Lauded overseas, Japanese movies should be protected as cultural assets

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe films produced by Japan over the years enjoy a strong international reputation. It is important to carefully hand them down to future generations as cultural assets, while also making efforts to utilize them.

The National Film Archive of Japan (NFAJ), a center located in Tokyo’s Kyobashi area for collecting and preserving motion picture films and other pertinent materials, was established this month. The archive was set up after the National Film Center, a division of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, became an independent institution. The NFAJ is the sixth national art museum in Japan.

The main pillar of the NFAJ’s activities is to operate a film library, an undertaking carried out by its predecessor ever since 1952. About 3,000 films have been collected through donations and purchases each year. The archive’s collection boasts about 80,000 movies, mainly Japanese films.

Japanese movies have shone their unique brilliance in the world. They range from great works produced by such directors as Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi, both of whom were celebrated at international film festivals, to animations produced in recent years.

Compared with European nations, however, Japan has been late in starting efforts to preserve its movies. Many Japanese prewar movies remain scattered and lost. This is even true of those directed by Yasujiro Ozu, who has many fans around the world. Seventeen of his prewar works are missing, including “Ojosan” (Young Miss).

The film center’s new independent status seems to be aimed at increasing its ability to support itself and strengthen its functions. Greater efforts should be made to promote movie-collecting activities. The NFAJ should also strive to disseminate information necessary to give the public a renewed awareness of the value of Japanese movies.

Promote screening of films

The value of movies as a cultural asset is being acknowledged again. In 2009, “Momijigari,” a movie produced in 1899 and part of the NFAJ’s collection, was designated as an important cultural asset by the government, marking the first time that a film had ever been given such a designation. The film depicts a kabuki play.

Movies are all the more highly valued when they are seen by many people. Greater ingenuity should be exerted to work out plans for screening films at the NFAJ.

What kind of ideas led to the filming of each great work? If you enjoy watching movies, you may be able to perceive what the famous industry figures of the past intended to accomplish by producing them. The creators who will lead the next generation may be greatly inspired by these movies.

Digital production is the mainstream of dramatic filmmaking in recent years. How to build a system for collecting and preserving them is a longstanding issue. It is necessary to adapt the system to changes in the standards used for data and equipment.

Another task is to secure a sufficient number of personnel for pre-inspecting donated films.

The government has cited the promotion of cinema as a pillar of its “Cool Japan” strategy. Efforts to utilize movies as soft power, such as showing films from the NFAJ’s collection overseas, will be an effective method for improving Japan’s image.

The archive should be involved in events both at home and abroad to promote a broader understanding about its activities. Doing so will expand the scope of assistance for collecting movies and raising funds.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2018)Speech


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