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Chronology of Japanese Cinema



The first Japanese made film projectors are sold by Yoshizawa Shoten (company), which is considered the oldest film company in Japan. In September 1896,Yoshizawa Shoho (shop), an exporter of mainly woodblock prints merged with Marukawa Shoten, which imported, produced and sold magic lanterns, to create Yoshizawa Shoten. Irie Yoshiro writes that Kawaura Kenichi (1868-1957), first Yoshizawa Shoho's manager since perhaps 1895 and later Yoshizawa Shoten's owner, "pioneered the business model of the twentieth century film industry by establishing a circuit that started with import or production and completed in exhibition (Irie Yoshiro, p.126)". In other words, vertical integration, the control of production, distribution and exhibition of a film.

In February 1897, Yoshizawa obtained a Lumiere's Cinematographe from an Italian resident in Japan called Giovanni Braccialini (Peter B. High names him Cipione Braccialini, p. 28) and organized the first exhibition of films in the city of Yokohoma at the Minato-za theater on 9 March 1897. Years later Yoshizawa produced what has been regarded as the first Japanese film documentary, HOKUSHIN JIHEN KATSUDO DAISHASHIN (Grand Motion Picture on the Boxer Rebellion), which opened at Tokyo's Kinki-kan theatre on 18 October 1900. In 1903, Yoshizawa converted a theatre in Asakusa, Tokyo, into the first permanent cinema in the country, the Denkikan. The company also built Japan's first film studio in Meguro, Tokyo, in 1908. Soon the studio began to produce films at such speed that the first screenwriting department in Japanese film history was created to meet the growing demand for stories. In 1909 there was also a failed attempt to establish an acting school at the studio. Furthermore, in June that year Yoshizawa helped publishing the oldest surviving film magazine, Katsudo Shashin Kai (The Cinematograph).

Irie Yoshiro, Yoshizawa Shoten-sha - Kawaura Kenichi no Sokuseki (1) Yoshizawa Shoten no Tanjo / Trajectories of Kawaura Kenichi, the Owner of Yoshizawa & Co.(1)Origins of the Oldest Film Company , Tokyo Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan Kenkyu Kiyo / Bulletin of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, (18), 2014, main article 32-63, and 126 (Translated by Kinoshita Chika).
Yohohama Kaiko Shiryokan / Yokohama Archives of History, Yokohama ni Eigankan Nakkata Koro.
Peter B. High, The Dawn of Cinema in Japan, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 19, 1984, p. 28.
Joanne Bernardi, Writing in Light: The Silent Scenario and the Japanese Pure Film Movement, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001, pp.67-68 and 129.
Komatsu Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992, pp. 236-7.

Yoshizawa Shoten

10 April

Along with Asano Shiro and Shibata Tsunekichi, Tsuchiya Tsuneji was another of the first cameramen in Japanese cinema history. A former carpenter, Tsuchiya travelled to North America to help in the construction of a Japanese garden and tea house at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. After learning film techniques on how to operate a camera and develop film in December 1898 he returned to Japan carrying an Urban Bioscope camera (both a projector and camera). Taking inspiration from boxing match film actualities popular in the United States he conceived the idea of filming sumo wrestlers at the Ryogoku Ekoin. The resulting film known as EKOIN NATSU-BASHO OZUMO (Ekoin Sumo Summer Tournament) or by its alternative titles MEIJI NIJU-HACHI-NEN NO RYOGOKU OZUMO (28th year of the Meiji Period Ryogoku Sumo) or simply MEIJI NO SUMO (Meiji's Sumo). It features the great sumo wrestlers Hitachiyama and Umegatani. It was first released at Osaka's Naka-za theater on 10 April 1900 and next at Kyoto's Minami-za becoming a great hit. The film then travelled to Tokyo in July where it was shown at the Kinki-kan theatre in the Kanda district and soon later at Yokohama's Minato-za. At these shows the sumo referee's voice and accompanying music were reproduced using a gramophone. A flyer from the Minato-za's performance advertises the screening of EKOIN NATSU-BASHO OZUMO along with Edison's films and the use of an Edison wax cylinder phonograph. One year and a half after being shot it became a great hit in Hokkaido. There is a 35mm nitrate positive film of about 11 minutes in existence held at Kobe's Puranetto Eiga Shiryo Toshokan (Planet Film Archive Library). This print is an edited version that dates from the beginning of the Showa period.

