Artists and wartime politics: Natori Yonosuke - a Japanese Riefenstahl?
Introducing the techniques of the photojournalism of Weimar Germany to Japan at the beginning of the I930s, photographer Natori Yonosuke (1910-1962) can be called the godfather of photojournalism in Japan. After relocating from Germany to Japan in 1933, his activities until the end of World War II included producing the illustrated propaganda magazine NIPPON (1934-1944), which was geared toward foreign audiences, and publishing a number of other propaganda magazines in occupied East and South East Asia. This paper traces Natori’s personal and business connections in Weimar Germany – in particular with his Jewish colleagues and friends, and their critical political situation after the Nazis’ rise to power – and juxtaposes these with Natori’s contributions to the Nazi press, his engagement in cultural exchange between Japan and Germany, and his recommendations of Nazi visual propaganda strategies for Japan in the 1930s. Drawing attention to the transnational and transcultural dimensions of Natori’s wartime politics, this paper argues that his agency needs to be approached not only in terms of Japanese but also of German wartime responsibility. Taking up the theme of Leni Riefenstahl, a major artist engaged in propaganda production for the Nazi regime, who – like Natori – had been aesthetically influenced by the Weimar avant-garde, this article also discusses comparative aspects of artists’ wartime politics and their accountability in the post-war period.