Book Review

Recalling the Treasures of Japanese Cinema
The Film Is Not the Only Thing That Was Lost

Okamura Yoichi
(Actor, DJ, and host of "Cinema Street" on Kawasaki FM

"Do you read it before you see it, or do you see it before you read it?" was the advertisement for a Kadokawa movie more than 20 years ago. It has been used in countless commercials. It is truly clever in that is raises people's interest in the both the book that the movie was based on and the movie itself.

Almost everyone has had the experience of reading the book a movie was based on before seeing the movie and being disappointed that the characters were different than they had imagined and that the scale of the movie was too small.

When people see the movie first and then read the book they often think, "Oh, this is why that happened. When they made the movie, they had to take out this part and change the setting a bit."

The thing that almost everyone says is, "The book was better," or "The movie ruined the book." Why is that?

The answer is that movie footage is no match for human imagination.

Each person who reads the book interprets it in their own way, and it would not be too much to say that there are as many unique versions of a movie as there are people who read the book.

Japanese Film History Studies - Recalling the Treasures of Japanese Cinema is an amazing achievement. It provides the story, a commentary, and still photographs for 51 films from before World War II that can no longer be seen because for one reason or another, the reels of film have been lost or destroyed. It presents the reader with more than 50 films and says, "You have never seen these films before, chances are, you never will. Reconstruct the movies in your head. Let's see how smart you really are."

This may seem a bit tedious, but it is a lot of fun.
Yodogawa Nagaharu once said of the 1920 "modern comedy" Amachua Kurabu (Amateur Club) , "(Amachua Kurabu) is a clever, clever movie that I would do anything to see just once more, but the film just does not exist anymore." Amachua Kurabu, the story of a group of young people who encounter trouble at Yuigahama beach, Kamakura, is an important piece of movie history and was cutting-edge during its time. Directors Uchida Tomu and Inoue Kintaro as well as writer of the film, Tanizaki Junichiro, make appearances, and as an actor, I would love to see the movie.

The book's commentary on Mura no Hanayome (The Village Bride) is as follows:

"In the carriage scene in which Oshizu is run over, the villagers rush straight to the site of the accident from behind the camera. While such a scene would typically be shot near the carriage, Gosho instead maneuvers the camera slowly toward the right to grasp the view of rice fields swaying in the wind. By capturing a scene of extreme silence, he reveals the troubled atmosphere among the villagers surrounding the carriage."

Reading this, I was impressed. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of silent film. Sure, this comment was made based on someone's memory or some record somewhere, but reading it, I felt as if this 75-year-old movie was being recreated before my very eyes.

As I read the book, I could envision what the movie world was like during that time, things like how fast Okochi Denjiro swung his blade during fighting scenes and how big an event Bando Tsumasaburo's founding an independent production company was. I also got a feel for the honesty, justness, and simplicity of Japanese people during that time. Many people had yet to overcome poverty and widespread discrimination.

This is not to say that all of society's ills have vanished, but encountering old words in the book that are no longer used such as kindai jyosei (modern woman), momoiro no funiki (peachy atmosphere), keiko eiga (trendy film), yoko (travel abroad), shisei (sincerity) and wonderful film titles such as Riku no Ningyo (Mermaids of the Land), Karakuri Musume (Mischievous Girl), Ashi ni Sawatta Onna (The Woman Who Touched My Foot), Kuma no Yatsugiri Jiken (The Incident of the Bear and Cutting into Eight Pieces) and Matenro, Sotohen (The Skyscraper: Of Discord) , seems to bring to mind something that our society unequivocally lost over the decades.

That something that Japan lost might be the reason behind more and more Japanese moviegoers showing interest in Korean, Chinese, and Iranian films in recent years.

The film is not the only thing that was lost.

This precious book takes the Japan of nearly 80 years ago and brings it back to modern Japan like a boomerang.