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Chronology of Japanese Cinema


4 July

The doctrine of Nanshin-ron (Southern advancement theory) developed from the late nineteenth century initially as a peaceful economic advance into the Pacific region, not territorial gain through aggression (Post : 63). Stimulated by the victory in the Russo-Japanese war, Japan emerged confident to take up leadership of the Far East. In 1936 Nanshin-ron became official policy and provided the Japanese military government with an ideological justification for its aggressive territorial expansion into the South East (Shimizu : 388). Imamura Shohei gives a satirical interpretation of Japanese expansionism in South East Asia at the turn of the century in his black comedy Zegen (1987). The film follows Muraoka Iheiji's, loosely based on his own autobiography edited by Kawai Yuzuru in 1960, patriotic crusade of procuring Japanese prostitutes to open a chain of brothels across the European colonies in Southeast Asia spearheading his country's own colonialist ambitions. These prostitutes working overseas, commonly called karayuki-san, were acknowledged, though with the alternative and more approving term roshigun, as the advance guard of Japanese overseas expansion playing a leading role in promoting Japan's business presence in the region (Mihalopoulos :51). Their presence in major business hubs of the South East highlighted the Japanese government's willingness to allow prostitution to drive the country's economic expansionist process .

Among the many Japanese who built up successful businesses in Asia around this time were also film entrepreneurs such as Takamatsu Toyojiro, seen as one of the key figures in Taiwan's early cinema. Takamatsu arrived in Taiwan in 1903 bringing to the Japanese colony his popular travelling film show which he began in Japan at the turn of the century. In 1907 he produced Taiwan's first film, an educational documentary titled Taiwan Jitsukyo no Shogai (An Introduction to Taiwan's Reality). It was shot in more than one hundred locations and included a variety of subjects such as urban construction, railway, agriculture and the lifestyle of aborigines (Lin : 143-44). During his business career he also built a total of eight theaters in different cities of the island and even established an acting school in 1909 (Hong : 18-19). Film historian Tanaka Junichiro cites other Japanese working in overseas film businesses like cinematographer Fujiwara Kozaburo or the rubber plantation owner Watanabe Jisui, also known as Watanabe Tomoyori (Barmé : 45). After filming the Russo-Japanese conflict for Yoshizawa Shoten, Fujiwara settled in Beijing and open either a cinema (Tanaka, 1980: 130) or a photo studio (Tanaka, 1979 : 20), postponing his return to Japan until the opening of Nikkatsu's Mukojima film studio in 1913. On the other hand, Watanabe pioneered film exhibition and production in Thailand. In the latter half of 1904 he returned briefly to Japan where he witnessed the enormous popularity of Russo-Japanese war related film works. He purchased some, as well as others featuring geisha dances, street and scenery shots or a game of kemari (Barmé : 44-45), from Yoshizawa Shoten, and, helped by the shop's own projectionist Kayama Komakichi, began to show them first in Bangkok and later in the Strait Settlements, Borneo and Sarawak (Tanaka 1980 : 120 ) and (Barmé : 60). In 1905, Watanabe opened the first permanent theater in Thailand, the Japanese Cinema, called later the Royal Japanese Cinematograph after being granted royal permission to display the government seal. Also in the same year traveling film exhibitor Komada Koyo's company, Nihon Sossen Katsudo Shashin Kai (Pioneer Japanese Motion Pictures Association, traveled all the way to Hong-Kong and opened a cinema at 14 Des Vooeux Road to show films about the Russo-Japanese War (Law 2017 : 127) (Lee 2017 : 132).

