The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Cinema of Japan

Cinema has a history in Japan that spans more than 100 years.



The Silent Era

The first film produced in Japan was the short documentary 「芸者の手踊り」 (Geisha No Teodori) in June of 1899.

The first Japanese performer to appear in a film professionally was the dancer/actress Tokuko Nagai Takagi , who appeared in four shorts for the American-based Thanhouser Company between 1911 and 1914 (source) .

Most Japanese cinema theatres at the time employed benshi, narrators whose dramatic readings accompanied the film and its musical score which, like in the West, was often performed live. (See also the books Benshi, Japanese Silent Film Narrators, and their Forgotten Narrative Art of Setsumei A History of Japanese Silent Film Narration by Jeffrey A. Dym and The Benshi--Japanese Silent Film Narrators .)

The 1923 earthquake, the Allied bombing of Tokyo during World War II, as well as the natural effects of time and Japan's humidity on the then more fragile filmstock have all resulted in a great dearth of surviving films from this period.

Some of the most discussed silent films from Japan are those of Kenji Mizoguchi, whose later works (e.g., The Life of Oharu) are still highly regarded today.

The 1930s

Unlike Hollywood, silent films were still being produced in Japan well into the 1930s. Notable talkies of this period include Mizoguchi's Sisters of the Gion and Osaka Elegy (both 1936).

The 1940s

Akira Kurosawa makes his feature film debut with Sugata Sanshiro in 1943.

The 1950s

The Akira Kurosawa-directed 七人の侍 (The_Seven_Samurai) is released in 1954, the same year as ゴジラ (Gojira), known to the West (and to Japan from its first sequel on) as Godzilla. Over ten minutes of footage is cut from Godzilla by its American distributor, mostly of wounded civilians in burning cities, evoking the recent Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Daikaiju films were a mainstay of Japanese cinema for well into the 1970s, and are still being made today.

Yasujiro Ozu directs Tokyo Story (Tōkyō monogatari) (1953) and Good Morning (Ohayō) (1959).

The 1960s

Technicolor makes its mark. Kon Ichikawa captures the watershed 1964 Olympics in his three-hour documentary Tokyo Olympiad (Tōkyō Orimpikku; 1965). Nikkatsu fires Suzuki Seijun for "making films that don't make any sense and don't make any money" after his surrealist yakuza flick Branded to Kill (1967).

Osam Tezuka 's Tetsuwan Atomu introduces anime to television and gives the world Astro Boy in 1963.

Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes (1964) takes the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and is nominated for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars. Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1965) also picks up the Special Jury Prize at Cannes.

The 1970s

Nagisa Oshima directs Ai no koriida (In the Realm of the Senses; 1976), a World War II period piece about Abe Sada. Staunchly anti-censorship, he insists the film contain hardcore pornographic material; as a result the exposed film must be shipped to France for processing, and an uncut version of the film has still, to this day, never been shown in Japan.

The 1980s

Hayao Miyazaki adapts his manga Nausicań of the Valley of Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika) into a feature film (an anime of the same name) in 1984. Katsuhiro Otomo adapts his manga Akira into a feature-length anime in 1988. New anime movies are run every summer and winter with characters from popular TV anime. Shohei Imamura wins the Golden Palm at Cannes for Narayama Bushiko (Ballad of Narayama; 1982).

The 1990s

Shohei Imamura again wins the Golden Palm (shared with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami), this time for Unagi (The Eel; 1997), joining Alf Sj÷berg, Francis Ford Coppola and Bille August as only the fourth two-time recipient. Takeshi Kitano emerges as a significative filmmaker with works such as "Sonatine"("Sonatine", 1993), "Kids Return" ("Kidzu Ritan", 1996) or "Hana-Bi" ("Hana-Bi"), which was given the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

2000 and after

Hayao Miyazaki comes out of retirement to direct Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi; 2001), breaking Japanese box office records and winning the U.S. Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. In 2002, Dolls is released, directed by Takeshi Kitano.

External links

  • Japanese Movie Database (in Japanese)
  • Lisa's Japanese Movie Listing
  • Midnight Eye
  • Cinemasie

See also Anime, History of cinema, Japanese Academy Awards, Japanese television programs, Seiyū, List of Japanese Actors, List of Japanese Actresses, List of Japanese Directors, List of Japanese language films

Last updated: 02-11-2005 04:35:17
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55