mentioned above, and other films such as “Song of the White Orchid” (Byakuran no uta, 1939) and Winter Jasmine (Geishun hana, 1942) can all be roughly seen as love stories. In these films, Japan's expansionist message is repeatedly re­packaged in a highly sentimentalized (and thus depoliticized) romance between a Chinese woman and Japanese man on the Chinese mainland. The adding of amorous   relationship in Sayon’s Bell is therefore hardly surprising. Although the film initially was “aimed at introducing the customs of Formosa into Japan,”[15] it does not take long before the film diverts to the completely fictional part relating to Sayon’s love life.

In the film, Sayon is depicted as an extroverted girl who is friendly with two young male aborigine protagonists-Mona and Saburo. After the returning of Saburo, Sayon enthusiastically greets him at a tribal dance celebration, which arouses Mona’s jealousy. Later, Sayon and the children go into the lake to play despite it being considered a tabooed action that would irritate the god of the river. To settle the controversy brought about by her improper deed, Sayon agrees to stay overnight at the lakeside alone, as this so-called "offering one's body" (kenshin) is believed to be able to pacify the river god’s anger. Soon after this, the “good” news about Mona’s being summoned to join the Takasago Patriotic Army arrives, followed by the draft notice of Sayon’s teacher, the Japanese officer Takeda.

Although the three scenes superficially seem unrelated, all of them are associated with the body and sexuality of Sayon. Both her relationship wit h Mona and Saburo, as well as her devotion to her Japanese mentor are only vaguely suggested, and remain unfulfilled. Together with Sayon’s brief “body-offering,” it becomes clear that spotless chastity or moral purity is a significant pre-requisite for women in Japan’s nationalist agenda and the Atayal folk belief. In short, Sayon's body in the film is appropriated as a trope of the Japanese imperialist propaganda and the patriarchal order of the Atayal society. It is exactly because of the deeply gendered nationalist discourse (except for death) that Sayon’s body (or femininity) becomes a possible site to negotiate gender and racial relationships. The sense of loss and emptiness followed by Sayon’s death (a separation from the body) in the end of the film indeed situates the problem of Japan’s (masculine) nationalist discourse, questioning its claim over the meaning of one's (especially women’s) body and existence.

However, when taking Sayon’s body as a critical angle for re-examining the interrelation between aborigine women and Japanese men, Li Xianglan’s unique creolized background deserves attention. Born in Manchuria and named Yamaguchi Yoshiko, Li was exposed to mandarin Chinese from an early age. At thirteen, she agreed that her father’s Chinese friend Li Jichun (at that time the manager of Fengtian Bank) would become her god-fat her. Li Jichun then bestowed on her the Chinese name Li Xianglan. Though she had another Chinese name Pan Shuhua given by Pan Yugui, she adopted Li Xianglan as her stage name, though she also appeared as Yamaguchi Yoshiko in some films. Highly competent in Chinese and Japanese, Li undoubtedly makes an ideal trope for Japan's continental expansion. Indeed, she rose to be a “Japan-Manchuria Goodwill    Ambassadress” and starred in several propaganda films made by the Manchurian Motion Picture Association. Either through imagination or imitation, Li’s performance embodied a “Chinese” image (often dressed in cheongsam, a dress ironically of Manchu origin) that appealed to Japanese people. For the Chinese audience, they ventured their cultural/national imagination by identifying her fictive cinematic ethnicity (as a Manchurian/Chinese) instead of her real Japanese nationality. For example, in the 1940 film China Nights (Shina no yoru) directed by Osamu Fushimizu (1910-1942), Li played a Chinese war orphan Guilan, who harbors anti-Japanese sentiments. There is a scene in which she is slapped and scolded by a Japanese marine officer Hase Tetsuo. After this, Guilan turns her hatred toward Japanese into love and eventually the two get married.

Instead of treating it as a simple fictional romance, the Chinese audience regarded Guilan’s being slapped as a scene illustrating Chinese people's inferiority. As a consequence, strong anti-Japanese patriotism was elicited. This controversy, however, did not affect the film’s popularity. The success of China Nights led its production company Shochiku to make more films of a similar nature in the following few years. Suzhou Nights directed by Nomura Hiromasa  (1905-1979) and released in December 1941, is one of them. In this film, Li plays a lonely Chinese woman forced to leave her home and family in Suzhou due to the war.  Like Guilan in China Nights, this Suzhou girl is initially hostile to Japanese people. After a young Japanese doctor saves one of the Chinese children from drowning, she changes her attitude toward the Japanese and a romance is gradually established. Similar to China Nights, Suzhou Nights portrays a feminized China, through Li’s performance, waiting to be rescued by a masculine Japan. The virility of Japan is highly emphasized through the Japanese doctor's body when he swims to save the Chinese girl, whereas the weakness of China is conveyed through the “useless” Chinese men who are simply spectators.

