“Oyama and Anxieties about the Feminization of Japanese Film” offers an alternative perspective on the gender politics behind the switch from oyama, or male actors specializing in female roles, to actresses in early Japanese film. To date, most treatments of this issue have operated under the assumption that in one way or another the decision to abandon the use of oyama arose out of perceptions that the male actors failed to fully and/or realistically evoke femininity on the screen. In short, there has been a general agreement that dissatisfaction with the oyama derived from a sense that their performance was deficiently feminine. Although not denying the relevance of this consensus view, my article explores the issue from a different angle. I consider how criticism of the oyama was often expressed in terms that highlighted the excess of femininity that was thought to accrue around these female impersonators. Taking a cue from the work of feminist film historian Miriam Hansen, my study devotes particular attention to how opponents of the oyama often linked their criticism of the practice with disapproving commentary on the troublesome impact that the female fans of the actors purportedly had on Japanese film. It was widely assumed among these critics that oyama, particularly the popular actor Tachibana Teijirô, served as the focal point for a community of female moviegoers who took excessive pleasure in the sentimental melodramas that were the specialty of these performers. More disturbing still was the apprehension that the female fans of oyama exhibited an overwrought fixation on their favorite stars that transgressed the bounds of womanly propriety. In short, it was judged that this community of fans, egged on by unscrupulous studios that supplied them with vehicles starring their oyama idols, embraced a feminine sensibility that threatened to derail attempts to elevate Japanese film culture.
The article begins with an examination of positive treatments of oyama to get a sense of how the personae of these performers were constructed in commercial movie magazines and received by fans. The second half of the article focuses on the way that reformers and fans critical of the practice couched their objections in terms that highlighted the undesirable nature of the distinctive feminine sensibility attributed to oyama, their melodramatic vehicles, and their vocal female fan base.