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Culture

The age of Shinpa films (new-school)
:Mukojima Movie Studio and the film Kachusha

Manabu Ueda
Research Associate, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Mukojima Movie Studio

From the beginning of Japanese film until today, the Nikkatsu Corporation possesses one of the most outstanding histories of any movie studio throughout the world. The studio was founded in 1912 under the name Nihon Katsudo Shashin (Japan Moving Pictures) Co., Ltd. From the time of its founding until the Shochiku Corporation, the leader of Kansai theatrical world entered the movie industry in 1920, it is no exaggeration to state that the prestigious Nikkatsu Corporation created the majority of Japanese film history in the Taisho Period. In contrast to Kyoto's Kansai Movie Studio and Taishogun Movie Studio which possessed Matsunosuke Onoe, the first Japanese movie star, Mukojima Movie Studio promoted a unique form of expression known as shinpa (new-school) film in Tokyo. The studio was known for its signature glass stage along the Sumida River.

Figure 1: Ukiyo (1916); Teijiro Tachibana (right) and Masao Omura (left)

New-school film is a genre of movies referring to a broad range of modern theatre. The genre is not limited to the narrow definition of new-school theatre in Japanese theatre history, and sometimes incorporated the central themes of shingeki(western-style theatre). During the Meiji Period and Taisho Period, the phrase "moving pictures" was widely used to refer to film. Therefore, the name "new-school film" did not exist at the time. Instead, the term "new-school" was used as opposed to the "old-school" of period film. The Pure Film Movement which was led by Norimasa Kaeriyama sought a revolution in the Japanese film industry, with a strong emphasis on imitating the form of western films, particularly American films. As a result, new-school film was subject to criticism for heavily retaining the aspects of Japanese theatre. However, the very fact that such criticism was directed towards new-school film shows how much the forgotten genre had become a powerful force in that period.

Figure 2: Eizo Tanaka: Movie script for Dance of the Skull (1924)

The most conspicuous characteristic of new-school film was how it did not use female actors. Instead, female heroines were played by male actors. In particular, actor Teijiro Tachibana (1893 to 1918) mesmerized audiences with his sweet beauty (see Figure 1). Tachibana had trained under the kabuki actor Shikaku Nakamura I and the new-school theatre actor Asajiro Fujisawa. Until his death at the young age of 25 in 1918, Tachibana appeared in films produced by Mukojima Movie Studio for a short period of only 6 years. However, he had already reached the height of popularity as a star, with his autobiography published in 1917.

Also, as is widely known, Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896 to 1982) joined Mukojima Movie Studio when making a career change from theatre to film. Kinugasa would later become a masterful director who received international acclaim for films such as A Page of Madness (Shin-Kankaku Film Association, 1926) and Gate of Hell (Daiei Kyoto, 1953), which attracted great attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Kinugasa made his debut impersonating a female character in The Seven-Colored Ring (1917). After the death of Tachibana, Kinugasa was a popular actor who appeared in numerous new-school films produced by Mukojima Movie Studio. Our museum also possesses a vast collection of works by Hiroshi Inagaki, who trained under Kinugasa and would become a famous director of period films. Inagaki also made his debut as an actor at Mukojima Movie Studio.

Another director representing Mukojima Movie Studio is Eizo Tanaka, who began his career in western-style theatre. Tanaka would later contribute to the revolution of new-school films, directing movies such as The Living Corpse (1918) and The Kyoya Collar Shop (1922). He originally trained at the Tokyo School of Acting, which was presided over by the new-school actor Asajiro Fujisawa. After participating in the western-style theatre movement led by Kaoru Osanai, Tanaka joined Mukojima Movie Studio in 1917. He worked as an assistant to Tadashi Koguchi, who was the only director at Mukojima Movie Studio at that time. The year after joining the studio, Tanaka directed his first film Dawn (1918). Afterwards, he pursued film expression through a new style of contemporary drama, cooperating with the stage association of western-style theatre to produce films such as Dance of the Skull (1923; see Figure 2), which featured actress Yoshiko Okada.

