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Who's Who in Japanese Silent Films
Kanjuro Arashi (1903-1980)
Affectionately known as "Arakan," Arashi was a star who played mainly heroic roles throughout his career and gained the overwhelming support of theater-going children from movies such as Kuramatengu and Umontorimonocho.
Arashi joined Makino Film Productions in 1927 after working with Kansai Kabuki and debuted under the name Saburo Arashinaga in Kuramatenguibun - Kakubeijishi. He flashed his sword with panache and moved about the screen with such smoothness and speed that he soon became a star. In 1928, he attempted to strike out on his own but immediately faltered. Three years later, he founded Arashi Kanjuro Productions. He went on to produce and star in the Kuramatengu and Umontorimonocho series for the rest of his life, a total of nearly 80 movies. One of his most famous movies is the 1932 Dakine no Nagadosu, directed by Sadao Yamanaka. In 1957, he caused a sensation with his portrayal of Emperor Meiji in Emperor Meiji and the Russo-Japanese War. In his later years, he remained active in movies and television.
Mansaku Itami (1900-1946)
Although he was originally interested in becoming a Western-style painter, Itami was encouraged by his close home-town friend and director of progressive films, Daisuke Ito, to start to write screenplays. When Chiezo Kataoka founded an independent film production company in 1928, Itami joined on as screenplay writer and assistant director, and wrote the screenplay to the first movie directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, Tenkataiheiki. He later debuted as a director with a movie for which he provided the scenario called Adauchiruten. Itami has left behind about 35 scenarios, 22 of which he directed himself. Each of these works is a masterpiece infused with his inimitable humor and wit and full of spirit. Especially remarkable among these is 1932's Kokushi Muso, a masterful comedy replete with biting satire and nonsense, and the 1936 talkie, Kakita Akanishi, in which humor is alternated skillfully with suspense. In 1937, Itami co-directed the Japanese-German collaboration, The New Earth, with the German director, Arnold Frank. Sadly, due to health reasons he was forced to cut his directing career short at a relatively young age after directing his last film, Kyojinden, in 1938, and died eight years later. His son, Juzo Itami, is also a well-known director.
Denjiro Okochi (1898-1962)
Popular for his idiosyncratic characters and powerful performances, he was a period film superstar on the same level as Tsumasaburo Bando.
Okochi joined the No. 2 New National Theater in pursuit of a career as a playwright, but soon after became an actor. In 1925, he made his first acting appearance under the stage name "Shiro Muromachi," but did not gain the spotlight until the following year when he joined Nikkatsu and changed his stage name to Denjiro Okochi. There, he caught the attention of director Daisuke Ito and played the lead in Chokon, which brought him his first taste of popularity. In 1927, he collaborated with director Ito and cinematographer Hiromitsu Karasawa to produce the three-part Diary of Chuji's Travels, which became one of the masterpieces of Japanese film and cemented Okochi's status as a movie star. He went on to star in a succession of hits, including Blood Splattered at Takadanobaba, Ooka's Trial (both made in 1928), and Jirokichi the Rat (1931). Okochi continued to perform in starring roles even after the introduction of talkies, for example in the Tange Sazen series.
Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963)
Ozu joined Shochiku Kamata Studios in 1923. After working as an assistant cameraman, he became an assistant director and was apprenticed to director Tadasu Okubo. In 1927, he was promoted to the position of director in the Period Film Department. There, he met screenwriter Takago Noda, with whom he would form a lifelong collaboration. Their first film together was Zange no Yaiba. Ozu then proceeded to break new ground by depicting ordinary people with an uncompromising and original style which helped establish realism in Japanese film, as well as introducing new techniques such as fixed low-angle shooting and the use of cuts throughout the entire film to connect scenes. These techniques were widely acclaimed as "Ozu Art" and the director soon came to be cherished as a treasure of the Japanese film community.
Three Ozu films -- I was Born, But... (1932), Dekigokoro (1933), and A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) -- captured the prestigious #1 ranking of the Kinema Report in three consecutive years. Ozu was also an ardent admirer of Ernst Lubich and his 1937 Shukujo wa Nani wo Wasureta ka is considered the Japanese film that most closely emulates the Lubich style. In 1953, Ozu won England's Sutherland Cup for Tokyo Story. Ozu passed away on 12 December, 1963, on his 60th birthday.
