When a massive earthquake struck the Kanto area a century ago, large swaths of the area were flattened, and conflagrations burned most of Yokohama and nearly half of Tokyo. Along with the loss of life, livelihood, and the built environment came changes in the culture industries of film production and publishing.

Recent scholarly work on the interwar years that places cultural forms in interdisciplinary contexts has taken on the idea of a “medium plus alpha.” In other words, the object of analysis is anchored in one medium but traces a constellation of cross-media adaptations and translations, from small coterie scenes to full-fledged industries.

Cultural historian Diane Wei Lewis's Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan is similarly interdisciplinary. It places film at the center of post-earthquake mass culture, flanked by theater and prose fiction. It explores cinema's influence over spectators as the industry changed, film...

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