A History of the Development of Japanese Cinema

Source: Yamamoto Kajirō, quoted in Tanaka Jun’ichirō, Nihon eiga hattatsu shi [A History of the Development of Japanese Cinema] (Tokyo: Chūō kōronsha, 1975-1976), p. 282, reproduced in Joanne Bernardi, Writing in Light: The Silent Scenario and the Japanese Pure Film Movement (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001), pp. 80-81

Text: It was around the time I entered the preparatory course at Keiō University … One spring afternoon, after skipping my last class, I took my habitual stroll through the Ginza … I thought about having a cup of coffee at the Café Paulista and was leisurely walking Milta slops when I saw a young man passing out handbills. They were made of cheap pink paper (probably the most inferior type) about the size of a postcard, but the printed message caught my ete: “The first film [eiga] made in Japan!” This catchphrase announced the opening of The Glory of Life, the first production of the Film Art Association and [the director and actors] were all active in the vanguard of the shingeki theatre movement … Ah, film! Just seeing that word made my heart race. A film had been made in Japan for the first time. Although there had been moving pictures [katsudō shashin] of shinpa melodramas and trick [ninjutsu] pictures there were as yet no films. But now, Japan had given birth to the long-awaited “film” that was just like that of America …

I immediately headed for the theater. This film, the greatest epoch-making event in the history of Japanese cinema, was opening in a small moving picture hall (movie theater) called the Toyotama theater … About two hundred people could fit in the narrow seats, but less than 10 percent of the spaces were taken by patrons scattered here and there.

It was the first Japanese film I had ever seen! Japanese titles of a modern design … close-ups and moving camera work, the actors’ faces untouched by elaborate stage makeup, the plain, unaffected presence of a real woman [“female flesh”]. and the slightly awkward yet straightforward and sincere acting. This was a genuine film. I cried like a baby in the darkness.

Yet somehow something was missing. The film was rooted in literature, and the acting lapsed into mannerisms from the stage. A true film would not be so crude. Surely film has a more pure, invulnerable, isolated beauty. I was impressed, but at the same time I burned with frustration and anger.

Comment: Yamamoto Kajirō (1902-1974) was a Japanese film director. He is recalling a screening of Kaeriyama Norimasa’s Sei no kagayaki [The Glory of Life] (Japan 1918-1919), one of the exemplars of the Pure Film Movement in Japan which called for a more cinematic style of Japanese filmmaking, as opposed to the heavily theatre-influenced Japanese films to that date. It is possible that Yamamoto may be remembering the screening of another Kaeriyama film, Miyama no otome [The Girl in the Mountain], also produced in 1918 but released in 1919. Keiō University is in Tokyo. Ellipses and words in brackets are from Joanne Bernardi’s book.

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