News and Opinion

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.

50 Greatest Films?

Sorry for being incommunicado for a while. I am now in Japan to spend a year writing a book on the history of Japanese film theory. Our job of packing up in Connecticut was a lot harder than we thought, in part because we were re-doing our roof at the same time, so I am still trying to get caught up on a backlog of work. To add to the burden, I am again teaching my Yale Summer Session course, entitled "Japanese Cinema and Culture," in Tokyo this summer. We started up on Monday, July 6, with 13 students, and our first week has been quite busy with visits to kabuki, the Film Center, and Asakusa. 

It may be a while before I write a long post, but I thought I should mention that Iain Scott of The One-Line Review has organized a poll of filmmakers, critics and others of the 50 greatest films. It's a rather eclectic group of people (for some reason, he asked me to participate), but the results are about what you'd expect. For Japanese movies, Kurosawa gets three films in the top 50, Ozu one, and Mizoguchi or anyone else none. In the 50 top directors, the big three of Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi are listed. He allowed people to pick up to 100 films, so my list features that many. It was thrown together in a very short time, in no particular order, and probably would be different if I did it today (best ten lists, which I've done a lot before in Japan, are rather mercurial), but it is a peculiar snapshot of my tastes at one moment. 

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