Estiningsih, Meita | 京都大学 東南アジア地域研究研究所



Interview with Meita Estiningsih »

The Impact of Japan’s Occupation of Indonesia on Films and Collective Memory of the War


Please tell us about your research.

My research investigates the impact that Japan’s occupation of Indonesia (1942-1945) has had on the war memories of Japan and Indonesia. It investigates films as historical archives that mediate memories—both collective memories rooted in the national discourse and personal memories rooted in experience—of a historical event. Films were one of the most significant media used by the Japanese military government to disseminate its propaganda agenda and mobilize people in Indonesia for the war effort. Films of the occupation period produced in Indonesia (e.g., Berdjoang 1944; Indonesia Raja 1944; Tonarigumi 1943) and in Japan (e.g., Sina no yoru 1943; Otoko no iki 1943; Hawaii Malay Oki Kaisen 1943) also eventually stimulated the spirit of nationalism among Indonesian youth.

After Indonesia’s independence in 1945, visual and audio-visual media was also used to memorialize the war—with an emphasis on nationalism—to mobilize Indonesians toward what is imagined as a nation. Since the New Order era (1966-1998), the politics of war memories has been framed within the official historical narrative, which centers upon the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI)-led revolution for independence. The narrative asserts the importance of the occupation as nothing less than a prelude to the revolution. Yet highlighting the Japanese role in assisting the nationalists to achieve independence would dilute the transcendental spirit of Indonesian nationalism that has been ingrained within the people since independence. Narratives of that spirit are widely popularized in contemporary films, textbooks, and memorials.

Although Indonesia’s national history does not capitalize on the victimization discourse, since its defeat in 1945, Japan has institutionalized war memory through means including films, museums, and memorials that ambivalently portray Japan as both war victims and Pacific war participants. Historical narratives that under-represent the imperial annexation of China and Korea and occupations in Southeast Asia, while highlighting the Japanese people’s struggle as atomic bombing survivors, remain contested.

It is therefore critical to comparatively examine how and why Japan, as the former occupier of Indonesia, and Indonesia, as formerly occupied territory, respectively deal with war memory. My study examines the institutionalization of memory in each country and aims to gauge to what extent the memorialization of the war through audio-visual media is able to (re)shape historical narratives.


How many research themes do you have?

My research themes are Japanese and Indonesian post-war memories, Japanese and Indonesian socio-cultural history, and film studies.


Why do you find your research topic interesting?

I find my research interesting because I am looking at the impact of Japan’s occupation from the perspective of Japanese and Indonesian oral history, and I use films and visual media as the primary resources. Many scholars and historians who work on this period focus mainly on written accounts, failing to comprehensively examine audio-visual media, which play a significant role in the (re)construction of historical narrative. Film can be seen as a crystallization of the dominant norms in society. It reiterates something that the society believes in as a truth. Popular films articulate and reinforce shared beliefs. Their narratives tend to be constructed from the dominant ideology that is disseminated throughout the society by the institutions of the Ideological State Apparatus, such as schools. They deserve viewing with a critical eye. Moreover, revisiting wartime history from both countries’ points of view is crucial for deepening our understanding of history.


How did you get started in your research, and how did you come to focus on your current research?

I began researching this topic when writing my MA thesis, submitted to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA in 2017. At that time, I took a history course about the Japanese Empire’s expansion in Southeast Asia and wrote about the role of propaganda films in instigating Indonesian nationalism. Since then, I thought that exploring the history of Indonesia and Japan through the lens of film studies could bring about a new way of understanding the two nations’ relationship historically and politically.


Have you had any difficulties in putting together the results of your research into a research paper or book?

Since this is my first time conducting research, I am still in the phase of collecting data and material, which is quite challenging, as some materials are not accessible to the public. Examining documents written in Japanese kanji in the 1940s is also challenging, as I have been learning Modern Japanese. Putting together the results is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. My biggest challenge will be writing a comprehensive dissertation with limited resources.


Can you share with us an episode about any influential people, things, and places you have encountered whilst doing your research?

I think every person who has been helping me so far has impacted my research progress. Professor Emerita Kurasawa Aiko, especially, has been helping me to find research materials and connecting me with other prominent scholars whose research is similar to mine.


Which books or people have influenced you?

Books related to Indonesian wartime history during the Japanese occupation are influential to my research, particularly those written by Japanese scholars. I would like to gain knowledge and understanding of Indonesian wartime history from their perspectives. I also read extensively about modern (Meiji era to World War II) Japanese history. By reading those books, I hope to identify issues that should be brought to the critical attention of academia and the general public.


Do you have any must-have gear for field research and writing?

Target language comprehension. It is especially important if a scholar conducts research in a site other than their home country; language skill is critical for being able to communicate with local people and live in the society. Even if the researcher only conducts archival research, at a minimum, one must be able to read the documents in the local language.


Do you have any essential reads (books) that you can recommend to younger people?

I think it would be novels. Even though novels are fiction (or stories based on true events), reading them helps build vocabulary to express ideas when writing. Conducting research requires creative thinking to help researchers navigate ideas and maintain their curiosity about the plot, characters, or even the issues or matters beyond the stories.


Do you have any advice for those who aim to become researchers?

To become a researcher, one must have a curiosity and a strong passion for writing. If one gets really into it, they will enjoy writing more and their research will become even more interesting and valuable.

(December 2022)

Meita Estiningsih is a Guest Research Associate of CSEAS
from September 2022 – January 2023