enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Japanese Cinema

On 28 December 1895, the Lumière Brothers’ cinematograph was given its first public screening, at a venue in Paris. This public screening marked the start of a new mass culture: cinema.

In 1897, cinematographs were imported into Japan, and the Japanese cinema industry began in earnest. Few of the early-era films survive. The earliest extant Japanese film is an 1899 picture titled “Momijigari” (紅葉狩), which has been designated an Important Cultural Property. In the first three decades of the 20th century, Japan developed its own forms of cinematic culture. One example is “rensageki” (連鎖劇; cinema and real drama combined), which fused theatre and film; another example is the use of storytellers, called “benshi” (弁士), to narrate silent movies. In the early 1930s, when the talkies fully arrived in Japan, the film directors Yamanaka Sadao, OzuYasujiro, and Naruse Mikio emerged, and Japanese cinema headed into its golden age. In the post-war years, Japanese cinema garnered international attention, and Kurosawa Akira’s “Rashomon” (羅生門) produced in 1950 and Mizoguchi Kenji’s “Ugetsu Monogatari” (雨月物語) produced in 1953 won international accolades.

By the 1970s, Japan’s studio system in the film industry had declined. In the years that followed, Japanese cinema underwent a period of change amid dwindling audience numbers. However, Japanese cinema continued to develop in unique ways. For example, Kadokawa Pictures used innovative advertising to create a new generation of cinemagoers. Moreover, Japanese horror rose to prominence in the 1990s, and the anime movies of directors such as Miyazaki Hayao garnered international critical acclaim. Japanese films are still produced in vast numbers every year, and they still capture the interests of cinemagoers the world over.

Note: On the text, as for the order of the name of the Japanese person, their family name is written first, and then their given name.