Adopting Hayashi Chojiro

This news has been out for a couple months, but I thought I should mention the most recent feat by the Film Preservation Society (Eiga Hozon Kyokai) in Japan: preservation work on a digest version of the 1929 silent film Sukeroku of the Black Hand Gang (Kurotegumi Sukeroku). You can see an English article here.

The Film Preservation Society is actually a non-profit organization (NPO) composed of mostly everyday volunteers who are interested in preserving the celluloid heritage. Beyond showing films and spreading awareness and knowledge about preservation, their most famous undertaking is the Film Adoption (Eiga no Satooya) project, which looks for individuals to fund the rescue of films that have not gotten attention so far. In a sense, it is aligned with the orphan film movement in that it is trying to save works that are outside the commercial mainstream or which have been abandoned because of their lack of commercial potential, but at least in this case, Sukeroku of the Black Hand Gang has an owner and the film is, as I will note below, not uncommercial. One of the Society's previous successes was the restoration of Saito Torajiro's masterful comedy short Modern Horror: 100000000 Yen (Modan kaidan 100000000-en, 1929). Given that not all efforts have been made to preserve the film heritage in Japan (a problem Markus Nornes and I touch on in our upcoming guide to film archives, libraries and research resources), these volunteer efforts are important. 

Sukeroku is a period film starring Hayashi Chojiro, who many now know as Hasegawa Kazuo, the star of such films as An Actor's Revenge (Yukinojo henge--he actually did several versions of this story). While it was directed by Fuyushima Taizo and Furuno Eiji, it was filmed at the Shochiku Shimokamo (sometimes Shimogamo) studio in Kyoto, which was where A Page of Madness was made. Kinugasa Teinosuke, after losing money on that film (and likely in debt to Shochiku), returned to commercial film production at that studio, serving in fact as a contractor for Shochiku making period films at a facility they were no longer using. It was there that he helped develop Hayashi as a star. By 1929, however, he had again taken leave of corporate film production to make Crossroads (Jujiro) and went off to Europe to show it. He would eventually return to make more Hayashi films.

The print of Sukeroku of the Black Hand Gang held by a private collector was actually a 16mm "Marvel Graph" version. In the days before home video, film companies would sell digest versions of famous films in smaller gauges (9.5mm and 16mm in the early years, 8mm later on). Given that for various reasons many of the full-length 35mm versions of Japanese prewar films have been lost, it is these digest versions that have given us a limited, yet still important glimpse at many important films. The Film Preservation Society is helping us do that.

One reason I mention this now is that the Shinjuku Musashinokan (which is actually where A Page of Madness opened in 1926, though the actual building is long since gone) will show Sukeroku of the Black Hand Gang in a morning show in May. 

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