Films of Japan

Created on : October 19, 2023 09:46 | Last updated on : January 17, 2024 17:10


Japan's cinematic legacy is rich and varied, stemming from the country known as the Land of the Rising Sun. Japanese film encompasses a wide range of genres and styles, reflecting the nation's distinct cultural legacy and historical influences. Japanese cinema, which is highly regarded for its skill, deft storytelling, and unique aesthetics, frequently examines global themes from a complex cultural standpoint. Japanese cinema has had a profound influence on the world of film, from modern masterpieces to classics from renowned directors like Akira Kurosawa. These movies, which embrace both conventional narrative and avant-garde experimentation, provide an engrossing look at the intricacies of Japanese society, folklore, and human experiences. Films of Japan make a substantial contribution to the worldwide cinematic landscape by showcasing authentic, creative, and unmatched storytelling skills, whether they be samurai epics, animated marvels, or intimate family dramas.


The Films of Japan  has a history that spans more than 100 years. Film industry of Japan has one of the oldest and largest film industries in the world. As of 2021, it produced fourth largest number of Japanese feature films. In 2011, Japan produced 411 Japanese movies that earned 54.9% of a box office total of US$2.338 billion. Japanese films have been produced since 1897, when the first foreign cameramen arrived.

During the 1950s, a period dubbed the "Golden Age of Japanese cinema", the jidaigeki films of Akira Kurosawa as well as the Japanese science fiction films of Ishir? Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya gained Japanese cinema international praise and made these film directors universally renowned and highly influential. Some of the films of Japan of this period are now rated some of the greatest of all time like Tokyo Story (1953) ranked number three in Sight & Sound critics' list of the 100 greatest films of all time and also topped the 2012 Sight & Sound directors' poll of The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time, dethroning Citizen Kane, while Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) was voted the greatest foreign-language film of all time in BBC's 2018 poll of 209 critics in 43 countries. Japanese Films has won the Academy Award for the Best International Feature Film five times, more than any other Asian country.

Big Four Japanese film studios are Toho, Toei, Shochiku and Kadokawa, which are the only members of the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (MPPAJ). The annual Japan Academy Film Prize is hosted by the Nippon Academy Association is considered to be the Japanese equivalent of the Academy Awards.

History of Japanese Film

The kinetoscope, first shown commercially by Thomas Edison in the United States in 1894, was first shown in Japan in November 1896. The Vitascope and the Lumière Brothers' cinematograph were first presented in Japan in early 1897, by businessmen such as Inabata Katsutaro. Lumière cameramen were the first to shoot films in Japan. Moving pictures, however, were not an entirely new experience for the Japanese because of their rich tradition of pre-cinematic devices such as gent or the magic lantern. The first successful Japanese film in late 1897 showed sights in Tokyo.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Japan theatres hired benshi, storytellers who sat next to the screen and narrated silent films. They were descendants of kabuki dan storytellers, theater barkers and other forms of oral storytelling. Benshi could be accompanied by music like silent films from cinema of the West. With the advent of sound in the early 1930s, the benshi gradually declined.

In 1908, Sh?z? Makino, considered the pioneering director of motion pictures of Japan, began his influential career with Honn?ji gassen , produced for Yokota  Shinkai recruited Matsunosuke Onoe, a former kabuki actor, to star in his film productions. Onoe became Japan's first film star, appearing in over 1,000 films, mostly shorts, between 1909 and 1926. The pair pioneered the jidaigeki genre. Tokihiko Okada was a popular Japanese romantic lead of the same era.

The first Japanese film production studio was built in 1909 by the Yoshizawa Shoten company in Tokyo. The first female Japanese performer to appear in a film professionally was the dancer/actress Tokuko Nagai Takagi, who appeared in four shorts for the American-based Thanhouser Company between 1911 and 1914.

The 1923 earthquake, the bombing of Tokyo during World War II, and the natural effects of time and Japan's humidity on flammable and unstable nitrate film have resulted in a great dearth of surviving films from this period. Because of World War II and the weak economy, unemployment became widespread in Japan, and the Japanese film industry suffered.

During this period, when Japan was expanding its Empire, the Japanese government saw Japanese cinema as a propaganda tool to show the glory and invincibility of the Empire of Japan. Thus, many films of Japan from this period depict patriotic and militaristic themes. In 1942, Kajiro Yamamoto's film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya portrayed the attack on Pearl Harbor; the film made use of special effects directed by Eiji Tsuburaya, including a miniature scale model of Pearl Harbor itself.

The first Japanese film in color was Carmen Comes Home directed by Keisuke Kinoshita and released in 1951. The lead roles were played by Florence Marly and Robert Peyton. It featured the geisha Ichimaru in a short cameo. Suzuki Ikuzo's Tonichi Enterprises Company co-produced the film. Gate of Hell, a 1953 film by Teinosuke Kinugasa, was the first movie that filmed using Eastmancolor film, Gate of Hell was both Daiei's first color film and the first Japanese movie in color to be released outside Japan, receiving an Academy Honorary Award in 1954 for Best Costume Design by Sanzo Wada and an Honorary Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It also won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the first Japanese film to achieve that honour.

