Ā@After the successful public presentation of the Cinématographe, in
the following year of 1896 Auguste Lumiére showed his epoch-making invention
to a former fellow student at a polytechnic school in Lyon, whom he had
studied with in 1878. His name was Inabata Katsutaro, from Kyoto, Japan.
Inabata had been sent to France by a spinning company based in Kyoto. He
felt something more than commercial interest in this new optical equipment.
Inabata decided to make a large investment in bringing the Cinématographe
to Japan, and bought two of them, some films, and performing rights from
Lumiér e & Co. He came back to Japan in 1897 accompanied by Constant
Girel, a projectionist and photographic engineer employed by Lumiére &
Ā@ "... I believed that this would be the most appropriate device for introducing contemporary Western culture to our country, and so I asked the doctor for a monopoly right in Japan, and came back with one engineer and a few pieces of equipment. " (A letter from Inabata to Tanaka Jun-ichiro, Dec. 27, 1924)
Ā@On arriving in Japan at the port of Kobe, Inabata immediately began
to experiment with the equipment. However it was a period with no facilities
or even knowledge of projection. Electric power had just begun to be used
in Japan (Kyoto was one of the cities in Japan where wiring was done relatively
early), and numerous difficulties had to be overcome. A transformer was
devised with assistance from Mr Hasegawa, an engineer at Kyoto Dento Kabushiki
Gaisha Company, and the Shimadzu Corporation. The experiment is said to
have lasted for a week towards the end of snowy January, at a site somewhere
in the property of the Kyoto Dento Kabushiki Gaisha.
Ā@The conventional account of cinema history holds that after the successful
initial experiments with projection, Inabata, together with Miki Fukusuke
and Okuda Benjiro, held the first paid exhibition of what was then called
"jido shashin" (moving pictures) at the Nanchi Embujo Theater
in Osaka on February 15, 1897. This date marks the birth of cinema in Japan.
According to this view, if world cinema was born when Lumiére first introduc
ed the Cinématographe to a paying public, then cinema in Japan also began
wi th the first introduction of the Cinématographe to the general public.
Howev er, just as preferences of films differ according to the individual,
views about when cinema began in Japan also differ individually, if we regard
the matter more closely. For example, even before the arrival of the Cinématogr
aphe, Edison's Kinetoscope had already come to Japan. Since this was a motion
picture viewing device for individual use through a peep-hole, it falls
short of being called cinema, if by "cinema" we mean the current
experience of a number of people sharing the same moving pictures on a screen.
Nonetheless there are some who hold that the history of Japanese cinema
began with Edison's Kinetoscope and its first exhibition at the Kobe Shinkou
Club on November 25, 1896. Kobe's designation, in 1963, of December 1 as
"Cinema Day", in commemoration of this event, is testament to
the strong feeling Kobe people may have in this matter.
Ā@In any event, there is no question that the first film businessman was Inabata Katsutaro. However, as a young elite in the spinning industry, he did not regard his cinema enterprise as his main work and was confronted by numerous obstacles. Eventually he handed over all the performing rights, equipment and films to the Yokota brothers, Masunosuke and Einosuke. Yokota Masunosuke and Inabata had been students together in France. Masunosuke soon left the business but his brother Einosuke remained and was to rule the Japanese cinema world for a some time to come.
Ā@Inabata was also the first man to be involved in the shooting of films.
Girel, whom he brought from France, played a very active role. At the Lumiéres'
request, he took numerous shots of Japanese scenery and everyd ay life.
The first man to record Japan on films has been accused in many books of
being a failure as an technican, and that most of the footage he shot was
poor. However, thanks to research by the culture section of Yomiuri Shinbun,
it has been confirmed that his shots were in fact quite good. For example,
films showing the Inabata family at the dinner table and Ainus in Hokkaido
had been considered the works of Gabriel Veyre, a Lumiére cameraman, but
it was discovered some hundred years after the fact, that they were actually
Ā@Yokota Einosuke, who inherited the performing rights of the Cinématogra phe from Inabata Katsutaro, formed with his relatives approximately ten teams consisting each of ten or so members, and set them on nation-wide tours. These tours started in Asakusa and from there went to Hokkaido, Tohoku, Hokuriku, and so on, almost without a break. At the beginning, Yokota imported the newest films from the Lumiére & Co. and the Pathe Co., b ut in 1901 set up Yokota Brothers & Co. (later to become Yokota & Co.) and gradually began to produce documentary films depicting the Russo-Japanese War and other original films.
Ā@In 1907 a meeting took place that was to determine the direction of Japanese cinema. Yokota discovered a young theater director of the Senbon-za Theatre, Makino Shozo, and entrusted him with film making. The first product, Honnohji-Kassen, was released for public viewing, and film production in Kyoto started on a full scale. In 1907, Onoe Matunosuke, who had been invited by Makino to act, made his debut in Goban Tadanobu, Genji-no-Ishidue, and created the nation-wide "Big-eyed Matchan" sensation. Thus was founded the Japanese star system. Onoe played every role imaginable in ninja, kodan, kabuki, and rokyoku movies. Thanks also to special effects techniques devised by Makino (such as a sudden disappearance from the screen), Onoe enjoyed long-lasting stardom.
Ā@In 1910, a simple studio ("Nijo Castle Studio") was set up
on borrowed land facing the south-west corner of Nijo Castle. Studio shooting
began to be used in addition to shooting on location, the first product
being Chushingura. It is not clear how often this studio was used before
it was closed two years later. Nonethess it has the historical significance
of being the first studio in Kyoto (and the second studio in Japan after
Yoshizawa & Co.'s Meguro Studio Tokyo). A new studio was constructed
on a borrowed land at Ichi-jo doori, Tenjin-suji in 1912. It was known as
"Yokota & Co. Hokke-do Studio". In the first year of Taisho
era, four big companies in the film industry, Yoshizawa &Co, M-Pathe,
Hukuhou-do and Yokota & Co. merged, and Nihon Katsudo Film, Inc., commonly
known as Nikkatsu, was born. Though leading figures of the business world
initially entered their names on the board of directors, they were shocked
by the practices of the entertainment world and later withdrew them. Yokota
soon came to hold real power over the company.
Ā@Hokke-do Studio turned into Nikkatsu Kansai Studio, and the mass-production
of Matsunosuke films continued in Kyoto. Actors performed as if they were
on stage, and they were shot by fixed cameras. There were no scripts. Actors
changed their costumes, and shot a different film at the same location.
It was in this manner that more than incredible 400 Matsunosuke movies were
made before the studio was closed six years later. At its peak, the studio
supplied as many as nine films a month.