The History of Movies in Kyoto

August 6, 2018

Yu Sakamoto & Daiki Tabuchi

The Beginning of the Movie Industry in Kyoto

At the beginning of the 20th century, after the Meiji Restoration was over, people worked hard to make a new Japan. It was around this time that Kyoto became the first place in Japan to enjoy the surprising and exciting technology that created the modern entertainment medium of cinema.

On a snowy day in 1895, cinematography invented by the Lumière brothers was used for the first time by Kyoto Dento. It was shown on a screen in the courtyard on the company’s building. This was the first time these people had seen a movie. Today, in this spot, there is a signboard that marks this event and the beginning of the movie industry.

Uzumasa is a district in western Kyoto that was once called the “Hollywood of Japan.” During the height of Japanese filmmaking in the 50s, Kyoto was a bustling film center. This movie industry created a lot of economic vitality and developed into one of Kyoto’s major cultural sectors.

In the golden years of Japanese film from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, the Kiyamachi area was dotted with inns where screenwriters stayed and worked. The hotel where one of Japan’s top film directors, Masahiro Makino (1908-1993), regularly stayed was also here. The area was also known for the many bars where movie people hung out.

The Famous and Historical Movie Studios in Kyoto

Toei Studios, Kyoto

With an area of more than 66,000 square meters, Toei Studios is the biggest movie studio in Japan. In the 1950s to the early 1960s, Toei Studio film companies in Kyoto had to produce more than 60 films every year. The staff used Sundays and holidays, often working throughout the night on weekdays as well. The Kyoto studios were filled with energy. Everyone said that the workers of the Toei Studios were so busy that “no one was walking, they were always running.”

Shochiku Studio

Uzumasa, the capital of the movie industry, started producing new types of movie studios. Shochiku Studio is one of these famous movie studios in Kyoto and has a long history. It was created by Makino Takei in 1935. It has experienced a lot of ups and downs, even today. Most of the works shot here are very familiar, including TV dramas.

Famous Movie Shooting Methods of Akira Kurosawa in Kyoto

Today, many people all over the world watch movies for entertainment. People who watch movies are fascinated by many factors. In particular, the methods used for shooting movies is one of the most critical factors for making enjoyable experiences for moviegoers. It is no exaggeration to say that the evaluation of a film depends on the shooting methods.

Therefore, most film directors are particular about shooting methods and have their own specializations. Akira Kurosawa is the most famous director who shot movies in Kyoto using innovative and bold shooting methods, attracting a lot of attention from overseas. He has two renowned shooting methods.

First, his movies are famous for their bright backgrounds. It is said that his backgrounds sometimes stand out more than the actual people in the picture. This is because he used pan-focus shooting. Pan-focus shooting focuses on everything in the picture. When the camera focuses on the subject in front, the background becomes blurred. Today, this work is easy because all the work is done automatically by the camera. However, at that time, it was necessary to adjust all the lighting and focus. Therefore, pan-focus shooting required a lot of money, time and labor. But thanks to pan-focus shooting, he could shoot some great movies. Even now, many film directors and researchers praise his vivid backgrounds.

Multi-cam shooting method used by Kurosawa

Kurosawa was the first person to use this technique that has multiple telephoto lenses. Multi-cam shooting has the advantage of taking various angled cuts with one shot. However, it is a problematic shooting method when at the actual location of the filming. This is because the condition of lighting and background must be considered depending on the position of the camera. However, the scene shot in this method is very powerful. Today, many film directors use this method.

There are other famous shooting methods besides these. For example, Rashomon was filmed using mirrors instead of reflectors to take advantage of the natural light while directing the camera to the sun, which was considered taboo at that time. In the first scene, Kurosawa used hoses and water mixed with black ink to shoot a powerful image of rain in monochrome. This method was also used in the battle scene of The Seven Samurai.

As you can see, movies and Kyoto have had a deep connection from when the movie industry started in Kyoto. The beauty of Kyoto fascinated many film directors and people involved in movies. There are more than a few masterpieces that were born in Kyoto. If you visit Kyoto, visit not only major tourist attractions but also these fascinating movie spots too.

Movie Town Uzumasa – Japanese Hollywood

by Akira IKEDA

Uzumasa was once the center of the Japanese film industry and is sometimes called the “Hollywood of Japan”, because it has turned out many famous films, movie stars, and directors.
There were many big and small studios here during the golden age of Japanese cinema in the 1950’s.
Most of them have closed down, but Toei and Shochiku still have studios in the area.

The first studio in Uzumasa was Bando Tsumasaburo Production. which move there from Nara in 1926.
Tsumasaburo Bando was one of the most famous Japanese movie stars at the time. He appeared in period dramas, and talkies. He played characters that showed Japanese ninkyo. As the prince of Japanese period dramas, Bando was called “Kengeki-Oh”,”the King of Sword Dramas”.

He was also the first actor to initiate independent movie production company.
After his studio was established, many other studios were built one after another in this area.
Many production companies, such as Makino, Nikkatsu, Daiei, Shochiku, New Kinema, and Toei, moved to Uzumasa or repeated integration and acquisition.

However, as I have already mentioned, most of them went out of the business. For example, where the Daiei studio was once located there is now a junior high school .

Toei still operates the studio and theme park, Eiga-Mura (Kyoto Studio Park Uzumasa).
Period draams, such as Mito-Komon, Toyama-no-Kin-san, and so on, are still loved by many people. They were made into a new series by Toei.

You can look around many Edo-period sets, or dress up as samurai, ninja or geisha. You can take a photo of yourself in one of these costumes.

And if you are lucky, you might see a film being shot at the studio.

So, Uzumasa was once the center of the Japanese movie industry, is still called by some, the “Hollywood of Japan”.