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Chronology of Japanese Cinema
1898

1898

Historian Hiroshi Komatsu (Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I) cites Asano as saying he did not shoot anything for two years between the summer of 1897, when he filmed scenes of Nihonbashi, Asakusa and Ginza (see), until early summer of 1899, when he shot a set of scenes of famous geisha dances such as KAPPORE, MATSUKUZUSHI o TSURUKAME. However, this is just one of Asano's versions of the events as he repeteadly contradicts himself in several interviews, which took place forty years later, a fact that many historians seem to overlook, instead taking Asano's blurred recollections as irrefutable evidence. Thus, in a different publication (The Lumiere Cinematographe and the Production of the Cinema in Japan in the Earliest Period), Komatsu again cites Asano as telling how Konishi Honten had sold a Gaumont camera, probably a Chrono Gaumont, to the advertising agency Hiromeya around the first months of 1898, and how its founder, Ryukichi Akita, asked Asano to use it to film geisha dances. In a different interview with Asano, quoted in Yoshiro Irie's Saiko no Nihon Eiga ni Tsuite - Konishi Honten Seisaku no Katsudoshashin, both Ryukichi and film promotor and benshi Koyo Komada, approached Konishi in regards to the camera, not with the purpose of buying it, but of organizing the so-called misemomo shows. As a way of eventually selling them the camera and demonstrate what results this could achieve a decision was reached to shoot geisha dances as an experiment. This would eventually develop into a more commercial adventure. Consequentely, well-known dances were performed by famous geisha at popular restaurants of the era, which probably served as sponsors for the films. Film frames from these dances reveal publicity banners behind the dancers with the name of the restaurant where the recorded performances took place written on them.

It appears that Hiromeya not only requested the filming of geisha dances at famous Japanese restaurants but also advertisements for such companies as Mitsui Gofukuten (founded in 1673 and after 20 December 1904 known as Mitsukoshi Gofukuten), Sawa no Tsuru (a sake brewery) and the tobacco company Iwatani Shoten, better known as Iwatani Tengu, founded by Matsuhei Iwatani. Regarding this last publicity spot, Yoshio Tanikawa associates its production with painter Kunitsuru Utagawa II, rather than Asano, and it is being regarded as the first film advertisement in Japanese cinema history. Similarly, the authorship of some of these geisha dances films produced for Hiromeya is still being disputed. Interestly enough, in their respective recollections, both Asano and Shibata claimed to have filmed geisha dances at Hanatsuki restaurant in Shinbashi. According to Asano, Hanatsuki was the first place he visited after the meeting with Hiromeya's. Here he shot the dance TSURUKAME. On the other hand, Shibata also maintaned that he had gone to the restaurant to film the dance SEDO NO DANBATA and that the head of Konishi was extremely satisfied with the result. Both works feature in the listing of Japanese-made films published by the Houchi Shinbun on 13 July 1899 and exhibited at the Meiji-za theatre between 14-31 July.

As for two dances shot in Kyoto (ITAKO DESHIMA and DOJOJI) also appearing on the film programme advertised by Houchi Shinbun, Asano and Shibata did not claim their authorship. Their making have been generally attributed to Kanzo Shirai, owner of a confectionery shop in Osaka and amateur cinematographer. Other theories credited these works to Toshimo Mitsumura, a Kobe-based photographer a founder of the Mitsumura printing shop. Similarly, film historians have not agreed upon the year when these geisha dances were filmed, either in 1898 or 1899. However, Komatsu in (The Lumiere Cinematographe and the Production of the Cinema in Japan in the Earliest Period), questionably sets their production date in 1897. In this article Figures 5 and 6 are simply referred as Geisha Dance 1 and 2 shot by Asano in 1897. They have now been identified respectively as NUNO SARASHI and GENROKU HANAMI DORI, and were both filmed upon the request by Hiromeya made sometime during the first months of 1898.

Sources:
Yoshiro Irie Saiko no Nihon Eiga ni Tsuite - Konishi Honten Seisaku no Katsudoshashin (The Earliest Japanese Movie \ Motion Pictures Produced by Konishi Honten), MOMAT Research, 2009, Vol 13, pp.65-91.
Hiroshi Komatsu, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992, p. 232.
Hiroshi Komatsu, The Lumiere Cinematographe and the Production of the Cinema in Japan in the Earliest Period, Film History Vol. 8, No. 4, International Trends in Film Studies (1996), p. 437-8.
Nihon Eiga Terebi Gijutsu Kyokai, Nihon Eiga Gijutsu Shi, 1997, p. 21.
Yoshio Tanikawa, Nenpyo Eiga 100-Nenshi, Futosha, 1993, p. 12.
Tadao Sato, Nihon Documentary, p. 3-4.

NUNO SARASHI
(OKANE SARASHI)

(Shiro Asano, 1898 or 1899)

January

According to Yoshio Tanikawa, the publication Nihon Eiga Terebi Gijutsu Kyokai and The Matsuda Film Productions website the short film KYOTO GION SHINCHI GEIKO SAN NIN SARASHI NUNO MAI NO ZU (Picture of Three Geisha of Gion, Kyoto, Dancing Sarashinuno) was screened at Nishu-tei in Ryogoku, Tokyo from the 13 to 19 January. Known by its English title as IMPERIAL JAPANESE DANCE, it had in fact been filmed by Edison in his Black Maria in 1994. The dance had been part of a performance organized by promoter Keizo Uenishi during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. Unable to obtain a permit at the Exposition, Uenishi presented the show at the Chicago Imperial Theater instead.