The year 1954 saw two of most influential Japanese films released. The first was the Kurosawa epic Seven Samurai, about a band of hired samurai who protect a helpless village from a rapacious gang of thieves. The same year, Kurosawa's friend and college Ishir? Honda directed the anti-nuclear monster-drama Godzilla, featuring award-winning effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. The latter film was first ever Japanese film to be given a wide release throughout the United States, where it was heavily re-edited, and featured new footage with actor Raymond Burr for its distribution in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!. Although it was edited for its Western release, Godzilla became an international icon of Japan and spawned an entire subgenre of kaiju films,as well as the longest-running film franchise in history. Also in 1954, another Kurosawa film, Ikiru was in competition at the 4th Berlin International Film Festival.

The huge level of activity of 1960s Japanese cinema also resulted in many classics. Akira Kurosawa directed the 1961 classic Yojimbo. Yasujir? Ozu made his final film, An Autumn Afternoon, in 1962. Mikio Naruse directed the wide screen melodrama When a Woman Ascends the Stairs in 1960.

The 1960s were the peak years of the Japanese New Wave movement, which began in the 1950s and continued through the early 1970s. Nagisa Oshima, Kaneto Shindo, Masahiro Shinoda, Susumu Hani and Shohei Imamura emerged as major filmmakers during the decade. Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth, Night and Fog in Japan and Death By Hanging, along with Shindo's Onibaba, Hani's Kanojo to kare and Imamura's The Insect Woman, became some of the better-known examples of Japanese New Wave filmmaking. Documentary films of Japan played a crucial role in the New Wave, as directors such as Hani, Kazuo Kuroki, Toshio Matsumoto, and Hiroshi Teshigahara moved from Japanese documentary into Japanese fiction film, while Japanese feature filmmakers like Oshima and Imamura also made documentaries.

Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes (1964) won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film Oscars. Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan (1965) also picked up the Special Jury Prize at Cannes and received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Bushido, Samurai Saga by Tadashi Imai won the Golden Bear at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival. Immortal Love by Keisuke Kinoshita and Twin Sisters of Kyoto and Portrait of Chieko, both by Noboru Nakamura, also received nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

The 1970s saw the cinema audience drop due to the spread of television. Total audience declined from 1.2 billion in 1960 to 0.2 billion in 1980. Japanese Film companies fought back in various ways, such as the bigger budget films of Kadokawa Pictures, or including increasingly sexual or violent content and language which could not be shown on television. The resulting pink film industry became the stepping stone for many young Japanese independent filmmakers. The seventies also saw the start of the "idol eiga", films starring young "idols", who would bring in audiences due to their fame and popularity.

The 1980s saw the decline of the major Japanese film studios and their associated chains of cinemas, with major studios Toho and Toei barely staying in business, Shochiku supported almost solely by the Otoko wa tsurai yo films, and Nikkatsu declining even further.


There are numerous animations produced and released all over the world every year. Anime, which is the Japanese term originating in Japan and especially means the animation films made in Japan.

The industry of anime has prospered substantially in Japan partly because the country has other Japanese pop cultures like as manga, video games and light novels. Some popular anime are adaptations of manga, video games, light novels and other media. And, anime has flourished worldwide so rapidly since anyone can access the Japanese animations with English dubs and subtitles.

Anime is hand-drawn and computer-generated animation originating from Japan. Outside Japan and in English, anime refers specifically to animation films produced in Japan. However, in Japan and in Japanese, anime describes all animated works, regardless of style or origin. Many works of animation with a similar style to Japanese animation are also produced outside Japan. Video games sometimes also feature segments and art styles that can be considered as "anime".

The Japanese anime industry consists of over 430 production companies, including major studios such as Studio Ghibli, Kyoto Animation, Sunrise, Bones, Ufotable, MAPPA, Wit Studio, CoMix Wave Films, Production I.G and Toei Animation. During the 1980s, anime rose in popularity, with new Japanese animated movies released every summer and winter, often based upon popular anime television series. Mamoru Oshii released his landmark Angel's Egg in 1985. Hayao Miyazaki adapted his manga series Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind into a feature film of the same name in 1984. Katsuhiro Otomo followed suit by adapting his own manga Akira into a feature film of the same name in 1988.

New Era of Japanese Film Industry

New Japanese directors who appeared in the 1980s include actor Juzo Itami, who directed his first film, The Funeral, in 1984, and achieved critical and box office success with Tampopo in 1985. Shinji S?mai, an artistically inclined populist Japanese director who made films like the youth-focused Typhoon Club, and the critically acclaimed Roman porno Love Hotel among others. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who would generate international attention beginning in the mid-1990s, made his initial debut with pink films and genre horror.

Japanese Mini theaters, a type of independent movie theatre of Japan characterized by a smaller size and seating capacity in comparison to larger movie theaters, gained popularity during the 1980s. Mini theaters helped bring independent and arthouse films from other countries, as well as films produced in Japan by unknown Japanese filmmakers, to Japanese audiences.


The 2020 Japanese epic disaster drama film Fukushima 50, released on 6 March 2020, directed by Setsur? Wakamatsu and written by Y?ichi Maekawa. The film is based on the book by Ryusho Kadota, titled On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi, and it is the first Japanese film to depict the disaster.

In early 2020, Japanese film and television industry was afflicted by COVID-19 pandemic, which was greatly suffered due to health requirements, citing gave the nation its worst day of film and television industry impacted by health crisis since the end of World War II, and also were forced to suspend filming in an effort to keep their respective cast and crews safe from the infection. From the first (of many) 'health lockdowns' until the end of September 2021, many Japanese studios were closed or reorganized to suit the legal requirements for spread prevention.

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