Such a melodramatic narrative about the romance between a Japanese man and a Chinese woman is one of the most typical plots in wartime films in which Li Xiangian starred. In those films, Li’s linguistic switching from Chinese to Japanese illustrates the new bond between China and Japan promoted by Japanese authorities. Without revealing her true Japanese background Li was able to get by as a Chinese actress with her fluency in Mandarin Chinese in the eyes of her Chinese audience. Her “Chinese” cinematic image, captivating voice and fluency in Japanese also won her appeal among Japanese audience. Equally, Li’s performance as the innocent and naughty Atayal girl Sayon was convincing for Zhuo Qingxiang, Sayon’s biological elder sister. Her constant traversing the national and ethnic boundaries during the wartime create a unique “cross-ethnicking” persona in which Japan’s Pan-Asian Co-prosperity Sphere fantasy,[16] China’s nationalist sentiments, and the Atayal ethnicity merge and are renegotiated. Li’s “creolized” background and transnational mobility effectively challenges the validity of a static national/ethnic identity during wartime. Regretfully, it invited much criticism of her from both the Japanese and the Chinese audience after the Second World War, when national boundaries were once again sharply drawn. Following Japan’s surrender in 1945, Li was arrested by the Nationalist government, charged with treason, and put on trial at a military tribunal in Shanghai. Only when she proved her Japanese identity was she then released and sent back to Japan. Li 's case illustrates that the imposition of national boundaries are indeed arbitrary.


5. Conclusion

Since the publication of Said’s Orientalism in 1978, the study of colonialism has been pushed from economic and political logic toward its discursive operations. Based on Michel Foucault’s technique of discourse analysis, Said in his path-breaking book convincingly showed the accomplice relation between knowledge and power. He argued that the production and interpretation of Western knowledge about non-European peoples is never value-free, but an important, and more crucially, self-generating part of the whole domination project. Said's emphasis on the question of representation is illuminating, but he seemed to assume too quickly that the West always has an imperialist intention, and that this intention is always realized.

In a colonial context like Taiwan’s Japanese period, general knowledge production can be understood as an exercise of Orientalism. It is particularly applicable when examining Japan’s discourse on Taiwan’s aborigines, as it is often constructed on a dichotomy of savagery and civility. The dramatization of Sayon’s story best exemplifies such a tendentious process of knowledge production. The film Sayon’s Bell was undoubtedly made within this extremely imbalanced power relationship to promote patriotism and facilitate wartime mobilization. However, when put into practice, such an “orientalist” discourse may or may not be successfully relayed. Applying Venuti’s categories of domesticating translation and foreignizing translation (if we accept its validity), this paper offers a scrutiny of Shimizu Hiroshi’s film, arguing that the readily assumed colonial discourse itself is riddled with contradictions. On the one hand, it stresses same-ness, which superficially calls for integration of the Atayal people as imperial subjects. Yet on the other hand, it registers the irreducible differences (and always in a lesser form) of the Atayal people in Japanese colonial articulation. The contradiction of the colonial discourse lies in the gap between “becoming Japanese and “being Japanese,” and the dilemma suggesting that the colonized are essentially different yet pragmatically identical. Sayon’s tale demonstrates such a paradox. It is precisely and only because of the Japanese colonizers’ martyrization of Sayon, by praising in public a Taiwanese aboriginal maid’s failure to become Japanese, that she is granted the illusionary transcendence of being Japanese.

