Coping with Trauma: The Role of Literature and Film

Introduction to Topic

This project investigates narratives of the terror and trauma of war, natural disaster (such as earthquakes or typhoons) and man-made disaster (such as, for example, meltdowns in nuclear power plants or other environmental disasters) in Japanese literary texts and film.

Fictional responses to war, man-made and natural disasters are often concerned with the perspectives of the victims on these catastrophic events. One specific strategy to express such experiences is to give voice to those who have been silenced by death. Any representation of the ‘voices of the dead’ must be regarded as imbued with political meaning: Who speaks for the dead, with what agenda and what legitimation? Why should we ‘listen to the dead’?

Research Questions

  • What aspects of the respective catastrophic events are addressed, what questions are raised?
  • What kinds of narrative techniques do writers and filmmakers develop in order to write about the unspeakable? What narrative means and strategies are used to represent the traumatic experiences?
  • How and under what circumstances can victims speak for themselves at all (and what if they are dead)?
  • What debates have been initiated – in academia as well as among writers – about the role, function and potential of literature and film in representing and coping with (collective) traumatic events?


  • Film analysis
  • Close reading of literary texts
  • Discourse analysis


Possible functions of literature and media:

  • coping with the trauma of an individual or a larger group of people
  • coming to terms with one’s own (feelings of) guilt
  • warning against forgetting
  • attempting to prevent the reoccurrence of the same or a similar kind of disaster
  • shaping the collective memory of a society


Literary texts and films treating 

  • the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • the Pacific War, and especially the Battle of Okinawa
  • the environmental scandals of the 1970s (e.g. the case of Minamata)
  • the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995
  • the threefold disaster in the Tōhoku region (“3/11”) of 2011
  • fictitious catastrophes