The Finnish Valentino

This is a tinted version of a photo found in an article by Anu Koivunen on the concepts of stardom and women as consumers of film and filmstars in the 1920's, which features our favourite Finnish Tatar in a major role.

Under the name Teuvo Tulio, Theodor Tugai became an influential film director who put a passionate stamp on the Finnish film industry in the 1930's and 1940's. His early career as "the Finnish Valentino" is less well known. In Mustalaishurmaaja ("Gypsy Casanova", 1929), the 16-year-old Tugai plays Gypsy leader Manjardo. Koivunen describes how the camera focuses on him as on a beautiful object, with closeups of his half-shut eyes. His makeup and costume are chosen to accentuate this - dark skin, enhanced lips, jewellery, accentuated waist, occasionally shirtless... You get the picture.

But to be a desirable object for women - paradoxically put his masculinity into question. Watching and looking is an act of power, to be looked at is to become passive, traditionally feminine. But Manjardo does both. In the movie plot, he is a fiery character who is forced to accept an arranged marriage. He is an ethnic other who is both attracive and repellent (although his love interests in the movie are all "Gypsies", too - Koivunen hints that it would have been less acceptable to show "Finnish" women openly desiring a man). Two women, Glafira and Akris, fight for his attention, but the film finds a more conventional solution - Manjardo ends up with the motherly and caring Esmeralda, who tends to his wounds.

Next time, I will write more about the reception of Tugai's film persona among film critics, and the decline of the "Valentino" type.

Anu Koivunen: "Näkyvä nainen ja 'suloinen pyörrytys'", Vampyyrinainen ja Kenkkuniemen sauna - Suomalainen kaksikymmenluku ja modernin mahdollisuus ["Vampire Woman and the Sauna of Kenkkuniemi - The Finnish 1920's and the Possibility of Modernity"] Ed. Tapio Onnela, SKS, Helsinki 1992

Cross-posted at Chirayliq


The Waitress

Cover of the magazine Ukiyo (うきよ), 11/1921. (Found here)

The word ukiyo is probably familiar to many in the compound ukiyo-e, "images of the floating world". Ukiyo means thus floating world, but the cover reveals through subtle hints that this is a new world - the old-time bijin (美人 - "beautiful person", the female subject-object of countless ukiyo-e woodcuts) has changed into a modern girl (モダンガール), a waitress at a Western-style café.

(Waitresses at Café Printemps, 1922; source)

That is my guess; the little clues consist of her laced apron combined with a fresh blush, a matching comb and a coquettish gesture. She resembles the Taisho era popular image of the café waitress, which still lives on in Japanese pop culture. For a basic introduction to the café boom in 1910's and 1920's Japan, see Elise K. Tipton's article "Pink Collar Work" in the excellent journal Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context.

(Two Taisho era waitresses; more images here)

In some ways, the café waitresses carried on the geisha tradition of providing inspiring company, selling a romantic fantasy over a cup of coffee or tea. Because they were associated with modernity and Westernization, but perhaps even more because their customers were poor students and aspiring intellectuals, the waitresses were often ridiculed and depicted as prostitutes (and some of them doubtlessly had to be; their salaries were extremely low, and Tipton has some interesting stories about waitresses trying to organize themselves and join the labour movement). (Some examples of cartoons here.) Today, the "maid café" fad plays on similar strings - it is the fleeting dream that is desirable, not the fulfillment of desires. In this case, nostalgia enhances the value of the fantasy. Because the 21st century waitress is no longer a threat to the social order, the early 20th century waitress is seen as an innocent and plucky character in a historical romance. She is even desirable (and marketable) as a costume, like other characters from bygone times: the samurai, the ninja, the courtier.

A Taisho waitress costume from a contemporary costume rental service.

Gekkan Manga-Man

月刊 マンガ・マン
("Monthly Manga-Man")
Published in 7/1930, Tokyo.
I would love to know more about this publication. (Found here)