Assessing whether a translation is successful is not easy, as the judgment has to be contextualized and historicized. As a film-director celebrated for h is ability to capture social outcasts in a rapidly transitioning society, Shimizu’s several films create an alternative space, which cannot be easily appropriated by mainstream ideologies such as militarism. Sayon’s Bell is one such case. Even though the re-circulations of Sayon’s tale are marred with colonial discourse and the film is hardly subversive, several of Shimizu’s devices (such as his portrayal of children, the alternation between imposed colonial order and natural landscape, and the use of “The Song of Sayon”) invite alternative readings. Indeed, Shimizu’s use of domestic locale and accentuation of the daily life of the Atayal people evoke much ambiguity in this cinematic translation of the colonial discourse. Besides the fact of these ambivalences arising in Shimizu’s cinematic remaking of the tale, the film also yields an implicitly gendered nation-building message in which Sayon’s chastity is demanded by the Japanese colonial operation and the Atayal’s beliefs. This gendered dimension further amplifies the gap between a national policy film and a film a bout female (Li Xianglan’s) primitive beauty.

Hence, rather than offering a transparent translation as a straightforward propaganda film, Shimizu’s Sayon’s Bell overall strikes a middle ground between domestication and foreignization. It is a domesticating translation if we interpret the Atayal people the children of the empire striving for “civility.” It is a foreignizing translation (though with idealization and dramatization) if we take Shimizu’s various devices into consideration. Even if “it may provide its Japanese spectators with what Venuti terms the “narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in a cultural other,”[17] its foreignizing strategies encapsulating the Atayal tradition can still be taken as a possible site of negotiation and a commentary on the savagery within. It is said that the film was not well received due to the ponderous plotline. Yet for me, its unpopularity is probably more largely attributed to its equivocal indeterminacy between a national policy film and a romance, or dilemma of wishing to produce a fluent and readable translation without effacing the aspects of Atayal culture. Paradoxically, thanks to its “not so successful” translation, Sayon’s Bell invites us to rethink the complex process involved when translating the other in a colonial context, especially the inter-dependence between the colonizer and the colonized, and thus Venuti’s thesis on domesticating/foreignizing translations.


[1] See Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere, “General Editors’ Preface,” in Translation/History/Culture: A Sourcebook. Ed., Andre Lafevere (London: Routledge, 1992), xi.


[2] See Gideon Toury, “The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation,” in Lawrence Venuti, ed. The Translation Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 198-211.


[3] For a general discussion on the discourse of Taiwan’s aborigines under Japanese rule, see Leo Ching’s “Savage Construction and Civility making: The Musha Incident and Aboriginal Representation in Colonial Taiwan,” in Positions 8:3 (Winter 2000): 795-818. 


[4] See Johannes Fabian’s Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983) for details.


[5] Chen Weizhi, “Colonialism, Barbarian Knowledge, and Anthropology,” MA dissertation submitted to the Graduate School of History, National Taiwan University (1998), 30.


[6] Paul Barclay, “Contending Centres of Calculation in Colonial Taiwan: The Rhetorics of Vindicationism and Privation in Japan’s ‘Aborigine Policy’,” Humanities Research XIV no. 1 (2007): 67-84.  


[7] Masami Kondo, “Taiwan sōtofu no ‘riban’ taisei to musha jiken” (Taiwan Governor-General’s “Savage Management” and the Musha Incident), in Kindai nihon to shokuminchi (Modern Japan and Colonies) (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1992), 36.


[8] Lawrence Venuti, “Translation as Cultural Politics: Regimes of Domestication in English,” Textual Practice 7(2) (1993): 208-23, esp. 209.


[9] The song’s vinyl LP was released by Columbia Records in October 1941. It is said that Watanabe was so touched by Sayon’s story that she took the initiative in writing to the Governor-General in Taiwan and expressed her wish to record a song that “condoles the spirit of Sayon”. See Chou Wanyao’s Haixingxi de niandai (The Era of Travelling by Sea) (Taipei: Yunchen, 2004), 20.   


[10] Isolde Standish, A New History of Japanese Cinema: A Century of Narrative Film (London and New York: Continuum, 2005), 124.


[11] Ibid., 126.


[12] Ibid., 126-27.


[13] Ibid., 126.


[14] Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 1995), 188.


[15] Joseph Anderson and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry (Princeton, Princeton UP, 1982, 155.


[16] The term “cross-ethnicking” was initially used by Jennifer Robertson in her Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in modern Japan (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998) to address the performance of Takarazuka actresses, who often have to play make characters and non-Japanese characters. It is also mentioned in Stephanie DeBoer’s reading of Sayon’s Bell. See DeBoer’s “Sayon no Kane/Sayon’s Bell,” in Justin Bowyer and Jinkee Choi, eds. The Cinema of Japan and Korea (London: Wallflower Press, 2004), 23-31.


[17] Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 15.