Matsunosuke Onoe (1875-1926)
The first superstar in Japanese motion picture history. Discovered by director Makino Shozo working in an itinerant kabuki troupe, he made his movie debut in Tadanobu Goban in 1909. Subsequently, in addition to playing role after role of heroes and chivalrous men in many plays and narratives, he played the main character in nearly all of the dramatizations of stories published by then-best-selling publisher, Tachikawa Bunko. Matsunotsuke helped pioneer the Ninja movie genre. His large eyes earned him the affectionate nickname "Medama no Matchan (literally, "Eyeballs Matsu"). He enjoyed immense popularity among children, who played Ninja games in imitation of his movies. It is said that he made a thousand movies over the course of his career, and in his most prolific period made over 80 films a year. However, only Chushingura (Loyal Forty-seven Ronin) (1910), Goketsujiraiya (1921) and Bangoro Shibukawa (1922) remain extant. In 1926, Matsunosuke Onoe collapsed on the set of Kyokotsu Mikajiki and died of heart disease on September 11 of that year.
Norimasa Kaeriyama (1893-1964)
Kaeriyama is known as the first person to instigate reform in Japanese film. After stints as a columnist for the magazines Motion Picture World and Kinema Record, in 1917 he published a paper called "The Creation of Motion Picture Drama and Shooting Methods" and established himself as a movie journalist. The same year, he joined the Import Department of Tenkatsu Pictures. There, he convinced management to allow him to try some experimental movie production methods in order to produce works that could be exported overseas. The movie Nama no Kagayaki was the result of these efforts. Kaeriyama introduced radical new ideas into Japanese films through his creation of scenarios, utilization of female actors, and incorporation of "spoken titles" which facilitated understanding of the story without the need for benshi. Kaeriyama later continued to make ambitious self-produced pictures under the name of the Movie Art Association, but these films, including Miyama no Otome, Gen'ei no Onna, and Shiragiku Monogatari, were lacking in entertainment value. The last films he made as a director were educational films, and his output came to only 15 films made through 1924. Kaeriyama's final years were also difficult. He died on 8 November, 1964.
Chiezo Kataoka (1903-1982)
Kataoka was a cheerful and handsome star who became one of the top period film actors of his day in a career that spanned over 50 years.
He started out as a child kabuki actor who then switched to movie acting. Although he acted under the name Susumu Ueki in his first movie, Sanshoku Sumire (1923), his major debut came in 1927 after he entered Makino Film Productions. In 1928, he broke with Makino Film Productions to form his own production company and secured the services of excellent personnel who had already worked with legendary directors Hiroshi Inagaki and Mansaku Itami. With this talented staff, he produced a series of highly artistic period films which were lyrically expressive and sarcastic. Among them are The Wandering Gambler (1928), Mabuta no Haha (1931), and Kokushi Muso (1932). These films ushered in a new phase of period films, which until that time had been largely centered around swordplay.
Sumiko Kurishima (1902-1987)
As the first female Japanese film star, Kurishima's pioneering contributions to Japanese film cannot be overlooked.
In 1921, she joined Shochiku Kamata Studios and debuted in Henry Kotani's Field Poppy. Her 1923 Song of the Boatman became a big hit and she was dubbed the "Queen of Kamata." She eventually married longtime leading man Yoshinobu Ikeda. In 1935, she starred in Ei'en no Ai, a film released in commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the founding of Kamata Studios, and retired shortly after, leaving the film world while still a superstar. Later, apart from being called out of retirement a few times for special film appearances, she devoted herself to dancing and became very active as head of the Mizuki school of dance, which has tens of thousands of disciples across Japan. Two extant though incomplete versions of her films are Cuckoo, The Human Being (1922) and Hatachi no Koro (1924).
Torajiro Saito (1905-1982)
Saito came into contact with movies through working on a motion picture theater observation team as a member of the promotion department of a pharmaceuticals company. In 1922, he joined Shochiku Kamata Studios and became an assistant director to director Tadasu Okubo. Yasujiro Ozu joined the studio one year after Saito. It is said that the two often worked together to shoot their own material rather than work with Okubo, who was a drinker and a slacker. The first movie officially directed by Saito was Kogoro Katsura and Ikumatsu in 1926. Before long, he developed a special talent for short-length comedy films and soon became a master comedy director. His 1935 Kono Ko Sutezareba was selected as #7 of the Kinejun Top Ten. This was an extraordinary accomplishment for a short-length comedy running a total of only four reels. After moving to Toho Productions in 1937, Saito starting making full-length comedies starring popular comedians, including Enoken no Hokaibo and Roppa no Otosan. He continued to devote himself to directing comedies until he developed gall bladder problems in 1962. Saito died of cirrhosis on 1 May, 1982, leaving behind a body of work of about 250 films.