However, other sources such as the Tokyo National Film Center's website, Mariko Okada, Wadao Takeoka and Yoshiro Irie sustained that this short had already been included in the very first public film projection given in Japan using an Edison's Kinetoscope and held in Kobe on 25 November 1896. IMPERIAL JAPANESE DANCE is also regarded as the first portrayal of Japanese people on film.

Sources:
Yoshio Tanikawa, Nenpyo Eiga 100-Nenshi, Futosha, 1993, p. 50.
Nihon Eiga Terebi Gijutsu Kyokai, Nihon Eiga Gijutsu Shi, 1997, p. 21.
MOMAT, In Celebration of UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage Preserving Film: Where and How Reports from National Film Archives of Japan and U.S.A..
Mariko Okada, Before Making Heritage: Internationalisation of Geisha in the Meiji Period, in Making Japanese Heritage edited by Christoph Brumann and Rupert A. Cox, Routledge, 2009, p. 38.
Matsuda Film Productions, Timeline of Japanese Silent Films.
Wadao Takeoka, Eiga Tobei: Nihon Eiga o Dou Juyou Shita ka, Hokkai-Gakuen Daigaku Jinbunron, 1998-03-31, Vol. 10, pp. 113-122.
Yoshiro Irie Saiko no Nihon Eiga ni Tsuite - Konishi Honten Seisaku no Katsudoshashin (The Earliest Japanese Movie \ Motion Pictures Produced by Konishi Honten), MOMAT Research, 2009, Vol 13, pp.65-91.

IMPERIAL JAPANESE DANCE
(William K.L. Dickson and William Heise, 1894)

April

It is believed that Tsunekichi Shibata, from the newly established photographic department at Mitsukoshi Department Store during those days known as Mitsui Gofukuten (Department Store), shot scenes of Tokyo for the Lumiere Brothers Company coinciding with the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Tokyo as capital of Japan. The reason being that Lumiere's official cinematographers Francois-Constant Girel and Gabriel Veyre were not in Japan at the time. Girel had left Japan in December 1987, and Veyre would only be filming in Tokyo from December that year. The film actualities' titles are as followed: UNE RUE A TOKYO I, UNE RUE A TOKYO II, UNE AVENUE A TOKYO, UNE PLACE PUBLIQUE A TOKYO and STATION DU CHEMIN DE FER DE TOKYO. These films along with the ones shot by Girel and Veyre, 33 in total, constitute a series known as MEIJI NO NIHON (Japan in Meiji Era).

After being developed the actualities were immediately shipped to France and were not seen in Japan until they were donated by France in 1962. Prints are kept at the National Film Center in Tokyo. As it is explained in the permanent exhibition on the history of Japanese cinema held at the NFC, MEIJI NO NIHON was donated by the Cinémathèque Française in 1962 when the National Museum of Modern Art Film Library (the former NFC) held a retrospective of French films to commemorate Japan-France exchanges. It was handed over by the French Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux.

Sources:
Nihon Eiga Terebi Gijutsu Kyokai, Nihon Eiga Gijutsu Shi, 1997, p. 21.
Yoshiro Irie Saiko no Nihon Eiga ni Tsuite - Konishi Honten Seisaku no Katsudoshashin (The Earliest Japanese Movie \ Motion Pictures Produced by Konishi Honten), MOMAT Research, 2009, Vol 13, pp.65-91.
Hiroshi Komatsu, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992, p. 233.
David Robinson, Light from the East: Japanese Silent Cinema, 1898-1935
Tadao Sato, Series Nihon Documentary (5), Iwanami Shoten, 2010, p. 4.

UNE RUE A TOKYO II
(Tsunekichi Shibata, 1898)

October

Though in this month Shiro Asano left Konishi after having taught Tsunekichi Shibata film techniques, he told in later interviews how his association with the shop continued shooting for and at Konishi skit films such as SHININ NO SOSEI (The Resurrection of a Corpse), DOROBOU (Burglar) or short films making use of trick effects. According to Sennosuke Sugiura, at that time Konishi's managing director, the film's scenarios for SHININ NO SOSEI and BAKE JIZO (Jizo the Spook) were written by Eijiro Hatta, Konishi's foreign representative. SHININ NO SOSEI tells the story of a dead man who comes back to life after falling from a coffin being carried by two men. Sugiura further stated that Hatta himself had played the dead man in the coffin, while Soujiro Sugiura, Konishi's Osaka branch manager, and someone called Kobayashi, also a Konishi's employee, had taken on the role of the coffin bearers. Asano added that a certain Shirai (Kanzo Shirai) volunteered to play the part of a priest in this comedy. Hiroshi Komatsu also argues that another Konishi employee named Soshichi Ishii also played a role in these films. On the other hand, DOROBOU is a simple story about a burglar who breaks into a student's room, sleeping at his desk and suddendly awaken by the intruder's presence. According to Rokuemon Sugiura, Konishi's president, he played the student's role and Sennosuke Sugiura added that Kobayashi played the burglar.

Sources:
Yoshiro Irie Saiko no Nihon Eiga ni Tsuite - Konishi Honten Seisaku no Katsudoshashin (The Earliest Japanese Movie \ Motion Pictures Produced by Konishi Honten), MOMAT Research, 2009, Vol 13, pp.65-91.
Hiroshi Komatsu, The Lumiere Cinematographe and the Production of the Cinema in Japan in the Earliest Period, Film History Vol. 8, No. 4, International Trends in Film Studies (1996), p. 436-7.
Hiroshi Komatsu, Japan: Before the Great Kanto Earthquake, in The Oxford History of World Cinema, edited by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 177-182.

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Last update: 26/6/2014