Unearthing Japan’s 35mm Heritage

A still from Yuzo Kawashima's Elegant beast

A still from Yuzo Kawashima’s Elegant beast

Founded in 1942, the Daiei Film Company emerged from the Second World War to become a major studio during Japan’s golden age of cinema and is often credited with taking Japanese films to the world. In tribute to the landmark studio, the 17th Japanese Film Festival presents eight free screenings of five of Daiei’s 35mm classics.

We delve back to 1947 with a special presentation of Children Hand in Hand, produced by Daiei and directed by Hirosahi Inagaki, who would later be recognised with an Academy Award for Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto.

The following year in 1948, the studio produced The Grand Master by filmmaker Daisuke Itō, who was already a silent-era trailblazer for his samurai films and period dramas. In The Grand Master, sandal-maker Sakata pursues his dream of becoming the Grand Master Champion of Shogi, a Japanese form of chess (making the film an intriguing companion to our Long Play program Computer Chess, screening during December and January).


Sakata in The Grand Master

With the release of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon in 1950, Daiei introduced western audiences to Japanese cinema. The film snagged the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an Academy Award® the following year, propelling Kurosawa to superstardom, which was cemented with Seven Samurai (1954).

Also appearing in the free heritage program of the 17th Japanese Film Festival are The Lightning, Elegant Beast and The Life and Times of Ichi the Masseur. The latter film introduces Zatôichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. Zatôichi has become one of Japan’s most enduring characters of cinema, TV and stage – having most recently appeared on screen thanks to directors Takeshi Kitano and Junji Sakamoto, whose The Human Trust features in the contemporary section of this year’s festival.

Kenji Misumi's The Life and Times of Ichi the Masseur

Kenji Misumi’s The Life and Times of Ichi the Masseur

Despite the cultural impact and commercial success of Daiei (and having its own professional baseball team), by 1971 the studio’s output had slowed considerably and it went bankrupt.

But like Zatôichi himself, the Daiei Film Company lives on following a merger with Kadokawa Pictures, a colourful and notable production company that as of 1992 had produced 7 of the 20 highest grossing Japanese films of all time.

The Japanese Film Festival, showcasing a fresh crop of contemporary Japanese films and this free program of classic titles, runs from Thursday 28 November – Sunday 8 December.

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