Japan cinema


August 12, 2022

Japan's cinema (日本映画, Nihon eiga?) has a history that spans over 100 years.


The Silent Cinema

The first film produced in Japan was the short documentary (Geisha No Teoderi) in June 1899. The first Japanese actress to appear in a film professionally was dancer and actress Tokuko Nagai Takagi, who acted in four short films for the American Thanhouser Company between 1911 and 1914. Most Japanese movie theaters at the time employed benshi, narrators whose dramatic readings accompanied the film and music, which was, as in the West, played live. The Earthquake of 1923, the Allied Bombing of Tokyo during World War II, as well as the natural effects of weather and the country's humidity on the fragile films destroyed most of the films made in the period. Some of the most talked about silent films in Japan are those by Kenji Mizoguchi, whose later work (such as Life of Oharu) is still much admired today.

The 1930s

Unlike in the United States, silent films were still being produced in Japan in the 1930s. Notable talkies of the period include The Sisters of Gion (1936) and Ozaka's Elegy (1936), both by Mizoguchi. Mizoguchi's style is classic, with long takes and no close-ups, and a humanistic concern.

The 1940s

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

The 1950s

Akira Kurosawa's film The Seven Samurai (七人の侍) is released in 1954, the same year as Godzllla (ゴジラ Gojira). Kurosawa was already a recognized and veteran director when he released The Seven Samurais, after films like Rashomon (1950) and The Idiot (Hakushi, 1951). Yasujiro Ozu, abandoning pre-war sugar-water melodramas, directs Tokyo Story (Tōkyō monogatari) (1953) and Good Morning (Ohayō) (1959), reaching its thematic aesthetic apogee, with painstaking care with each take. (with the famous low camera), and the absence of a proper plot. Tokyo Story is considered one of the greatest films ever filmed.

The 1960s

Technicolor makes its mark. Kon Ichikawa directs the three-hour documentary The Tokyo Olympics (Tōkyō Orimpikku; 1965). The Nikkatsu studio fires Suzuki Seijun for "making movies that don't make money or make sense" after her surrealist yakuza film The Mark of the Killer (1967). Osamu Tezuka's Tetsuwan Atomu series introduces anime to television and gives Astro Boy to the world in 1963. The Sand Woman (Suna no Onna, 1964), by Hiroshi Teshigahara, wins the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and is nominated for an Oscar for best director and best foreign film. Kwaidan (1965), by Masaki Kobayashi, also receives the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The 1970s

Nagisa Oshima directs The Empire of the Senses (Ai no koriida, 1976), a political-erotic period film. Oshima, determined to face the censorship, insists on releasing the film with graphic pornographic material; as a result, it can only be revealed in France, and to date no uncut version has been shown in Japan.

The 1980s

Hayao Miyazaki adapts his manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika) for the big screen into an animated film (or anime) in 1988. New anime is released each year featuring popular characters from TV and comics. Shohei Imamura wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes for the film The Ballad of Narayama (Narayama Bushiko, 1982).

The 1990s

Shohei Imamura receives another Palme d'Or (shared with Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami for the drama The Eel (Unagi, 1997). Takeshi Kitano becomes an important director with works such as Adrenalina Máxima (Sonatine, 1993), Back to School (Kidzu Ritan, 1996) and *Hana-bi - Fireworks (Hana-Bi, 1997)