Tokyo: ‘Town of Movies’ promotes Japan’s cinematic history

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The C Building at Trie Keio Chofu, a complex facility that includes a movie theater, in Chofu, is seen on March 29.

By Ayaka Higuchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer About 40 movie- and video-related companies are active in the city of Chofu, Tokyo, which was once known as “the Hollywood of the Orient.”

Clean water for use in film developing was one factor that made Chofu an ideal setting for the movie business, along with its riverbank shooting locations and convenience to central Tokyo.

The city is home to Nikkatsu Corp.’s Chofu studio and a similar facility run by Kadokawa Daiei Studio Co.

A monument shaped like a movie camera stands in a park near Keio Tamagawa Station on the Keio Sagamihara Line, marking the area as the birthplace of Chofu’s film industry. In 1933, the Tamagawa movie studio was established there by the now-defunct Nihon Eiga Kabushiki Gaisha. The facility exists as Kadokawa Daiei Studio today.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Masao Miyajima speaks about his memories of Chofu’s movie industry at a monument commemorating its history in Chofu on March 29.

  • Courtesy of Chofu’s Kyodo Hakubutsukan

    Former Chofu Mayor Kaichiro Honda

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

According to the city government, Kaichiro Honda, a cameraman at the predecessor of Nihon Eiga Kabushiki Gaisha, traveled from Kyoto to Chofu, hoping to set up a movie studio there. After conducting a water quality test in the wells in the city, he sent his firm a telegram to the effect that the water was clear there, concluding that Chofu is “perfect” for filming samurai movies and modern dramas.

Later, Honda became mayor of the city, serving from 1962 to 1978.

“Chofu had everything needed to film movies,” said Masao Miyajima, 76, who knows a great deal about Chofu’s movie-making history. His father was an actor at Daiei.

Miyajima cited three factors contributing to the prosperity of the city’s movie industry — clear water, landscapes with riverbanks and proximity to central Tokyo.

In those days, movies were produced using black-and-white film. This required a large amount of good-quality water for developing rolls of motion-picture film.

According to Tokyo Laboratory Ltd., each 800-meter roll of film must be soaked in developing solution. If the water used for a developing solution is impure, there will be specks on developed film. The film can also be damaged by dust in the solution.

Tokyo Laboratory was established in the city in 1955 as an entity jointly financed by Daiei and other film companies.

Since then, the film-processing laboratory has continued to use water drawn from underground to develop rolls of film.

“That proves Chofu’s water is very clean and good for film development,” said Toshifumi Shimizu, 50, head of the company’s sales department.

Meanwhile, banks along the Tamagawa river, which runs through the city’s southern part, were perfect as shooting places for samurai movies. The former Tamagawara Station, now Keio Tamagawa Station, was built in 1916. This connected the area to Shinjuku Station, providing good access to transportation. Many actors and actresses traveled between central Tokyo and Chofu for the shooting of samurai and other movies.

Chofu was called the “Hollywood of the Orient” in the 1950s. In those days, movies were filmed at three studios in the city — those owned by Nikkatsu and Daiei, as well as the Chuo eiga studio, a facility run by an independent production company. The city also attracted many corporations associated with the movie business.

“The film studios were called a ‘nightless city,’ as they were producing movies around the clock,” Shogo Sakurai, 87, a former Daiei managing director, said. “They had what it takes to produce everything needed, such as large sets and stage props.”

In 1958, the peak year for cinema attendance in Japan, 1.13 billion movie tickets were sold.

Daiei built a company apartment complex on a 23,500-square-meter site near its studio. Nicknamed “Daiei Village,” it housed more than 500 people, including employees and their family members.

“Around noon, actresses and others came back to the company apartments from the studio for lunch, and that was a really gorgeous scene,” said Miyajima, who spent his boyhood in the village.

However, the spread of television set off a decline in the movie industry.

In 2011, the only movie theater in the city closed. In September 2017, however, Trie Keio Chofu, a commercial complex that includes a movie theater, opened near Chofu Station. Now that a movie house has returned to Chofu, the municipal government and others are making renewed efforts to promote the city as a town of movies.

As part of a new cinema festival, an award has also been established to choose technically excellent movies through a vote by local citizens. In March, prize-winning movies were shown at Trie and elsewhere.

“There is no other town that possesses such historical cinematic resources. I hope to utilize this distinctive feature [of the city] to reinvigorate Chofu,” said Tomonori Saiki, 65, chief of the festival’s executive committee.Speech

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