Between 1897 and 1899 in Japan the first documentaries were shot on the streets of Tokyo and Kyoto. The first screening rooms were built a few years later, as well as the studios, starting from 1908. The films shot in the early silent years were almost entirely inspired by kabuki theater, and, as the tradition of this form of representation dictates, even on the screen they were called to play all the roles exclusively male actors. However, actresses will soon appear on the screen too: in 1919 one of the most famous vedettes of Japanese theater, H. Hanyagi, starred in N. Kerivama’s Shinzan no otome.
Accompanying the screenings in recent years was a speaker who commented on the action and read the subtitles in the room, helping the mostly illiterate public to follow the events. Such commentators, called benshi, heavily influenced the production choices, pushing towards the creation of works linked to the Japanese tradition. However, despite their opposition, from 1920 onwards, Japanese cinema abandoned national literary and theatrical sources to look to Hollywood film models. After the destruction of the Japanese film industry caused by the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, the heart of the production became Kyoto, where some studios were already located. Japanese cinema then experienced a moment of enormous development, expressed on the one hand by the appearance on the scene of great authors – T. Kinugasa, H. Gosho, M. Naruse, K. Mizoguchi – and on the other by the emergence of a cinema within which the industry will always find a guarantee of economic strength in the years to come. The favorable season lasted for almost all of the Thirties and saw the beginnings, as well as of the directors mentioned, also of less universally known and also of great importance authors such as H. Shinizu, Y. Shimazu, S. Yamanaka, T. Ishida, T. Uchida. After 1937 and the invasion of China by Japan, the cinema operated from the point of view of the themes a sharp inversion of trend, replacing the poetic inspiration, the intimist introspection, the dramatic torments, the rigidity and the hardness of the themes military. In fact, in this period the authors were continually pressured to deal with the political affairs of the country, exalting the national spirit and the values of tradition. to the intimate introspections, the dramatic torments, the rigidity and harshness of military themes. In fact, in this period the authors were continually pressured to deal with the political affairs of the country, exalting the national spirit and the values of tradition. to the intimate introspections, the dramatic torments, the rigidity and harshness of military themes. In fact, during this period the authors were continually pressured to deal with the political affairs of the country, exalting the national spirit and the values of tradition.
According to watchtutorials, the military-inspired production reached its peak in the mid-1940s, when even filmmakers attentive to a completely different type of problem, in order to work, would be forced to resort to subjects of a historical nature. Mizoguchi’s activity is emblematic, oscillating in recent years between the historical reconstruction, Danjuro Sandai (“Three generations of Danjuro”, 1944), and the biographical story Miyamoto Musashi (1946). Immediately after the war, however, the director’s production will once again be characterized by a realism marked by strong poetic accents, which finds a way to express itself admirably especially in works dedicated to painful female figures such as Saikaku ichidai onna (“Life of O-Haru, woman gallant”,(“The Intendant Sanshō”, 1954).
The 1950s opened in the name of international recognition thanks to a truly revolutionary film: Rasho-Mon, by A. Kurosawa. Active since 1943, Kurosawa with the violent and ambiguous story of rape perpetrated against a young woman and told from time to time according to the gaze of the rapist, the victim and her husband, wins the Lion in Venice in 1951. gold, bringing Japanese cinema to the attention of the world. In the wake of Kurosawa’s success throughout the decade, Japanese cinematography makes people talk about itself: its authors are rewarded everywhere, Cannes, Venice, Berlin, while in the most important Western cities they are dedicated to personal directors such as Y. Ozu, Naruse, K. Ichikawa. The 1950s also marked the emergence of the television medium, which immediately absorbed a large part of the genre production,
Since 1960 some young and fierce filmmakers have been working to break with the classicism represented in their eyes by the cinema of the generations that precede them, trying to impose a violence of strongly revolutionary ideas and language.
Among the directors of the movement, S. Hani, H. Teshigahara, S. Imamura, Y. Yoshida, N. Oshima. However, the innovative wave has a short duration, swept away by commercial cinema which catalyzes the attention of an audience unprepared to understand the impact of such complex and difficult to decipher works. Once the moment of common cohesion has passed, the various authors each follow their own path, while continuing to propose the breaking of every pre-established pattern in different ways and measures. Particularly illuminating in this regard is Oshima’s cinema, which after a long journey that has touched the renewal of style – Seishun zankoku monogatari (“Cruel tales of youth”, 1960) -, historical reflection – Nihon no yoru to kiri (“Nights and mists of Japan”, 1960) -, the analysis of cruelty – Koshikei (“The hanging”, 1968) -, led to the almost anatomical dissection of two of the most deeply felt taboos in Japan: sex and crime. Culmination of the unveiling Ai no korida (Here is the empire of the senses, 1976), in which the dramatic love story interwoven with eros and death between Sada and Kichizo is narrated without concealment, two lovers who seek the extreme point of pleasure in death.
Despite the debut of some promising directors such as S. Terayama, N. Tsuchimoto, T. Matsumoto, and the recognition obtained in festivals by authors of the old guard (Imamura wins in Cannes in 1983 with Narayama-bushi ko, The Ballad of Narayama), from 1970 onwards Japanese cinema is on the way to decline, largely caused by the unrestricted exploitation of films through television. In fact, television almost totally absorbs production to cover the needs of millions of spectators who feed on every form of entertainment through more than 25 million color sets, as shown by a survey from the early 1980s. The state of crisis in production has ended up penalizing auteur cinema more, forced to finance itself with Western capital in order to continue to express itself. Proof of this are the latest works by Kurosawa, Dersu Uzala (1975), Kagemusha (1980), Ran (1985) and Dreams (Dreams, 1990), co-produced with Soviet, French and American funding (with Hachigatsu no rapusodi, Rapsodia in August, Kurosawa has nevertheless returned to personally engage in production).