Yohohama Kaiko Shiryokan / Yokohama Archives of History, Yokohama ni Eigakan ga Nakkata Koro - 2) Nihonjin ga Satsuei Shita Eiga.
Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi - (1) Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, Tokyo, 1980, p. 59.
MOMAT, Hakkutsu Sareta Eiga-tachi / Cinema: Lost and Found 1999.
Kobayashi Fumio, Nihon Eiga Kigyo no Genryu - Sono Shiteki Kosatsu / Origin of Japanese Movie Enterprise - Its Historical View in Shakai Gagaku, 47, 1991-08-28, p. 164, published by the Institute for the Study of Humanities & Social Sciences, Doshisha University.

Grounds of Ryokoku Ekoin, 1897


Yokota Einosuke, his elder brother Masunosuke and Inabata Katsuro travelled to France to take part in the Paris World Exposition as committee members of Kyoto Prefecture. There, Einosuke witnessed the rapid development of the movie industry and cinema's increasing popularity and considered a renew foray into the movie business. In June he returned to Japan after securing a contract with the French Pate film company and the acquisition of a new film projector. According to the chronological history ("nenpu") written by him, the agreement with Pathe stipulated the sending by the French film company of five reels of film every month, increasing to ten reels each month from the next year. In August Yokota presented the first batch of imported films at Tokyo's Shintomi-za theatre.

In his entry for 1901, he recorded the establishment of the Yokota Shokai (company). This conflicts with other sources (for example Sharp, p. XX) that set its founding date two years later. Tajima Ryochi acknowledges that Yokota's chronology contains many mistakes. Thus, he explains how film historians have argued that the company was initially known as Yokota Kyodai Shokai (Yokota Brothers Company) in reference to the business partnership with his elder brother. It is not clear when the change of the name of the company took place. As Tajima points out, film historian Tanaka Junichiro argued that the renaming occurred after the company's success stemmed from film shows dealing with the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5).

Tajima Ryoichi, Yokota Einosuke no jihitsu 'Nenpu' ni tsuite / On the Chronological History Written by Yokota Einosuke in In Praise of Film Studies: Essays in Honor of Makino Mamoru edited by Abé Mark Nornes and Aaron Gerow, Trafford, 2001, p. 108 and 110-11.
Komatsu Hiroshi, Yokota Einosuke in Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, edited by Richard Abel, Routledge, 2005, p. 708.
Tanaka Junichiro, Hiko Nihon Eiga, Kinema Junpo, July 1965, p. 33.
Jasper Sharp, Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, Scarecrow press, 2011, p. XX.
Kyoto no Eiga Sangyo: Yokota Shokai

Yokota Einosuke

25 August

In May 1900 Tsuchiya Tsuneji shoots a scene of the kabuki play Nio no ukisu ('The floating nest of the little grebe') at a temple near Misozona theatre in Nagoya, where the production was being performed. Incidentally, Keiko McDonald erroneously attributes the film to Shibata Tsunekichi. According to kabuki actor Nakamura Ganjiro, who starred in the film and the kabuki play, the scene shot follows a "a luckless hero falling in love at the sight of Nio in a procession of courtesans, He steps on a dog, is bitten, and runs away as fast as he can" (Tanaka, p. 79 and McDonald, p. 39).

Various Japanese institutions hold prints of excerpts from NIO NO UKISU, among them the Matsuda Productions. Another print has been recently confirmed at Osaka's Rekishi Hakubutsu-kan (museum of history). Furthermore, the National Film Center in Tokyo keeps a 35mm print of the documentary NIHON EIGA-SHI - DAI ICHI - DAI NI (History of Japanese Cinema, Parts 1 and 2) produced in 1941 by the Dainihon Eiga Kyokai, edited by Ota Koichi and with explanatory narration by famous benshi such as Matsui Suisei. This print contains a clip from NIO NO UKISU. Available to anyone, the NFC, within its permanent exhibition on the history of Japanese film, screens a 16mm eight minutes version of this documentary titled Shoki Eiga to Chomei Benshi ni Yoru Eiga Setsumei-shu (Compilation of Film Explanations by Famous Benshi on Early Cinema) in which a clip from NIO NO UKISU is also featured.

The NFC estimates that 34,892 feature films were produced in Japan between 1910-2011 and has in its possession 5,559 of these films (if news, animation and cultural films produced in Japan are also added the NFC keeps, as of 31 March 2012, 57,164 works), about 15.9% of the country's total output. The NFC quantifies 2826 film drama productions made during the 1910s of which only 5 or just 0.2%, are in its possession. Due to the scarcity of surviving films from the early stage of Japanese cinema it is utterly dumbfounding that NIO NO UKISU has almost entirely been disregarded in Japanese film history books published in English. A sole example, incidentally a translation from the Japanese, where NIO NO UKISU is being discussed at some lenght is Komatsu Hiroshi's Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I (p. 236). In this article Komatsu examines the unusual ground-level position of the camera used by Tsuchiya and the strange effect that produces in comparison with MOMIJIGARI's, shot a few months earlier, most common at the time high angle position of the camera. In this article, Komatsu also points out to the depth of field created by the procession of courtesans advancing towards the camera, finally disappearing into the right side of the screen, and one attendant of the procession, played by Nakamura, receding into the distance.

