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Chronology of Japanese Cinema


Some Japanese sources argued that in this year Yokota Shokai produced the first kyuha eiga, or period film drama, HIGO NO KOMAGETA (Hino's Clogs). Although there is no record of who filmed it and when or where it was released, this first attempt at Japan's quintessential film genre seemed to have ended up in failure. The cast was comprised by small-stage actors who belonged to the Kansai kabuki scene such as Onoe Rakunosuke, Arashi Ritoku or Nakamura Fukunosuke. These last two actors later appeared in HONNOJI GASSEN (Battle at Honnoji Temple, 1908), which has been erroneously described as the country's first jidai-geki (period film) and director Makino Shozo's first production.

Yoshizawa Shoten produced the small documentary JITENSHA KYOSO (Bicycle Race) and imported documentaries such as OZUMO KATSUDO SHASHIN (Grand Sumo Tournament Moving Picture), shot in Japan by a foreign cinematographer and depicting the entrance into the ring of wrestler Konishiki.

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.
Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Shi Hakkutsu, Tojusha, 1980, p. 80.
Tanikawa Yoshio, Nenpyo Eiga 100-Nenshi, Futosha, 1993, p. 20.
Kishi Matsuo, Jinbutsu Nihon Eiga Shi, Daviddo-sha, 1970, p. 17.
Hazumi Tsuneo, Eiga Goju-nen Shi - Fifty-year History of the Movies, Masu-shobo, 1947.
Sato Tadao, Nihon Eiga Shi, Iwanami Shoten, Volume 4, 2005, p.61.


In a New Year's article, the Osaka Asahi Newspaper wrote about the theatrical business success of the twin brothers Otani Takejiro and Shirai Matsujiro. It was titled "Matsutake no Shin Nen" (Matsutake's New Year), Matsutake being a combination of their first characters of their surnames. The article popularised the company's new denomination which led to the foundation of Matsutake Gomei-sha (Matsu Take Partnership Corporation). Though the company's roots were in the Kyoto and Osaka area, its activities dating back to December 1895, by 1910, Matsutake had made headway west acquiring theatres in the Tokyo area. By 1923, the brothers controlled nearly all the theatres used by kabuki and shinpa (Leiter, p.30).

When their business was expanded in 1920 to include motion-picture productions, the company was renamed Shochiku Kinema Gomei-sha, Shochiku being an alternative reading of Matsutake. As Jasper Sharp states the new film production company "immediately set forth its ambition of breaking away from the jidai-geki period swashbucklers that dominated the early market and of producing films that utilized the acting and stylistic techniques being pioneered in Western cinema" (Sharp, p.222). That same year a film studio was built in the town of Kamata, between Tokyo and Yokohama, where the company's first film was produced, SHIMA NO ONNA (Island Woman), directed by Kotani Henri, a Japanese-born who emigrated to the United States with his parents when he was a boy and worked as a cinematographer and actor at the Jesse L. Lasky Company in Hollywood. SHIMA NO ONNA was starred by Kawada Yoshiko and Nakamura Tsuruzo and released on 1 November 1920. Shochiku Kinema Gomei-sha adopted its present name, Shochiku Kabushiki-gaisha (Shochiku Co., Ltd.), in 1937.

Shochiku, History of Shochiku.
Jasper Sharp, Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, Scarecrow press, 2011, pp. 222-23.
Samuel L. Leiter, Kabuki at the Crossroads: Years of Crisis, 1952-1965, Global Oriental, 2013, p. 30.

Shirai Matsujiro (L) and
Otani Takejiro (R)


On 23 January 1902 a regiment of 210 Imperial Japanese Army soldiers left the city of Aomori in northern Japan where they were stationed and marched on the Hakkoda Mountains en route to Tashiro Hot Spring. While still on the mountain, after a sudden change of weather the expedition was struck by a fierce blizzard which resulted in the death of 199. This tragic event is known as the Hakkoda-san Sonan Jiken (Hakkoda Mountains incident) and is considered to be the world's largest mountaineering disaster in the modern history of mountain climbing.

In February, Ii Yoho, one of the leading exponents of the shinpa theatre (literally new school drama, a Western-style Japanese theatre), and his troupe quickly adapted for the stage the Hakkoda incident at the Masago-za theatre in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. According to Japanese film critic Sato Tadao, following the great success of the play, a film version, known as SECCHU KOGUN (March in the Snow), was immediately produced by the cinematographer Tsuchiya Tsuneji.

Sato Tadao, Series Nihon Documentary (5), Iwanami Shoten, 2010, p. 5.
Ozasa Yoshio, Nihonn Gendai Engeki-shi: Meiji, Taisho Hen, Hakusuisha, 1985, pp. 480.
Mori Mayumi, Ogai no Saka, Shinchosha, 1997, p. 201.


Yoshizawa Shoten presents at the Meiji-za theatre a series of foreign short films imported through its office in London and advertised as Hassei Katsudo Shashin (Sound Moving Pictures). Though some sources described the use of Edison's "Kinetophone" (Anderson and Richie, 73) during this performance, in reality, a gramophone was employed to accompany the images on the screen. Two years earlier pioneer cinematographer Tsuchiya Tsuneji had already experimented with sound films during the screening of his sumo wrestling actuality MEIJI NO SUMO (Meiji's Sumo). Yoshizawa Shoten's owner Kawaura Keinichi himself explained to film historian Tanaka Junichiro how it was necessary to add an explanatory narration and music playing alongside the images in order to create a more pleasant experience for the audience as films now had longer duration. Yoshizawa's line-up at Meiji-za consisted mainly of what it was then denominated majutsu eiga (conjuring trick film), some perhaps works by film pioneer Georges Melies. Izumi Toshiyuki explains how in 1902 this type of trick films achieved considerable popularity in Japan (Izumi, 75).

Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi: Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, 1980, p. 106-7.
Izumi Toshiyuki, Ginmaku no Kyakkai : Honcho Kaiki Eiga Taigai, Seidosha, 2000, p. 75.
Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, Princenton University Press, 1982, p. 73.

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Last update: 15/11/2014