Japan Cinematography – from the Origins to the World War II Part II
An important, albeit short-lived, current of silent Japanese cinema was that of the keikō eiga (trend film), which developed at the turn of the twenties and thirties, following the spread of the Marxist ideology at that time.. It was a set of films which, albeit with some obvious naivety, denounced the injustices of capitalist society, such as for example. Nani ga kanojo o sō saseta ka (1930, What prompted you to do it?) Directed by Suzuki Shigeyoshi. founded by actors or directors, such as Makino Eiga and Bandō Tsumasaburō Production, to whom we owe, among others, a film like Orochi (1925, The Dragon) by Futagawa Buntarō, which inaugurated the genre of nihilist jidaigeki, with its rōnin thrown into disarray, fighting against an unjust and cruel society. The most representative authors of the silent jidaigeki were Itō Daisuke and Makino Masahiro. The first is the Chūji tabi nikki trilogy (1927, Chūji’s Travel Diary) and the Tange Sazen series (1928-1934); to the second the Rōningai trilogy (1928-1929, La strada dei rōnin). Itō, in particular, also tried to combine the nihilistic jidaigeki with the keikō eiga, taking advantage of the fact that censorship control was less strict for period films. Finally, much more than gendaigeki, jidaigeki was a cinema of great stars: for actors such as Bandō Tsumasaburō, Ōkōchi Denjirō, Arashi Kanjūrō, Ichikawa Utaemon and Kataoka Chiezō a real cult was born in Japan
According to BAGLIB, the early 1930s marked the transition from silent to sound. Although several partially sound films had already been made – among them for example. Furusato (1930, The native country) of Mizoguchi – the first all talkie was Madamu to nyōbo (1931, The lady and my wife) of Gosho. However, the transition to the new system was long and troubled, both for financial and technical reasons, and for the strenuous opposition that the Benshi corporation moved against it. The turning point was 1935, when the major companies definitively stopped producing silent films, which however were still made by small houses until 1938. Towards the end of the Thirties, while the political reality became more and more difficult, Shōchiku and Nikkatsu had to sell part of their market to a new large company, Tōhō: founded by Kobayashi Ichizō, who had taken over the PCL (Photo Chemical Laboratory), a company founded in 1929 and became independent in 1933, which was characterized by a modern and liberal policy, and JO, another independent company headed by Ozawa Shokai, the Tōhō would be distinguished by its conservative, if not downright reactionary, practice. The most important jidaigeki directors of the 1930s were Itami Mansaku and Yamanaka Sadao: Itami is remembered above all for the way in which he was able to instill ironic and parodic elements in his plays historians; Yamanaka, of which at least Ninjō kamifusen (1937, Human feelings and paper balloons) should be mentioned, for the accuracy in the psychological description of his samurai. With these two authors, the jidaigeki lost much of his adventurous spirit, privileging, on the contrary,
In the context of gendaigeki, Shōchiku played a leading role, in particular with her shomingeki, signed by directors such as Shimazu Yasujirō, Nomura Hiromasa, Naruse Mikio and, above all, Ozu. Also important is the work of Shimizu Hiroshi, who in his films, halfway between fiction and documentary, often resorts to the techniques of improvisation, as happens, for example, in Arigatō san (1936, Mr. Thanks). For its part, Nikkatsu could make use of the work of a leading director such as Uchida Tomu, of which at least Jinsei gekijō – Seishun hen (1936, The theater of life – Youth) and Tsuchi (1939, Earth) should be remembered. In addition to the directors mentioned, the 1930s also saw the success of Mizoguchi, who in that period passed from a production company.
In 1939, two years after the start of the war with China, in a political climate now irremediably marked by nationalism and expansionist will in Asia, even the cinema was called back to its patriotic duties. A new law on cinema, created on the legislative model of Nazi Germany, radically exacerbated censorship, which began to intervene on films already at the stage of screenwriting. In this period, in the context of the productive system, the upper hand was taken by the Tōhō, increasingly linked to political power; Shōchiku was kept alive, while Nikkatsu was absorbed in 1942 by a new production company, Dai Nihon Eiga (Cinema of Greater Japan, known by the acronym Daiei), founded by Nagata Masaichi. Also in terms of cultural debate,
The ongoing conflicts (the war with China and, from December 1941, the Second World War) favored the production of war films, but those strictly propaganda, such as Hawai Maree okikaisen (1942, The war on the seas from Hawaii to Malaysia) by Yamamoto Kajirō, there were not many. Tasaka Tomotaka, for example, made Gonin no sekkōhei (1938; The patrol) and Tsuchi to heitai (1939, Land and soldiers), rejecting all sorts of heroism and focusing on the terrible harshness of the daily life of soldiers who stoically accept their task. entrusted. In the context of the documentary, the work of Kamei Fumio was of particular importance, who in Shanhai (1937, Shanghai) managed, despite innumerable difficulties, to witness the drama of the Chinese territories occupied by the Japanese army. The director, however, he paid for his courage with prison. In those years the jidaigeki also had an inevitable nationalistic regurgitation, as evidenced, for example, by the trilogy dedicated by Inagaki Hiroshi to the epic figure of Miyamoto Musashi (1940-1942), a champion of the sword but, above all, a model of asceticism and spirituality. The need for sacrifice and respect for authority, in all its forms, were recurring themes also in the gendaigeki of the war years, from which not even Ozu could escape, who in Toda ke no kyōdai (1941, Brothers and sisters of the family Toda) tells, however faithful to his own poetics, the dissolution of a large family, saving only the youngest son who, having returned from occupied Manchuria, decides to take with him the mother whom the brothers had removed.