Mukojima Movie Studio also featured many other directors who left a significant imprint on Japanese film history. One example is Kensaku Suzuki who had a background in western-style theatre pursued his own unique style of realism through films such as Human Suffering(1923).Mizoguchi Kenji, a masterful director,studied under Tanaka and quickly obtained high acclaim as a director thanks to his first film Resurrection of Love (1923), as well as works such as 813 (1923) and Foggy Harbor (1923)

The film Kachusha and its shooting script

Nikkatsu Corporation was founded in 1912 through the merger of four film companies (Yoshizawa Shoten, Yokota Shokai, M. Pathe Shokai and Fukuhodo). Initially, Nikkatsu Corporation used the Meguro studio of Yoshizawa Shoten as its Tokyo studio. However, confusion was caused when actors from other companies passed through the studio, and it became necessary for Nikkatsu to seek a new studio. As a result, Mukojima Movie Studio was built on the banks of Sumida River.

Figure 3: Shooting script from Kachusha

Figure 4: Shooting script from Kachusha

However, compared to Kyoto's Kansai Studio which shifted directly from Yokota Shokai, Mukojima Movie Studio faced a difficult start as an amalgamation of movie staff from other film companies. Kisaburo Kobayashi and Yoshitaro Yamakawa, both of whom started their careers at Fukuhodo, established Tenkatsu (Natural Color Moving Picture Company) in 1914 in resistance to Nikkatsu. Furthermore, a group of movie staff from M. Pathe Shokai moved to Osaka's Shikishima Shokai and began creating "combo theatre," a unique film expression which combined film and theatre.

Amidst the danger of breakup, Nikkatsu Mukojima had its first big success with the film Kachusha (directed by Kiyomatsu Hosoyama, 1914). During this period, Sumako Matsui left Bungei kyokai (the Peripatetic literary association) due to romantic trouble with Hogetsu Shimamura. Sumako then organized Geijutsu za (the theatre of the arts), together with Shimamura. The theatre produced the performance Fukkatsu(Resurrection), which was based on Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy and the dramatization by Henry Bataille. Shimamura translated and adapted these works for theatre and Sumako acted in the performance. The traveling performance of Fukkatsu became highly popular throughout Japan. Based on the success of this performance, the film Kachusha was produced using a screenplay written by Kiyoshi Masumoto, who came from a western-style theatre background. Tachibana played the role of Kachusha. Prints from the movie no longer exist. All that remain are a few still photographs of Tachibana and Tappatsu Sekine, who played the role of Nekhlyudov. However, the richness of the film can be glimpsed from the 204-page shooting script held in the collection of our museum (see Figure 3). The script has the message "For Sanosuke Mori" written on the inside cover. This suggests that the script was once the possession of Sanosuke Mori, who was active at both Yoshizawa Shoten and Nikkatsu Mukojima. Mori played three roles in Kachusha, including the lawyer Anatoly.

A particular interesting point of the shooting script is that specific orders are given for the singing of Kachusha's Song (see Figure 4), a song which was written by Shinpei Nakayama with lyrics by Shimamura. This shows the great influence that movie theaters and other entertainment venues had on the production of movie studios in an era of silent films. During the scene, Kachusha was probably sung in time with the screening of the silent movie. The song was either sung by a special performer whose role was to recite the lines of actors on the screen, or it was played from a standard-playing record which was recorded by Sumako herself. At times, even the audience may have joined in the singing.

Production at Mukojima Movie Studio got on track thanks to the success of Kachusha and the sequels The Following Kachusha (1914) and The Resurrection of Kachusha (1914). The studio would continue to define the era by producing numerous new-school films.

Exhibition on Nikkatsu Mukojima and New-School Film

The historical significance of Mukojima Movie Theatre and the appeal of new-school films produced by the studio can be found in the fusion of movies, a new culture introduced from the west, and forms of Japanese theatre from the Meiji Period and Taisho Period such as kabuki, new-school theatre and western-style theatre. This fusion took place in the budding modern city of Tokyo.

2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Nikkatsu's founding. To mark this milestone, our museum is holding a special exhibition entitled "Nikkatsu Mukojima and New-School Film" from December 3rd (Sat.), 2011 to March 25th (Sun.), 2012. The exhibition features museum materials which were donated by director Eizo Tanaka, actress Yoshiko Okada and other movie staffs who worked at Mukojima Movie Studio. Through the exhibition, I hope that museum visitors can reflect on the history and appeal of Mukojima Movie Studio, an institution which developed the visual expression of new-school film, one of the world's most unique genres.

Manabu Ueda
Research Associate, The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University

Born in 1979. Specializes in film and media studies. Completed the Doctoral Program at the Ritsumeikan University Graduate School of Literature. Holds a PhD in literature. His written works included co-authoring Japanese Film History Series #10: Film and War (edited by Masaru Okumura; Shinwasha Publishing, 2009)