Tag Archives: film industry

The Advent of “Mini Theater”: The Diversification of International Films in Japan and a New Kind of Film Ephemera

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Serial film magazine/program. Iwanami Hall #19 (1977). THE ROUND-UP/Szegénylegények, directed by Miklós Jancsó (Hungary)

As we discussed in an earlier blog post, Art Theatre Guild (ATG), Japan’s first independent film production company, firmly established the foundation of production and distribution of non-commercial, art house films. Movie theaters that distributed independent films appeared in the Japanese film industry between the 1980’s and the 1990’s.

In the post-war period, people’s cultural tastes dramatically diversified. People began to crave something more subtle than just popular mainstream Western films. Those blockbuster films pervasive in the market and large movie theaters for the purpose of attracting large audiences were over-supplied, and new demands for film distribution methods and unique film line-ups were generated. Thus, the number of mini theaters increased dramatically in the 1980’s, in response to the demand.

The Makino Collection, C.V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York

Serial film magazine/program. Iwanami Hall #11 (1976). THE GOAT’S HORN, directed by Methodi Andonov (Bulgaria)

Films with highly artistic aspects generally appeal only to a small audience, and thus they are not box-office successes. Acknowledging this limitation and possessing new perspectives for future films, a film distribution project called, Equipe de Cinema (lit. fellows/party/team of cinema) was launched in 1974 as a movie theater at Iwanami Hall, which used to be a multipurpose hall (built by Iwanami Shoten Publishers, one of the biggest publishing companies in Japan); they became pioneers of minor film distribution and mini theaters in Japan. The project was headed by Etsuko Tanakno, general manager of Iwanami Hall, and Kashiko Kawakita, film curator, popularly known as “Madame Kawakita” among the overseas film industry, who formed the cornerstone of Art Theatre Guild.

– Our primary mission is to uncover hidden masterpieces and show them to the public, and to put a spotlight on film countries, and specifically new and powerful directors from the third world. (1974, Equipe de Cinema No. 2)

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The Dawn of Art Films in Japan, Art Theatre Guild (ATG): Ushering in Innovative Forms

From the Makino Collection, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

A powerful logo on some pieces of ephemera immediately caught my attention. The logo, “アートシアター (Āto shiatā/Art Theatre)” or “atg” in its impressive design, stands for Art Theatre Guild (ATG), a film distribution company, founded in 1961. The company built up the foundation of today’s avant-garde film distribution in Japan, and literally made it a home for art films of that period. ATG’s activities made the Japanese people one of the few audiences in the world who intensely appreciated films from outside their own production countries.

In 1928, Tōwa Shōji (later Tōwa Eiga/Tōhō Tōwa) was established by Nagamasa Kawakita in order to import quality foreign films to Japan. He became a well-known pioneer and entrepreneur of international film, as well as an importer/distributor in Japan. He and his wife, Kashiko Kawakita, strived to bring foreign films into Japan. The first film they imported was a German film, Leontine Sagan‘s Girls in Uniform/Mädchen in Uniform (1931).

From the Makino Collection, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

Art Theatre no.3 (1962), issued by ATG. The cover: Otoshiana/PITFALL (1962), directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

Kashiko formed Nihon Ārt Shiata Undō no Kai (literally, Japan Art Theatre Movement Party), aiming to establish theaters for showing art films. Art Theatre Guild (ATG) was established shortly thereafter in 1961 as an independent film theater/art house for the purpose of producing and distributing innovative, quality avant-garde art and non-commercial hidden films both inside and outside Japan, the kind of film that was not shown at major film theaters. This independent film company and its distributed films left a great impact on the Japanese film industry. (Interesting fact: ATG’s title and logo designs were made by the filmmaker Jῡzō Itami (1933-1997), who is known for his much acclaimed work, Tampopo, and was also an industrial designer.)

The major Japanese film studio, Tōhō, advocated for the ATG mission and sponsored them as a main investor, also offering their theaters as an experimental screening place for art films, including Nichigeki Bunka Gekijō, a film theater, which later became an ATG specialized “Art Theatre”.

From the Makino Collection, C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

We have long suffered from sadness and sorrow that highly received art films in the world were not imported to Japan, and that we have missed such a great opportunity to appreciate masterpieces. The Art Theater is a precious experimental theater [for art films] that will grant our wish.

(From the cover of the Polish film Mother Joan of the Angels, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, the first ATG film distribution: Art Film Society no.1, ATG members’ bulletin issued by Nichigeki Bunka Gekijō, 1962)

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Japanese Post-War Culture and Foreign Cultures: An Example of the Avid Adaptation of Foreign Culture and Creation of Neo-Hybrid Culture

Now you have a rough idea of the process of integration and huge presence of yōga (foreign films) in Japan and how they reflected the status of the post-war cultural revolution in Japan. While the archival processing is underway, we will look at one lovely example of ephemera, an LP record-sized leaflet, which could also serve as the cover for the soundtrack that was released at the same time as an Italian popular crime-comedy film, “Sette uomini d’oro (Seven Golden Men),” which was directed by Marco Vicario (1965).

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

Italian film flier (spread). Seven Golden Men/Sette uomini d’oro, directed by Marco Vicario (1965)

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, records became popular in Japan, and film ephemera from this era can often be seen in this form. It is interesting to see how differently film ephemera represented one film, due to corresponding trends or Asian perspectives. Film ephemera show us how films were promoted in order to appropriately appeal to audiences in each cultural setting.

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

Japanese anime film program. LUPIN THE THIRD: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO/Lupan sansei: Kariosutoro no shiro (1979), directed by one of the greatest animation directors in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki. The action sequences have influenced lots of productions; they have been highly praised by Steven Spielberg, and an influence on his films, such as Indiana Jones

This Vicario film became one of the models for a famous Japanese manga/anime series, Lupin the Third (Rupan sansei), created by the manga artist Monkey Punch (Katō Kazuhiko). Lupin the Third was first published as manga in 1967, and then later animated for TV, cinematized, and even recreated as video games in the 1970’s due to its huge popularity.

Interestingly, the author was strongly influenced by the drawings of American comic artist Mort Drucker, as well as American humor magazine Mad. And Lupin the third is the grandson of the fictional gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin, which was created by a French novelist, Maurice Leblanc. James Bond, of popular spy movies, was his model. Inspector Kōichi Zenigata, the long standing rival of Lupin, was created to make him and Lupin a human “Tom and Jerry,” an American animation. Femme fatale Fujiko Mine was created to be Lupin’s Bond girl. Samurai Daisuke Jigen was based on James Coburn, from the 1960 American Western, The Magnificent Seven. Monkey Punch, the author, was also inspired by The Three Musketeers and the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and his creations reflect their influences. I could tell you plenty more of his influences, but I don’t want to bore you.

The completely new style of hybrid manga, which artfully adapted charming aspects of foreign cultures, was extremely well-received not only in Japan; this made-in-Japan product was translated into many languages and appreciated the world over. In reverse, the manga series and films have been quite influential on other productions in the world as well. Even now, its popularity continues; this manga series is always highly ranked in nation-wide surveys. Continue reading

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)

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