The Transition of Pre- and Post-War Film Ephemera in Japan

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Pre-war film schedule bulletins. Shinjuku, Showakan News, No. 246, 255, 258, 264, 265 (1938)

The initial style of the film handbill, or flier, was seen in Japan before World War IIThere were a limited number of movie theaters in Japan at this period, and films were promoted by theaters themselves. The pre-war handbills in the Makino Collection were printed on coarse paper and produced by the movie theaters, unlike the current Western style. The design uses traditional Japanese writing styles, such as inscribing phrases from right to left.

The original style of film programs began to be distributed as a free-of-charge weekly bulletin, which were published by film theaters just like film fliers. There was no boundary between flier and program at this point.

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Occupation period foreign film leaflets. American Picture News by CMPE (reprint, 1984). From left: The Maltese Falcon (1951), directed by John Huston; The Pirate (1951), directed by Vincente Minnelli

After the war, starting from Subaruza in the Yῡrakuchō neighborhood of Tokyo, the American style of roadshow theatrical release permeated all of Japan, which was led by the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE). CMPE published and sold their own film programs for their distributed Hollywood films during the occupation period. Meanwhile, the number of theaters dramatically increased, reaching its peak in 1960.

 

* CLICK TO ENLARGE * Attendance at pre- and post-war film theaters, and the historical background in Japan. Source: Compiled by C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, based on data from The Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, Inc (2014); Senjika no Nihon eiga by Furukawa Takahisa (2003); the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2014)

* CLICK TO ENLARGE * Attendance at pre- and post-war film theaters, and the historical background in Japan. Source: Compiled by C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, based on data from The Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, Inc (2014); Senjika no Nihon eiga by Takahisa Furukawa (2003); the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2014)

 

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Pre-war weekly film bulletins. Hibiya Gekijyō News (1936 through 1941)

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Post-war foreign film programs from the transitional period. The name of the movie theater, Hibiya Eiga Gekijō is on the bottom. From left: EASTER PARADE (1950), directed by Charles Walters; SHOW BOAT (1952), ANCHORS AWEIGH (1953), both directed by George Sidney; LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1954), directed by Max Ophüls; MOBY DICK (1956), directed by John Huston

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Post-war foreign film programs from the transitional period. The name of the movie theater, Yῡrakuza is on the bottom. From left: CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1959), directed by Richard Brooks; BLACK ORPHEUS (1960), directed by Marcel Camus

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Post-war foreign film program from the transitional period. Tōhō logo is on the upper right side; The name of Hibiya Eiga Gekijō is on the right bottom side. REPULSION (1965), directed by Roman Polanski

Following this movement, film’s promotional center moved from movie theaters to film distribution companies. Accordingly, the styles of fliers and programs were completely renovated, and the contents and design of each flier for each film became uniform all over Japan. The modern programs became gorgeous, with thick, quality paper and more pages in multiple colors; theater goers now had to pay for them. On the other hand, the modern film fliers are usually in the “B5” size, which is slightly smaller than letter-size paper, with a color surface and a bi-color print on the backside.

Film Ephemera from the Makino Collection, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Two different post-war foreign film programs for the same film from the transitional period. GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS (1969), directed by Herbert Ross. From left: an edition for OS Gekijō, One of Tōhō movie theaters (road show theatrical), an another edition for the second-run theaters

Interestingly, during this transitional period, around 1945 through the 1960’s, until the current uniform style became pervasive, a single film would generate film programs in several different designs. For example, some roadshow theaters created original film programs with the theater name on it, such as Tōhō movie theaters like Yῡrakuza and Hibiya Eiga Gekijō, and Shōchiku movie theaters like Tōgeki and Shōchiku Central, while second-run theaters published programs for regular movie theaters.

* CLICK TO ENLARGE * Post-war diffusion Rate of Durable Goods among Japanese Household. Source: Compiled by C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, based on data from the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2014)

* CLICK TO ENLARGE * Post-war diffusion rate of durable goods among Japanese households. Source: Compiled by C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York, based on data from the Cabinet Office, Government of Japan (2014)

With the post-war economic growth, people started seeking convenient family leisure; at that period of time, there were not as many entertainments and not many options for people to appreciate films at home as there are today. Films were considered a primary and convenient leisure-time activity, and film ephemera pleased the eyes of the audience members who purchased and brought them back to their homes. Meanwhile, collecting film ephemera became a popular hobby in Japan. It is said that the film flier/program culture flourished among general collectors most between the 1960’s and 1980’s, following the dramatic increase of film theaters, and was most appreciated in the 1960’s.

As time has passed, the promotional styles have changed gradually; people’s lifestyles have become affluent and have diversified. The advent of digital media and global networks, including the internet, and continued development and widely pervasive electronic devices have dramatically changed the method of film distribution and promotion. Now people access handy and timely information from social media via smartphone and tablet. The film distribution channels have also diversified.

However, the vibrant print culture still exists, and the collecting value has gone up due to the lower number of programs and fliers. After the release date, film ephemera accumulate value over a long period of time. Nowadays in Japan, retailers specializing in film ephemera can be seen on the internet as well as in listings at some major auctions.

Lastly, the Makino Collection includes the special publications from a film’s release. The items are being treated as books, not as archival materials, and the data will be available through CLIO, following the cataloging process. More of them will be available on library shelves to check out or to recall from off-site. The project cataloger for the Makino Collection has been adding new data to CLIO every day; therefore, the results should increase over time. Please check them out as well if you are interested.