Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Conversion to Talkies: Price of Technology

Projection room in 1931 (Loew's Valencia Theatre, Jamaica NY)
In the interview published in Jiji Shinpo, July 3, 1932, T.D. Cochran, the head of Paramount Tokyo Branch, condescendingly pointed out the miserable state of talkie in Japan. He recommended Japanese motion picture studios to quit developing their own "inferior technologies" and to use superior U.S. technologies instead. "It is true that Western-Electric system's license fee is expensive," he said. "But we have a discount for Japanese market at $200 per reel. You have to pay $500 per reel in New York." It's 60% off. It sounds terribly a good deal. But very few Japanese companies actually adapted the Western Electric system. Why?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Conversion to Talkies: Japanese Studios

The Poster for FURUSATO, the first Nikkatsu talkie feature directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

In the last post, I discussed about the overall transition from silent to talkies in 1930's Japanese cinema industry: number of theaters and total number of motion picture consumption. In this entry, let's look at the talkie transitions at individual motion picture studios. Data is from "Annual Report of Motion Picture Censorship".

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Conversion to Talkies

Talkie Production in Japan (1933)
You may wonder why Yasujiro Ozu was still shooting silent films well into 1936. It's true that he was one of the most hesitant to adapt to sound films, but the conversion from silents to talkies was very slow process in Japanese cinema industry anyway. It took almost a decade for all the theaters to be equipped with sound film projection. There were many reasons for this relatively slow process. Film projection narrators, Benshis, were integral part of silent film projection and had strong influence on motion picture business. They demanded the production companies to support and preserve their businesses and the art of film live narration. Backed by huge fan base, their voices echoed loud. At the same time, the economy was not in good shape. The waves of depression from the Wall Street were hitting hard on Japanese market since 1929. Even though motion picture business expanded its horizon for three decades, many theater owners were still on a shoestring, not being able to afford another expensive investment. The technologies from Hollywood were well beyond their means, while the domestic technology was still immature. They all loved to see talkies (most of the Hollywood films were talkies), but Japanese production and market was cautious and reluctant.
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