“Three Little Maids” in Occupied Japan: Domestic Things, The Mikado, and Navy Wife


This study explores the embedded subplot in a forgotten Hollywood film titled Navy Wife (1956), a comedy about three maids in Japan under American occupation. Starring Joan Bennett, Navy Wife depicts American domesticity in Occupied Japan, which the three maids undermine. By adopting Robin Bernstein’s theory of “scriptive things,” this paper examines how a comic subplot emerges from the complex interactions between people and things, characters, and props. The Blain household, the film’s main setting, is equipped with the latest electric home appliances imported from the United States, such as vacuum cleaners and refrigerators; however, these domestic machines are completely unfamiliar to the Japanese maids and servants in the household. These streamlined home appliances serve as “scriptive things,” and the agency of things shapes or directs human characters’ actions, namely those of the Japanese servants and maids, to evoke laughter. I suggest that the comic subplot of Navy Wife is loosely based on and significantly rewrites Gilbert and Sullivan’s Japanese-themed operetta The Mikado, which was performed for the first time in the Ernie Pyle Theater (formerly the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater) in Occupied Japan. Navy Wife reinterprets some of The Mikado’s female characters, specifically the three little maids. This paper argues that with the introduction of the three maids, the story of Navy Wife becomes a topsy-turvy topical satire.

Author Information
Nominerdene Enkhbayar, The University of Tsukuba, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: BAMC2021
Stream: Cultural Studies

This paper is part of the BAMC2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon