Toho PCL Tour

It's the third week of my Yale Summer Session course and we did a tour of the Toho Studios in Setagaya again. It was a great privilege: they normally don't do such tours and I found out that Yale is about the only university they give this tour to. Great thanks are thus due to the people at Toho for helping with my course.

Last year we got to see the actual filming of Manatsu no Orion (the scene where they shoot debris and a body out the torpedo tube to fool the destroyer), and even were treated to a nice discussion with the art director Kaneda Katsumi inside the submarine set. (Many thanks to the producers of that film for allowing this.) Unfortunately, the producers of the film currently being shot on the main stages wouldn't allow us to see real shooting, but we got to see some of the sets for that film and some others on other stages. The students got a very good sense of what was involved in establishing a film environment.

On the tour, I was sad to hear that the number 1 and 2 stages at Toho are soon going to be torn down. These are actually the original sound stages constructed by PCL (Photo Chemical Laboratores) when that company was founded in 1932 (PCL later merged with other companies to form Toho in 1937). They were touted at the time as the most modern in Japan, and it was nice to hear from Toho that they are still much loved and much used (their sound proofing appears to be quite good). They still have the wooden platforms (called niju) hanging from the rafters, a unique remnant of Japanese studio technology (US studios hang lighting from metal rafters; Japanese studios, for a long time, hung them from these wooden platforms which themselves were suspended with ropes). Apparently, the buildings are not earthquake sound and are getting old in other ways. Toho is renovating much of the studio complex as part of their revitalization program (Stage 5 will go soon as well it seems), and thus a lot is being torn down or built anew. Stages 8 and 9, however, which were built in the 1950s and are the biggest in Japan (and the place where many of the great Toho films were made), are too necessary and will not be torn down anytime soon.

But it is sad to see Stages 1 and 2 go. Ideally, they should be designated cultural properties and preserved. It seems too much of the architecture of Japanese film history, from theaters to studios, is disappearing.

Here's a shot of the old building, with Stage 1 off to the left. 


This site has many more pictures of the Toho Studios.

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