Implicating Buddhism in Madame Butterfly’s Tragedy: Japonisme and Japan-Bashing in Fritz Lang’s Harakiri (1919)
Author's Final Manuscript
East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to Present.
Routledge Studies in Cultural History Book 114
This chapter extensively examines Fritz Lang’s Harakiri (1919), an adaptation of the Madame Butterfly story made by Lang during his first year as a director. It studies the production and reception histories of the film, which was believed to be lost until a print was discovered in the Netherlands. In comparing the restored version of Harakiri with earlier versions of the story, the chapter observes that Lang’s film distinguishes itself by dramatizing the double hara-kiri of O-Take-San and her father and by transforming the Buddhist bonze (monk), who makes only a brief appearance in Puccini’s opera, into Butterfly’s principal antagonist. By portraying the bonze as evil, the film shifts the responsibility for Butterfly’s tragedy to Buddhism and, by extension, to Japanese culture itself. The chapter considers both historical and contemporary reasons for the harsh portrayal of Buddhism in the film, while recognizing that the negative projection of Japan stands in tension with the film’s own Japonisme, a product of Lang’s passion for East Asian art. Furthermore, a spectacular scene described in a contemporary review but missing from the restored version of the film alludes to the fact that Harakiri did not provide a vehicle for Lang’s preferred visual style.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge/CRC Press in East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to Present on September 30th, 2021, available online: https://www.routledge.com/East-Asian-German-Cinema-The-Transnational-Screen-1919-to-the-Present/Cho/p/book/9780367743772.
Shen, Q. 2021. “Implicating Buddhism in Madame Butterfly’s Tragedy: Japonisme and Japan-Bashing in Fritz Lang’s Harakiri (1919)." East Asian-German Cinema: The Transnational Screen, 1919 to Present. Edited by Joanne Miyang Cho (Routledge, 2021): 27–58.