Monthly Archives: October 2011

Charlie Chaplin and Kono Toraichi

In addition to Japanese and East Asian materials in the Makino Collection, there are items related to Western film stars.  This includes materials related to Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin visited Japan four times in his life and was clearly a popular star there – as everywhere else in the world.  Chaplin was even in Japan in 1932 during the May 15th Incident when the Prime Minister was assassinated by young naval officers.  Chaplin happened to be with the Prime Minister’s son during the attack and was apparently a target of the original assassination plan.

Mr. Makino collected original editions of books by and about Chaplin including the one that Mr. Makino wrote was the inspiration for his CollectionMy Trip Abroad (1922). Referring to this book, in "Chaplin Among the Ashes" (trans. by Joanne Bernardi), Makino writes that he had "no idea why I bought the book, or how I felt at the time.  Around that time I was absorbed in writing poetry. I often saw movies, but I doubt that I had an interest yet in buying books about film…. In my life with books ever since, I resigned myself to disposing of my library a number of times, but for some reason this one volume always ended up back on a corner of the bookshelf.  I realized that it was no ordinary book twenty years later, after I had entered the world of film production, and in due course began my research in film history."  (In Praise of Film Studies: Essays in Honor of Makino Mamoru. edited by Aaron Gerow and Abé Mark Nornes, Yokohama: Kinema Club, 2001, pp. 69-70). 

Now this Chaplin book that inspired Mr. Makino in his youth, along with its translation into Japanese (1930), are in the Makino Collection at Columbia University!  See a photograph of the title page of the original 1922 book at the beginning of this post.

This book also spurred Mr. Makino’s interest in Chaplin’s long term Japanese assistant Kono Toraichi/高野虎市,who worked for Chaplin for more than 20 years, was eventually arrested by the U.S. government on suspicion of spying for Japan, was released, and then interned during the war. For an overview of Chaplin and Kono’s relationship in English, see Bruce Wallace, "Charlie Chaplin’s Japanese Connection," April 19, 2006. Ono Hiroyuki who is interviewed in Wallace’s article, wrote his own book on Kono and Chaplin, Chappurin no kage: Nihonjin hisho Kono Toraichi /チャップリンの影:日本人秘書高野虎市, Tokyo: Kodansha, 2009.  Mr. Makino also wrote about Kono in "Chaplin Among the Ashes" and gathered all sorts of materials about him.

The Collection materials include a karuta (card) game from the 1910s with images of Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle on it.  (Known endearingly as “Debu-chan” or "Fatty" in Japan – Arbuckle was another Western comedy star popular in Japan). There is also a Chaplin sugoroku poster game from 1922 (sugoroku is a kind of board game), a movie theater gift poster, programs and fliers for Chaplin films shown in Japan, several popular magazines special issues on Chaplin, bank, post office, and film study group fliers, a filmography, newspaper clippings, a still photograph of Chaplin with his one-time wife Paulette Goddard, items from a 1971 Chaplin film convention, as well as a scrapbook containing photocopied articles about Chaplin’s 1932 Japan visit, and 6 scrapbooks with articles from the 1930s and early 1940s about Kono. A portrait photo album once owned by the popular actress Kurishima Sumiko/栗島すみ子 has two photographs of Charlie Chaplin possibly taken during his 1932 visit as well. Sorry for the long list, but this is a really interesting assortment of items.

Amateur film and Small gauge film

Today, when teenagers and street demonstrators can document their activities through their phones and instantly upload photos or digital video or share them through email (and then blog about them), one cannot help but be struck by the transformative power of such technology.  In the archive, it is fascinating to see what can perhaps be argued as the birth of amateur film (film scholars can correct me on this). Through the early camera catalogs that offered the cameras for sale to those who could purchase them, one can see the potential access to film-making and what that might have meant.  The Pathé Baby home film system from the Pathé-Cinéma camera equipment company used cameras with smaller gauges and was first imported to Japan in 1924. The 8mm camera was introduced in 1932.

The Makino Collection includes Pathé bebī/パテーベビー camera catalogs from the 1930s (see above image) as well as many magazines and books related to amateur film in Japan. This is a  great area for historical research – whether one is interested in the technical aspects of early film-making, the social and political environment in which amateur films were made, or even the cultural aspects – the art of the films in Japan. The amateur film movement included people who made "home movies," and used small gauge cameras (kogata eiga/小型映画, 8mm, 9.5mm and 16mm).  Many of these filmmakers were also associated with the Proletarian Film League of Japan (日本プロレタリア映画同盟,/Nihon Puroretaria Eiga Dōmei or "Prokino"), as well as with documentary film (culture films (bunka eiga or kiroku eiga) in Japan. (See Nornes, Abé Mark (2003). Japanese Documentary Film: The Meiji Era through Hiroshima. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press). The Makino Collection does not contain the films (reels) made by Prokino, but it does have many of the group’s publications as well as writing by member and film critic Iwasaki Akira and others.  There are 11 archival boxes with 80 folders of amateur film items in the series covering amateur film and small gauge film in the Makino Collection (Series 6 Subseries 1). There are 12 archival boxes with 82 folders of proletarian film movement materials (Series 6 Subseries 12), and more than 20 archival boxes for documentary film materials (Series 6 Subseries 7). I am still adding to this section.

Here is the cover of a fantastic manga (comic), 8 miri Hacchan, by author Hara Yasuo/原やすをfrom Nov. 1946 about a boy who shoots his own film with his 8 millimeter camera. Here he captures the movement of a worm, what else might he learn about the world?

Here are 2 issues of a kogata eiga magazine, Baby Cinema, published the same year the Chrysler Building in NYC was completed – 1930.