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Ambivalent mimicry in Enomoto Kenichi’s wartime comedy: His revue and Blackface

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This article discusses blackface performance used by Japanese comedian Enomoto Kenichi, also known as Enoken, in late 1920s and mid-1930s theatre and film. I examine his blackface performances, giving two examples – Negro Comic Dance, one of the varieties danced to the newly imported American jazz in his first troupe Casino Folies; and his musical comedy film, A Millionaire-Continued (1936). I ask why Enoken adopted blackface, a form of racist caricature by white people emphasizing stereotypes of black people, in his wartime comedy. I question whether Enoken’s mimicry of Euro-American-born blackface, though using himself as the laughing stock, is inculpable due to his ignorance of slave history, the absence of American social memory in his mind, or a more productive, cross-cultural representation of the black diaspora celebrating blackness. The article also pinpoints Japan’s racial mimicry and Japanese orientalism, associated with its imperialist goals in war propaganda theatre and still active in the contemporary Japanese show business industry.

Keywords: blackface performance; intercultural performance; intertextuality; modern Japanese comedy; musical comedy; postcolonialism; race studies; revue comedy

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/cost.2.1.21_1

Affiliations: University of Hawaii at Hilo

Publication date: April 20, 2011

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  • Comedy Studies covers multiple aspects of comedy, with articles about both contemporary and historical comedy, interviews with practicing comedians and writers, reviews, letters and editorials. The journal seeks to be instrumental in creating interdisciplinary discourse about the nature and practice of comedy, providing a forum for the disparate voices of comedians, academics and writers.
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