chapter  49
Japanese History as Film, Japanese Film as History
Pages 13

LONG BEFORE the making of the first Japanese film in 1899, the re-enactment of historical incidents was a powerful and persistent element in traditional forms of Japanese theatre. In the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries events from medieval and modern times inspired the writing of puppet plays (bunraku) and Kabuki dramas. Thus, it was hardly surprising that, in the first years of the twentieth century, Japanese film makers filmed Kabuki dramas, and ‘period films’ (jidaigeki) became one of the major genres of the Japanese cinema. In the years between 1908 and 1945 over 5000 ‘period films’ were produced and they commonly constituted 40 per cent of Japanese proiuction. Many early ‘period films’ were theatrical rather than historical, and attracted cinema goers by their frequent depiction of samurai sword fighting (chambara). But despite their theatricality, many of the episodes which were frequently filmed, such as the vendetta of the 47 loyal retainers (Ch shingura), were based upon welldocumented events in earlier centuries.