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Chronology of Japanese Cinema


It is widely believed that the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War on 10 February 1904 created a major boom in film moviegoing. It did certainly reconfigure quite radically theater film offerings from initially featuring trickery films and shots of people, dances, buildings and scenery to consist almost exclusively of war scenes, either actual war footage or staged land and sea battles (Irie 2014: 54). Earlier on, during the Spanish-American war, American audiences, imbued with ardent patriotism, had also flocked to screenings of films related to the conflict. Once the war ended, film programming shifted to slapstick comedies, tragedies, fairy tales and historical dramas. It has also been argued that profits generated by the Russo-Japanese War helped to finance the opening of movie theatres and built the first movie studios between 1908 and 1910 (Gerow 2014: 217). Also significant was Pathe's decision, at the time the world largest film producer, in July 1907 to sell rather than lease its film prints making it extremely difficult for film travelling tour managers to get hold of them. This new development in film distribution practices gradually drove itinerant exhibitors around the world out of business and prompted the opening of custom-built cinemas on a global scale (Ueda 2009: 58). By 1910, for example, in France, too, "the travelling fetes foraines had dwindled, and larger film theatres were the rule" (Thompson and Bordwell 1994: 28). Likewise, following the peace treaty signed by a victorious Japan and Russia, the popularity of war films quickly worn off among the Japanese, who felt outraged at the human and economic loss brought by the war and the unsatisfactory terms accepted by the Japanese government. A new type of audience, therefore, emerged in urban areas requesting fiction products such as kyugeki (classical drama) and shinpageki (new school drama), which prompted the building of the first film studios in the country to meet the growing demand for these works (Ueda 2009: 56).

Showings of war films were mainly carried out by traveling exhibitors at makeshift cinemas or theatres converted into cinema for the occasion. As Ueda reminds (2009: 49) these film roadshows remained quite popular until the beginning of the Taisho period (1912-1926), which calls into question any easy interpretation of a linear and fluid historical development of moviegoing practices in early Japanese cinema. Furthermore, most of the films displayed in these itinerant performances were integrated into hybrid attractions that went by different names and formats such as shinematekku or kineorama, a mixture of moving dioramas, film projections and electric light effects, and oyo katsudo shashin (applied motion pictures), rensageki (chain drama) or kinodorama, a hybrid of cinema and theatre performance (Okubo 2010: 76) . Films were, in many cases, a supplementary feature in these productions, inserted, for example, into the live theatre performance of rensageki shows . Seiro no Kogun (The Imperial Army Attacks Russia) is regarded as the first rensageki. It was staged by the Ii Yoho's theatrical troupe at the Masagoza theater from 2 March 1904 and included a film of a naval battle (Okubo 2010: 79) (Ueda 2007: 132).

Before their appearance on cinema screens, images of the Russo-Japanese War had first been featured in magazines such as Kinji Gaho (Recent Events Graphic), retitled as Senji Gaho (The Wartime Graphic) on its 18th February issue. In addition to this, and as early as March 27, charitable organizations and board of educations around the country began to organize magic lantern shows about the war to raise morale and arouse national consciousness among the general public as well as for fund-raising (Ueda 2004: 116). Yoshizawa Shoten was one of the companies that supplied slides for these performances. As the war advanced, films gradually replaced slides as the medium for this type of educational activities. Thus, the war marked the transition from magic lanterns to films as an educational tool. After securing permission from the Imperial General Headquarters, Yoshizawa Shoten and other companies such as Yokota Kyodai Shokai, the advertising agency Hiromeya and the publisher Hakubun-kan dispatched cameramen embedded with the Imperial Army to the front. Among these war reporters were Fujiwara Kozaburo and his assistant, either named Shimizu Kumejiro (Tanaka 1980: 114 ) or Shimizu Jojiro (Sato 2007: 62), sent by Yoshizawa, Shibata Tsunekichi, sent by Hakubun-kan, Kuboi Shinichi , Ito Kyutaro and Kitabatake Tadao among others. The news was picked up by the Yomiuri Shinbun on an article dated 26 April 1904, which reported on Yoshizawa's cameramen departure in March and the arrival of some war footage shot by them. Three days later, the same newspaper announced the premiere of this footage on 1 May at the Kinki-kan theatre in Kanda, Tokyo (Yomiuri Shinbunsha 2001: 26). The Yoshizawa war film showing included titles such as Ryojunko Taikai Ikusa (Naval Battle Of Port Arthur) and Hirose Chusa no Sogi (The Funeral of Commander Hirose) (Yomiuri Shinbunsha 2001: 26). Other similar shows soon opened in theatres around the country initiating an unprecedented film boom .

