Diane Wei Lewis

Diane Wei Lewis

Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies
Performing Arts Department (Affiliate), East Asian Languages and Cultures (Affiliate)
PhD, University of Chicago
research interests:
  • Japanese cinema
  • Early and silent cinema
  • Mass culture and modernity
  • Media and gender
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    • CB 1174
    • ST. LOUIS, MO 63130-4899
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    Diane Wei Lewis's research focuses on Japanese cinema and media and their connections to mass culture, capitalism, and modernity.

    Diane Wei Lewis received her Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago in 2011. Her work centers on the 1910s and 1920s—key decades for the industrialization of cinema, the expansion of mass media, and the introduction of new media technologies in Japan. Her scholarship and teaching combine historical research with theoretical inquiry and introduce interdisciplinary perspectives to the history of cinema. She examines Japanese cinema and media with an emphasis on histories and theories of labor, consumerism, emotion, and gender and sexuality.

    Her first book, Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2019), explores the cultural politics of cinematic realism in the 1920s and early 1930s. Beginning with the devastating 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which heightened the stakes for thinking about cinema's ability to reach a mass audience and shape public sentiment, Lewis traces popular understandings of cinema's persuasive sensory realism in terms of emotion, identification, and pleasure. The book situates cinema within a broad media context, demonstrating cinema's imbrication in consumer culture and other forms of mass media. It interrogates images of women and ideas about femininity that figured prominently in discourses on media technology and commercial mass culture, highlighting the role that ideas about gender and sexuality play in vernacular theories of media.

    Her current book project examines the rise of network technologies in 1980s Japan, their impact on the organization of work and especially the image of home-based labor, and the function that ideas about sexual difference play in theories of new media. This research explores how telecommuting, home automation, and office automation both challenged and were constrained by popular conceptions of gender identity and gendered labor, professionalism and domesticity, and urban and suburban space. She is also working on a social history of the Proletarian Film League of Japan (Prokino, 1929-1934).

    Selected Publications


    Powers of the Real: Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2019.

    Journal Articles and Book Chapters

    “‘The Longed-For Crystal Palace’: Empire, Modernity, and Nikkatsu Mukōjima’s Glass Studio, 1913-1923.” In In the Studio: Visual Creation and Its Material Environments, edited by Brian Jacobson. Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming.

    “Boundary Play: Truth, Fiction, and Performance in A Man Vanishes (1967).” In Killers, Clients and Kindred Spirits: The Taboo Cinema of Shohei Imamura, edited by Lindsay Coleman and David Desser. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

    “From Manga to Film: Gender, Precarity and the Textual Transformation of Air Doll.” Screen 60:1 (Spring 2019): 99-121.

    Blood and Soul (1923) and the Cultural Politics of Japanese Film Reform.” positions: asia critique 26:3 (August 2018): 451-82.   

    Shiage and Women’s Flexible Labor in the Japanese Animation Industry.” Feminist Media Histories, special issue on “Labor,” edited by Denise McKenna, 4:1 (Winter 2018): 115-141. (listen to podcast)

    “Media Fantasies: Women, Mobility, and Silent-Era Japanese Ballad Films.” Cinema Journal 52:3 (Spring 2013): 99-119.   

    Fellowships and Awards

    Washington University in St. Louis Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, Spring 2017

    Association of Asian Studies Northeast Asia Council Short-Term Research Travel Grant, Summer 2016

    Washington University in St. Louis Roland Grimm Travel Award and Summer Faculty Research Grant, Summer 2014

    Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2012-2013

    Harvard University Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2011-2012

    Fulbright-Hays DDRA Fellowship, Japan, 2009-2010

      Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan

      Powers of the Real Cinema, Gender, and Emotion in Interwar Japan

      Powers of the Real analyzes the cultural politics of cinema’s persuasive sensory realism in interwar Japan. Examining cultural criticism, art, news media, literature, and film, Diane Wei Lewis shows how representations of women and signifiers of femininity were used to characterize new forms of pleasure and fantasy enabled by consumer culture and technological media. Drawing on a rich variety of sources, she analyzes the role that images of women played in articulating the new expressions of identity, behavior, and affiliation produced by cinema and consumer capitalism. In the process, Lewis traces new discourses on the technological mediation of emotion to the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and postquake mass media boom. The earthquake transformed the Japanese film industry and lent urgency to debates surrounding cinema’s ability to reach a mass audience and shape public sentiment, while the rise of consumer culture contributed to alarm over rampant materialism and “feminization.”

      Demonstrating how ideas about emotion and sexual difference played a crucial role in popular discourse on cinema’s reach and its sensory-affective powers, Powers of the Real offers new perspectives on media history, the commodification of intimacy and emotion, film realism, and gender politics in the “age of the mass society” in Japan.