The Film Ephemera Collection within the Makino Collection: The Uniqueness of Japanese Film Ephemera

Japanese film program from the Makino Collection
Japanese film program. Rampo (1994), directed by Rintarō Mayuzumi

The ephemera within the Makino Collection are the most vibrant part of it. Generally speaking, the word “ephemera” means “something which has a transitory existence”. What exactly does “ephemera” mean in the archival world and in library and information science? The term is defined by the Library of Congress (2008) as:

non-commercial, non-book publications in the form of pamphlets, handbills, leaflets, broadsides, position papers, minutes of meetings, information sheets, bulletins, newsletters, posters, moving images and photographic documentation.

Ephemeral materials may also be produced in a variety of electronic formats, such as web sites, web pages, web logs, pod casts, etc. These materials are typically published outside of official or normal channels.

The Makino Collection’s post-war film ephemera mainly consist of film programs and fliers.

Imported film program. À bout de souffle/Breathless revival (1978), directed by Jean-Luc Godard
French film program. À bout de souffle/Breathless revival (1978), directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Imported film program. Saturday Night Fever (1978), directed by John Badham
American film program. Saturday Night Fever (1978), directed by John Badham

Japanese film ephemera are considered to be very unique. Why? What makes Japanese film ephemera so special? Film ephemera are considered to be one of the most significant aspects of films in Japan. Film programs, especially, are extremely unique, in that all films in Japan, including revivals and retrospectives, produce film programs that are on a level not seen in the United States and other countries. There is no other country like Japan, where every variety of film publishes an elaborate program, which is sold at movie theaters only during the film’s run. Interestingly, the majority of audiences are accustomed to, or cannot resist purchasing a program when they are at the movie theater. It is like getting popcorn at a movie theater in the United States. In Japan, audiences purchase a film program instead of popcorn, or they might get both. In this way, film programs have always been present in the lives of Japanese theater goers broadening their film intelligence, and showing them the larger world.

Adding more uniqueness, in Japan, advanced tickets for films with special novelties, such as give-away goods are available, unlike in the United States.

Imported film fliers from the 1970's through the 1980's. Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York
Foreign film fliers from the 1970’s through the 1980’s. From left: L’Enfant sauvage/The Wild Child (1970), Les Quatre Cents Coups/The 400 Blows revival (1989), Les Deux anglaises et le continent/Two English Girls (1972), all directed by François Truffaut; Un Flic/The Cop/Dirty Money (1972), directed by Jean-Pierre Melville; Jean Cocteau retrospective (c.1988)

Film fliers (chirashi), especially, appeal to people not merely with synopses of the film, but also with buzzwords and trendy slogans, blurbs from popular reviewers and striking images from the film. These tiny pieces of paper have lots of information in their elaborate and unique design. Film distribution companies and theaters distribute fliers for the purpose of promoting films which will be released soon. In Japan, they are usually placed in the lobby of theaters, theater complexes, ticketing counters (pureigaido), and bookstores, depending on the film’s demographic target or audience size. Some fliers have the same design as the film’s theatrical posters; these in particular are sought-after collector’s items.

Film ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University
Italian film leaflet (record-sized, spread). I Girasoli/Sun Flower (1970), directed by Vittorio De Sica

Moreover, film fliers play a big role in bringing audiences to the theater. Film distribution companies embellish the nature of their films, making them look flashier, funnier, or more exciting, to appeal to audiences. Although they are a collectible gem for some, they are discarded by theaters and film distributors after the day of a film’s release.

The design and contents of this transitory object vividly reflects cultural trends and social situations of each period of the time; for example, there are some record-sized fliers from the 1960’s and 1970’s, which suggest the popularity of soundtracks at the time.

Foreign film programs. From left: essay by François Truffaut, À bout de souffle/Breathless (1978), casting information, King Lear (1998), both directed by Jean-Luc Godard; synopsis of the film, Saturday Night Fever (1978), directed by John Badham
Japanese film program. Yatsuhaka-mura/Village of Eight Gravestones (1977), directed by Nomura Yoshitarō
Japanese film program. Yatsuhaka-mura/Village of Eight Gravestones (1977), directed by Yoshitarō Nomura

On the other hand, long after first appreciating it, film audiences enjoy the extensive knowledge of a film that programs provide. The current programs in Japan are impressively designed; they provide not only commentary on the filmmaker, his/her filmography, a synopsis of films, and essays and blurbs by several famous film critics, but also the highlights of the film scenario, film stills of climactic scenes, and background information such as the language, people, and culture of the country where the film was produced. A single film program does not merely consist of film information; these programs have been a fount of wisdom for Japanese audiences for decades.

The film ephemera collection within the larger Makino Collection holds a number of film programs from both yōga and hōga, and is just a tiny part of the entire collection. Truly, the Makino Collection is full of hidden Japanese treasures.