Without providing any source, historians Hiroshi Komatsu (1992: 239) and Aaron Gerow (2014: 164) assert that 80 percent of the films released in Japan from 1904 and 1905 were on the Russo-Japanese War. Notwithstanding this lapse, the considerable number of war films and their popularity are clearly reflected on Yoshizawa Shoten's price lists of magic lantern slides, films, and related equipment published at the time. Sato Tadao, for example, refers to the company's catalogue of 1910, which lists 93 Russo-Japanese War works, either for sale or loan, of various lenghts, from 30 to 500 feet (1995: 107). Meanwhile, an earlier catalogue published by Yoshizawa in December 1905 lists 10 films credited to Fujiwara Kozaburo and 13 to Shibata Tsunekichi. In addition to these 23 films, there were 80 others catalogued as "Recent Russo-Japanese War Section" (Daibo 2015: 42). In a recent research carried out by Daibo Masaki, he examined all the Russo-Japanese War films held by the National Film Center in Tokyo and concluded that there is no footage shot by Japanese cameramen at the front (2015 : 53). Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to attribute to Japanese cameramen scenes shot at home such as Rikugun no Gaisen Joukyo) (Actuality of the Triumphal Return of the Army ) and Waga Guntai o Nosetaru Kisha Shinbashi o Shuppatsushi Shinagawa Tsuka no Jikkyo (Actually of Our Army Departing Nihonbashi by Train and Passing Through Shinagawa) (Daibo 2015: 52-53).

Daibo, Masaki, Nichironsenso Kirokueiga no Katarogingu - Josefu Rozentaru Satsuei [Ryojun no Kofuku] no Fusuku Bashon / Cataloguing Russo-Japanese War films - The Multiple Versions of Joseph Rosenthalfs Port Arthur Siege and Surrender, Tokyo Kokuritsu Kindai Bijutsukan Kenkyu Kiyo / Bulletin of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (19), 2015, 42-65.
Gerow, Aaron, From Misemono to Zygomar, in Silent Cinema and the Politics of Space, edited by Jennifer M. Bean, Laura Horak and Anupama Kapse, University Press, 2014.
Gordon, Andrew Social Protest in Imperial Japan: The Hibiya Riot of 1905, Massachusetts Institute of Technology © 2011 Visualizing Cultures. Accessed 26 August 2015.
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.
Komatsu, Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, edited by Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992.
Nornes, Abé Mark, Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era Through Hiroshima, University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
Okubo, Ryo Kinodrama and Kineorama: Modernity and the Montage of Stage and Screen in Early Twentieth-Century Japan, Iconics, Volume 10, 2010, pp. 74-95.
Sato, Tadao, Nihon Eigashi, Volume 4, Iwanami Shoten, 2007.
Sato, Tadao, Nihon Eigashi , Volume 1, Iwanami Shoten, 1995.
Tanaka, Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi: Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, 1980.
Thompson, Kristin and Bordwell, David, Film History: An Introduction, McGraw-Hil, 1994.
Ueda Manabu, Eiga Josetsukan no Shutsugen: 1900-nendai no Denkikan to Sono Kankyaku Kara / The Emergence and Transformation of the Moving Picture Theaters: An Analysis of the Denkikan theater and the Cinema Audience in the 1900s, Art Research, 9, 2009, 49-59.
Ueda, Manabu, Kankyaku no Tomadoi: Eiga Sosoki ni Okeru Shinematekku no Kogyo o Megutte - The embarrassment of the spectator : The exhibition of Cinematec in the early film era , Ritsumeikan University , Art Resarch, 7, 2007, 129-139.
Ueda, Manabu, Gendai Nihon ni Okeru Shikaku Media no Tenkanki ni Kansuru Ichikosatsu: Nichironsensoki Kyoto no Dantai ni Yoru Gendo Oyobi Katsudo Shashin no Joei Katsudo o Chushin - The Transition Period of The Visual Media in Modern Japan : The Show Activities of the Magic Lanterns and the Cinema by Various Organizations in Kyoto during the Russo-Japanese War, Ritsumeikan University , Art Resarch, 4, 2004, 109-120.
Yomiuri Shinbunsha, Goraku- Hodo no Sekai o Kaeta (Katsudoshashin) in Meiji Seso Koborebanashi, Yomiuri Bukkuretto 29, October 2001.

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Last update: 26/8/2015