The Michiko N. Wilson Award Awardees for 2020

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Michiko N. Wilson Award was established in the 2017-2018 academic year to recognize excellent student work in Japanese studies at the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures and Cultures at UVA. Every year, the award is given to up to two students for exceptional translations of, and critical essays about, works of Japanese literature and Japan-US cultural relations. Each award is in the amount of $500. This is made possible by a generous gift from Mr. Aaron Nir (BA '84) and is designated the Michiko N. Wilson Award to acknowledge and memorialize the forty years of Prof. Michiko N. Wilson's career at the University of Virginia as Professor of Modern Japanese Literature and Language.

For the 2019-2020 year, the winners were graduating fourth year students Isabelle Burke and Kevin Woolsey.

Isabelle Burke’s winning submission was her final paper for the course Cinematic Images of Japanese Society and Culture. “A Critique of Monoculturalism in Post-Recession Japan, as Depicted in Swallowtail Butterfly (1996)” draws on socio-linguistic, cultural, and aesthetic discourses in original ways to cogently analyze Iwai Shunji's film. Using secondary sources about policy developments and modern history, as well as her close analyses of the narrative and aesthetic elements of the film, Burke presents how Swallowtail Butterfly illustrates the plight of unskilled foreign laborers in Japan who often have few legal protections. She also makes use of her Japanese abilities to interpret key scenes in the film in the original language. The paper is an original and sophisticated work of scholarship that explores how a work of cinema, itself a transnational commodity, can illuminate an urgent issue in Japanese society in the global era. Burke will be departing for Japan on the JET program this fall, and we believe she will achieve much success in her continued investigations into the nation's ever-shifting dynamics.

Kevin Woolsey's winning submission was for his Distinguished Majors Program thesis "Reconsidering Late Muromachi Nō: The Plays of Kanze Nagatoshi (1488-c. 1541),"  which analyzed the works of a late medieval playwright who has been largely neglected in histories of the classical theatrical form. After describing the general nature of theatrical patronage in the period and the tendency for scholars to characterize the dominant aesthetic as gaudy and ostentatious, Woolsey turns to consider the plays themselves in light of their place within Nagatoshi's artistic development, their structural characteristics, and the sources they drew on, to identify several distinctive thematic clusters, including the banishment of evil spirits, provincial warrior heroes, regional traditions, and fantastic or foreign settings. Woolsey concludes that these thematic clusters taken as a whole indicate an interest in traditional forms of play-writing and a diversity of topics that call into question the generalizations that have been made by scholars about both Nagatoshi and late medieval noh. Appended to the thesis proper are annotated translations for the four plays by Nagatoshi that remain in the repertoire today. The thesis is impressive in its scope and quality, and we believe that Woolsey will go on to even higher accomplishments as he begins his study of premodern Japanese literature in the PhD program at Princeton this fall.