Komatsu had already discussed NIO NO UKISU's rare low-camera angle in relation to MOMIJIGARI in his book Kigen no Eiga (Cinema of Origin, p. 46). Strangely enough, Eric Cadzyn describes Kigen no Eiga, along with Nihon eiga to modanizamu (Japanese film and modernism) edited by Iwamoto Kenji, as "two more examples of recent scholarship that represent important advances in previously underresearched topics" (Cadzyn, p. 76), though, in reality, Komatsu's analysis of primitive cinema only marginally covers Japanese cinema. NIO NO UKISU was first released on 25 August 1900 at Haruki-za theatre in Tokyo, renamed as Hongo-za from 1902.

Keiko I. McDonald Japanese Classical Theater in Films, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1994, p. 39.
Komatsu Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992, p. 236.
Komatsu Hiroshi, Kigen no Eiga, Seidosha, 1991, p.46.
Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi, Vol.1, Chuo Koronsha, Tokyo, 1968, p. 78-79.
Eric Cadzyn, The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan, Duke University Press, 2002, p. 76.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo - Film Center, Firumu Senta Akaibu no Katsudo.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo - Film Center, Nihon Eiga no Hakken I: Musei Eiga Jidai / Rediscovering Our National Film Heritage (I): The Silent Years.
Independent Administrative Institution National Museum of Art, Heisei 23 Nendo Gyomu Jisseki Hokokusho.

18 October

On 28 July, Yoshizawa Shoten dispatched cameramen Shibata Tsunekichi and Fukaya Komakichi (Nornes inaccurately identifies them as Shibata Yoshitsune and Fukatani Komakichi) to China to cover the Boxer uprising that erupted in May. Loaded with the latest Gaumont camera and twenty rolls of film, the two cinematographers filmed the boarding at Ujina Port of the eight thousand soldiers belonging to the Japanese infantry's fifth division stationed in Hiroshima, as well as the Japanese's contingent advance from its disembarkation in the city of Tianjin until its encampment in Beijing.

Citing French sources, Stephen Bottomore argues that apart from a certain camera operator named George Scott, Shibata and Fukaya were the first to film the war. Japanese cameramen were also spotted a year later on 20 August filming a celebration of the allied victory in the imperial palace grounds in Peking (Bottomore, chapter XII-p.7) Their reportage of the conflict was first released on 18 October at Tokyo's Kinki-kan theatre with the title HOKUSHIN JIKEN KATSUDO DAISHASHIN (Grand Motion Picture on the Boxer Rebellion). Film historian Tanaka Junichiro, quoted by Nornes in Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima, page 3, regards HOKUSHIN JIKEN KATSUDO DAISHASHIN as the first jiji eiga (current event film) in the history of Japanese cinema (Tanaka, p. 76), being extremely popular at the time of its release. After a seven days run in the capital it travelled to Yokohama where it was shown at the Kiraku-za theatre until 25 October and continue to be shown at other major Japanese cities well into 1901. Though the film is no longer extant, the National Diet Library keeps a photo book (Hokushin Jiken Shashinjo) of 50 images taken by Shibata and Fukaya when they were embedded with the Japanese troops during the conflict. This photo book was published by Yoshizawa Shoten in May 1901.

Komatsu Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992, p. 237.
Abé Mark Nornes, Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima, University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 3.
Stephen Bottomore, Chapter 12 The Boxer Uprising (1900) in Filming, faking and propaganda: The origins of the war film, 1897-1902 (dissertation), Utrecht University, 2007, p. 7.
Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi: Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, 1980, p. 76 and 92.
Yohohama Kaiko Shiryokan / Yokohama Archives of History, Yokohama ni Eigakan ga Nakkata Koro - 2) Nihonjin ga Satsuei Shita Eiga.
Kato Kazuro, Janarizumu toshite no Eizo Media: [Ima]o Tsutaeru to Iu Koto / Images as Journalism Depicting the Present in Nagoya Daigaku Media Zokei Gakubu Kenkyu Kiyo / Nagoya University of Arts and Sciences, School of Media and Design Research Bulletin, 2008, Vol. 1, pp.29-49.
Kokuritsu Kokkai Toshokan Dejitaru Korekushon / National Diet Library Digital Collection, Hokushin Jiken Shashinjo

Japanese troops embarking at Ujina Port
(Hokushin Jiken Shashinjo)

Dead Boxers at Hai Riverbank
(Hokushin Jiken Shashinjo)
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Last update: 1/10/2014