But perhaps the most important and influential of these Japanese émigrés in the development of their national cinema was Umeya Shokichi(1), who since 1893 had been running a photo studio for a year in Singapore and later, for almost a decade, in Hong-Kong. During this period he had collected films mainly from the French Pathe and organized very popular showings in Singapore after his second arrival in the British colony in May 1904. Before Umeya, a certain Matsuda had been showing movies outdoors (Hui : 50). Around 1905 he met Harima Katsutaro, owner of the Harima Hall on North Beach Road, who had previously collaborated with Watanabe in film exhibition in Thailand. Once in Japan, and without authorization, he borrowed the name of the world largest film producer at the time and founded his own film company, M Pathe (M standing for the old rendition of his surname in Latin script or roma-ji MUMEYA), which Tanaka Junichiro sets in 1906, whereas Richie and Anderson (28) the previous year (2). This discrepancy is particularly significant since it has often been argued that Richie and Anderson's pioneering work in English borrows heavily from Tanaka's (Kirihara : 507). Umeya's main biographers Kurumada Joji (177) and Kosaka Ayano (89), Umeya's own great granddaughter, mark his arrival back in his hometown of Nagasaki in 1905, aged 36, where he gave a preview of his films at a local theatre. Umeya "burst upon the Tokyo film promotion scene", however, did not take place in July 1905 as stated by Peter B. High (105), perhaps taking as reference the date suggested by Kurumada (177) , but the following year as claimed by Tanaka citing a flyer that appeared in the Yomiuri Shinbun on 3 July 1906 promoting the lavish film venue organized by Umeya at the Shin Tomiya-za theatre. This film show ran from the 4th to the 13th and among the films shown was a tinted version of Ferdinand Zecca's La Vie et la Passion de Jesus Christ (1903), which he had already exhibited in Singapore (Tanaka 1980 : 150).

  1. His figure has recently seen a revival particularly since 2011 which marked the centenary of the Xinhai Revolution which Umeya, through one of its leaders Sun Yat-sen (Son Bun in Japanese), financially supported with his photography and film business adventures over a period of twenty years. Thus a year earlier on May 22 the channel BShi (now BS Premium) of the public broadcaster NHK aired an 89-minute documentary about him (available on YouTube) titled SON BUN SASAETA NIHONJIN - SHINGAI KAKUMEI TO UMEYA SHOKICHI-. On February 26 2014, TV Tokyo broadcast the special drama TATTA ICHIDO YAKUSOKU (Just One Promise) starring Yanagiba Toshiro in the role of the maverick impresario. Between October 6 to November 25 2018 the Museum of History and Culture in his hometown of Nagasaki held the exhibition Eigakai Fuunji Mumeya Shokichi (Mumeya Shokichi - a pioneer in the Japanese film industry) to commemorate the 150th anniversary of his birth. Finally, in April 2020 the public broadcaster NHK aired a 3-episode drama with the title GEKITO! CHUGOKU KAKUMEI NI KAKETA NIHONJIN - SON BUN TO UMEYA SHOKICHI.
  2. Umeya's biographer Kurumada Joji also dates the founding of M Pathe in 1905 (183).

Anderson, Joseph L. and Richie, Donald, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, Princenton University Press, 1982.
Barmé, Scot, Woman, Man, Bangkok: Love, Sex, and Popular Culture in Thailand, Silkworm Books, 2006.
High, Peter B. Umeya Shokichi: The Revolutionist as Impresario, Tagen Bunka to Mirai Shakai Kenkyu Project, Nagoya University, 2004.
Hong, Guo-Juin, Taiwan Cinema: A Contested Nation on Screen, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Hui, Tsu Yun, A Social History of the Japanese in Singapore to 1945, in Japan and Singapore: A Multidisciplinary Approach, edited by Timothy Tsu , Singapore, McGraw-Hill Education Asia, 2006, 20-52.
Kirihara, Donald, Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies in Reconstructing Japanese Film, edited by David Bordwell and Norl Carroll, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996 , 501-19.
Kosaka, Ayano, Kakumei o Purodyusu Shita Nihonjin, Kodansha, 2009.
Kurumada, Joji, Kokufu Son Bun to Umeya Shokichi: Chugoku ni Sasageta Aru Nihonjin no Shogai, Rokko Shuppan, 1975.
Law, Wai-ming, Hong Kong's Cinematic Beginnings, 1896-1908 in Early Cinema in Asia edited by Nick Deocampo, Indiana University Press, 2017.
Lee, Daw-Ming, How Cinema Arrived and Stayed in Taiwan in Early Cinema in Asia edited by Nick Deocampo, Indiana University Press, 2017.
Lin, Pei-Yin, Translating the Other: On the Re-circulations of the Tale Sayonfs Bell, in China and Its Others: Knowledge Transfer through Translation, 1829-2010, edited by James St. Andre and Peng Hsiao-yen, Rodopi Bv Editions, 2012: 139-164.
Mihalopoulos, Bill, The making of prostitutes: the Karayuki-san, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 25, 1: 41-57, 1993.
Post, Peter, Indonesianisasi and Japanization: The Japanese and the shifting fortunes of pribumi entrepreneurship, in Indonesian Economic Decolonization in Regional and International Perspective, edited by J. Thomas Lindblad and Peter Post, KITLV Press, Leiden, 2009.
Shimizu, Hajime, Nanshin-ron: Its Turning Point in World War I, Developing Economies 25, no. 4: 386-402, December 1987.
Tanaka Junichiro, Nihon Kyoiku Eiga Hattatsushi, Kagyusha, 1979.
Tanaka, Junichiro. Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi - (1) Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, Tokyo, 1980.
Eigakai Fuunji Mumeya Shokichi - (Mumeya Shokichi - a pioneer in the Japanese film industry)

