Motion Pictures Day in Japan Date in the current year: December 1, 2024

Motion Pictures Day in Japan Motion Pictures Day, also translated as Movies Day or Japanese Cinema Day, is observed in Japan on December 1. It was created to celebrate the country’s film industry and commemorate the introduction of cinema to Japan in 1896.

The first motion picture screening device introduced to Japan was Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope. The Kinetoscope was not a movie projector allowing to screen films for an audience; the device was designed for films to be viewed by one person at a time through a peephole. The first public showing of a film in Japan took place in 1896 in Kobe. Showings in Osaka, Tokyo, and other Japanese cities soon followed.

In February 1897, Japanese entrepreneur Katsutaro Inabata brought the Lumière Brothers’ Cinématographe to Japan. Unlike the Kinetoscope, the Cinématographe worked as a motion picture projector. Due to this, the demonstration of the Cinématographe that took place at the Nanchi Enbujo Theater in Osaka on February 15, 1897 is generally regarded as the first commercial film screening in Japan.

Since the Cinématographe worked as both a projector and a film camera, the first films were soon shot in Japan. They were heavily influenced by traditional Japanese theater such as bunraku and kabuki, as well as by traditional Japanese storytelling. Among the first Japanese filmmakers were Shiro Asano, Tsunekuchi Shibata, and Shōzō Makino. In 1909, the Yoshizawa Shōten company set up the first Japanese film production studio in Tokyo.

Silent films were produced and screened in Japan well into the 1930s. Performers who provided live narration for such films were called benshi. Many benshi garnered great acclaim and were famous in their own right; in fact, the popularity and influence of benshi slowed down the adoption of sound films in Japan.

In the late 1930s, the government gained more control over the film industry and encouraged the production of documentary films and propaganda films reinforcing the importance of traditional Japanese values. The Japanese government continued to use cinema as a propaganda tool during World War II, putting an emphasis on militarist and patriotic themes. Following Japan’s defeat in the war, film production in Japan was overseen by the Civil Information and Education Division under the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.

The Allied occupation of Japan ended in 1952. The decade that followed is widely regarded as the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. Three Japanese films made in the 1950s, Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Seven Samurai and Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story, are regarded among the best films of all time. Rashomon even won an Academy Honorary Award as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the US in 1951.

On December 1, 1956, Japanese filmmakers and other stakeholders celebrated the 60th anniversary of the first film showing in Japan and set aside a day to celebrate Japanese cinema every year. Since then, Motion Pictures Day has been going strong. If you love Japanese cinema, celebrate the day by watching your favorite films by Japanese directors and introducing your friends to them.

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