Contemporary Responses to Bruce Lee Movies in Japan: Japanese Villains, Fans, Media

Research in the emerging academic field of martial arts studies has drawn largely on English and Chinese-language sources, and the preponderance of extant research appears to focus on kung-fu movies (understood broadly) or on the practice and representation of various Asian martial arts in Euro-American cultural contexts. This paper aims to complement this focus and expand the field of contemporary martial arts studies by providing an overview of the small body of relevant Japanese-language research while exploring possible avenues for productive collaboration between Japanese scholars and those working in other languages. For example, Japanese scholars conducting research primarily in the history or sociology of sport have produced valuable empirical studies of judo, jiujutsu, and other national martial arts traditions and of their diffusion overseas (Sakaue, ed., 2010), but the purview of this research rarely extends to non-Japanese martial arts or to the complex problems related to representation and the mass media. Conversely, a handful of Japanese academics grounded in film studies or cultural studies (see Yomota, 2005 and the Oct. 2013 special issue of the cultural theory journal, Gendai shiso) have discussed Bruce Lee’s significance both inside and outside Japan, but such research constitutes a rare exception and has only begun to engage with related studies published in other languages. Although I have written extensively about Japan’s jazz culture and have long been engaged in research on the representation, reception, and domestication of “foreign” cultural practices in Japan, this paper constitutes the first step in a project that I hope will eventually serve as a bridge between Japanese-language scholarship and the emerging field of contemporary martial arts studies.

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