Umeya Shokichi

1 August

The popularity of films related to the Russo-Japanese war began a rapid decline soon after the conflict ended in September 1905. The still infant Japanese film industry, which had benefited enormously from the war, went into a slump in production preferring instead to import films. Of the few indigenous works produced during this period most were film actualities of festivals or scenic films such as Katori Jinja Sairei (Katori Shrine Festival), Musha Gyoretsu (Samurai Procession) Kyoto Arashiyama Jikkyo (Actuality Film of Kyoto's Arashiyama District)or Soma Nomaoi (Soma Wild Horse Chase Festival) (Tanikawa:28). Adding to these, visual recordings of performances by popular magicians Shokyokusai Tenichi, father of Japanese magic, and his disciple Shokyokusai Tenkatsu were also released at the Denkikan on August 1 during the Katori Shrine Festival, among them Tenichi-shi no Kijutsu (Mr Tenichi's Magic) and Tenkatsujo no Hagoromai (Feather Cloak Dance of Miss Tenkatsu). This last work is listed in the Yoshizawa Shoten's catalogue of February 1910 along with other two featuring Tenkatsu's mentor Shokyokusai Tenichi no Hako no Kijutsu (Magic Trick with a Box by Shokyokusai Tenichi) and Shokyokusai Tenichi-shi Tamago and Uma no Majutsu (Magic Trick with an Egg and a Horse by Mr Shokyokusai Tenichi) (see Katsudo Shashin Kidaido Firumu (Rensokushashin) Teikahyo).

Three years earlier, some performances by Tenichi had been filmed possibly in the United States during his troupe's world tour from 1901 to 1906. The films were imported in Japan and first released at Kobe's Aioi-za theatre in November 1903. The show, organised by the Nihon Katsudo Shashin Kai (Association of Japanese Motion Pictures), lasted for four days and included majutsu (trick) films with titles such as Kuchu o Hoko Suru Majutsu (Walking in the Sky Trick) or Ikkyaku no Isu wo Nana Kyaku to Nasu Majutsu (Converting One Chair into Seven Chairs Trick). Two weeks later the films opened at Tokyo's Ryokoku under the title of Tenichi no Katsudo Shashin (Tenichi's Motion Pictures). Early Japanese film critic Yoshiyama Kyokko provides an account of a show of imported majutsu films at Tokyo's Ichimura-za theatre in 1905 which went by the title Beikoku ni Okeru Shokyokusai Tenichi no Kijutsu (Shokyokusai Tenichi's Magic Tricks in America). Rather than an actual recording of Tenichi's magic show, Yoshiyama points to likely camera tricks during the magician's numbers similar to the ones employed by film pioneer George Melies in his productions (Quoted in Izumi: 75) .

Imamura, Miyoo, Shinsetsu Eiga Ibunshi Dai 29 Kai: Jushutsunyu Eiga Shoki no Nihonjin in Kinema Junpo, No 742, September 1978, pp 156-57.
Izumi, Toshiyuki, Ginmaku no Kyakkai : Honcho Kaiki Eiga Taigai, Seidosha, 2000.
Kawai, Masaru, Katsudo Shashin Kidaido Firumu (Rensokushashin) Teikahyo in Nihon Kijitsu Hakubutsukan (Japan Magic Museum) .
Komatsu, Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992: 244.
Tanikawa, Yoshio, Nenpyo Eiga 100-Nenshi, Futosha, 1993.