Shozo Makino (1878-1929)
Called the "father of Japanese film," Makino was a director during the pioneer days of Japanese film, and was also a producer and executive. Makino's mother operated a theater, and his association with movies began when the motion picture fan Naganosuke Yokota requested his services for shooting a drama. Shozo had an eye for talent and discovered Matsunosuke Onoe working in an itinerant kabuki troupe. He enlisted Onoe and made him into Japan filmdom's first star, directing 60 to 80 Matsunosuke films a year. In addition to creating the unique genre of the Japanese period film, he applied trick camera techniques and a myriad of other cinematic methods of expression. In 1919, he started the Mikado Company and began to produce educational films. He founded an independent production company, Makino Film Productions, in 1923, where he continued his work as a director and also displayed his talents as a producer. Makino Film Productions turned out numerous outstanding movies made by excellent directors and actors. In 1928, he directed the epic, True Record of the Forty-seven Ronin, released on the occasion of his 50th birthday. In 1929, Makino dead of heart failure. Makino also directed the 1928 Raiden, which was released posthumously.
Masahiro Makino (1908-1993)
The eldest son of Shozo Makino was completely dedicated to making movies, directing over 260 films during his lifetime, mostly movies for entertainment.

Under the tutelage of his father, Masahiro was first an actor, appearing in his first film at the tender age of 3, and starred with eventual director Tomu Uchida in Kusu Kichiko, Sakurai no Ketsubetsu (1921). After graduating from school in 1925, he officially joined Makino Film Productions as an actor/assistant director. His debut as a director was Aoi Me no Ningyo (1926). He then teamed up with screenplay writer Itaro Sanjo and cinematographer Minoru Niki to create Roninkai - Daiichiwa Utkushiki Emono (1928) and Kubi no Za (1929), which won consecutive #1 rankings in the movie Top Ten. Each of these period films produced by the "Young Makino Trio" while Makino was still in his early twenties was revolutionary and caused a sensation. After father Shozo's death, Makino Film Productions went bankrupt and Makino joined Nikkatsu, where he worked on period films starring Tsumasaburo Bando and Chiezo Kataoka. After World War II, he made many movies with chivalrous themes at Toho and Toei studios. In 1993, he died from chronic breathing difficulties.

Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956)
Mizoguchi studied with Western-style painter Kiyoteru Kuroda and hoped to become a designer. However, he soon abandoned these plans and joined Nikkatsu Mukojima Studio in 1920 thanks to a friend's introduction. He was raised to the position of director in 1923 and directed his first film, Ai ni Yomigaeru Hi. He finally gained public attention with his fifth movie, Haizan no Uta wa Kanashi. After directing Kyoren no Onna Shisho (1926) with screenplay writer and childhood friend Matsutaro Kawaguchi; Tokyo Koshinkyoku (1929), which had a hit theme song; the tendency film, Tokai Koshinkyoku (1929); and the experimental talkie, Furusato (1930), he directed The Water Magician in 1933 for Irie Productions. This masterpiece is a leading representative work of the silent film era, superbly depicting the three elements Mizoguchi was famous for: the ill-fated woman, emotions, and tragic love. After the advent of talkies, Mizoguchi collaborated with young screenwriter Yoshinori Yoda on two classic films, Naniwa Elegy (also known as Osaka Elegy) and Sisters of the Gion, both in 1936. The Life of Oharu (1952) and Ugetsu (1953) were also highly acclaimed abroad. The posthumous Red-Light District (1956) was released after his death from leukemia. Mizoguchi was the perhaps the Japanese director most skillful at depicting women.
Sadao Yamanaka (1909-1938)
Yamanaka directed scores of great films but only a few remain in existence today. For this reason, he is known as the "Phantom Genius of Film." Indeed, not one of the silent movies he has directed remains today in its entirety. With the help of his elder schoolmate, Masaharu Makino, Yamanaka entered the Script Department of Makino Film Productions in 1927. However, since his real ambition was to enter the Directing Department, the next year he moved to Arashi Kanjuro Productions as screenplay staff/assistant director. Yamanaka first gained attention as a screenwriter with his original screenplay for Raishin no Ketsuen (1929). After Arashi Kanjuro Productions went bankrupt, he continued working with the same staff and went on to write the screenplay for Umontorimonocho Rokuban Tegara (1930) and other films. His directorial debut, 1932's Dakine no Nagadosu, entered the Top Ten soon after release. Between 1932 and 1937, he directed no less than eight films which entered the Top Ten. His last film was Humanity and Paper Balloons in 1937. Yamanaka died from a disease contracted at the front during the war against China on 17 September 1938 at the young age of 29.

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