20 September

Society Puck Company, a comic magazine publishing company founded on 15 April 1905, exhibits a series of 14 social satire short films, under the title Shakai Pakku Katsudo Shashin (Society Puck Moving Pictures), at the Kinki-kan theatre in Kanda, Tokyo. The works had been produced by writer, rakugo performer and socialist activist Takamatsu Toyojiro in 1903, but sold them to the publishing company before going to Taiwan a year later (see above). Film historian Komatsu Hiroshi (240-42) provides a description of Takamatsu's films, including titles in Japanese and English as well as a brief synopsis of one of them, Katsu-shakai no Tamamori (Riding on a Ball in Real Society).

There have been some discrepancies, not unusual in the study of early Japanese cinema, among Japanese film historians over the release date of the short films and the identity of the cinematographer. For instance, Komatsu states that the show opened on 7 September (243), while Tanaka Junichiro argues it did on the 20 (411). Regarding the name of the camera operator, in his 1995 Nihon Eigashi volume 4 (145), and again, in the 2007 edition (63), Sato Tadao proposes two theories, one attributing the camerawork to Chiba Kichizo and the other to Fujiwara Kozaburo. In his 2010 Nihon no Dokyumentari Shirizu (6), however, he finally settles for Fujiwara. In this last publication, Sato also claims that the film venue had consisted of 15 short films instead of the 14 he had previously listed in his Nihon Eigashi (1995 : 145). A handbill advertising the show, reprinted in the Asahi Chronicle (Murayama : 34), clearly reveals that the film programme was divided into two parts, the first featuring nine shorts and the second five (1), shown from 20 September, and that they were directed and photographed by Chiba Kichizo. Finally, Tanaka credits the authorship of the script to a certain Nonki Ozanmi, this being, as he explains, the rakugo story teller stage name used by Takamatsu during his early career (321).

  1. First part / Kigeki (comic plays): Katsu-shakai no Tamanori (Riding on a Ball in Real Society), Ebicha no Mokukyo (A Maroon Wooden Drum), Kotoku no Nakigoto (A Grievance about Public Morality), Tosei Shinshi no Shotai (The True Character of Gentlemen Nowadays), Unubore no Shippai (The Failure of Overconfidence), Kokuyu no Geshukuya (National Boarding House), Jinshin no Ura-Omote (The Surface and True Feelings of People's Minds, Kyu-shisho no Kyoiku (The Education of Old Ideas), Haikara no Gyoretsu (The Dandyish Procession).
    Second Part / Ikitaru Shakaigeki (moral and social dramas): Jogakusei no Matsuro (The End of the Role of the Schoolgirl), Higeki: Sencho no Junshi (Tragedy: The Self-Immolation of the Captain), Karafuto no Hagoku (The Prison Breakout in Sakhalin), Inshu no Katei (A Drinking Family), Aiko no Seiko (The Success of Love).
    (Tamura : 56-57).
    Romanization of Japanese titles and their English translation, slightly adapted, from Komatsu (241) .

Komatsu, Hiroshi, Some Characteristics of Japanese Cinema before World War I, in Reframing Japanese Cinema, Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser, Indiana UP, 1992: 229-58.
Murayama, Kyoichiro, Eiga ni Yoru Keimono o Ito: Kaisha Pakku Katsudo Shashin, in Asahi Kuronikuru 20-seki, Dai-ikkan (1901-1916), Kanzenhan, Nichiron-senso to Dai-ichiji Seikai Daisenso, 1906/7: 34, 2000.
Sato, Tadao, Nihon Eigashi , Volume 4, Iwanami Shoten, 1995.
Sato, Tadao, Nihon Eigashi , Volume 4, Iwanami Shoten, 2007.
Sato Tadao, Shirizu Nihon no Dokyumentari (5), Iwanami Shoten, 2010.
Tamura, Shizue, Hajime ni Eiga ga Atta: Shokuminchi Taiwan to Nihon, Chuo Koronsha, 2000.
Tanaka, Junichiro, Nihon Eiga Hattatsushi - (1), Katsudo Shashin Jidai, Chuo Koronsha, Tokyo, 1980.

Takamatsu Toyojiro
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