Land and Rail

Land is cleared and railways built, connecting local industry and life to the city. In addition to its role in national colonial policy, filming these activities was also a way of depicting the social transformation brought by modernization. This section includes a Soviet film whose lucid narrative style and bold use of montage made their impact felt globally, and a Japanese film made in Korea during the days of colonial rule.


USSR / 1929 / Silent / Russian Intertitles / B&W / 35mm / 74 min [18 fps]

Director: Victor Turin
Photography: Evgeny Slavinsky, Boris Frantsisson
Production Company: Vostok-Kino
Source: National Film Archive of Japan

A depiction on a magnificent scale of the building of the Turkestan-Siberia Railway, one of the Soviet Union’s grandest undertakings, and a true landmark of the silent documentary form. Having outlined the harsh realities of the region—the drought sweeping across Central Asia, a stagnant cotton industry, a reliance on camels for transporting goods—the film introduces a team of surveyors, before finally honing in on the railway’s construction as the solution to all these problems. One of the few Soviet films to be granted a theatrical release in Japan around 1930, it came to be often cited as an “ideal” film by those working within the world of bunka eiga. In Britain, its English intertitles were created by none other than John Grierson himself.



JAPAN / 1941 / Japanese / B&W / 35mm / 21 min *Partial Version

Director: Morii Teruo
Story: Honda Nobesaburo
Photography: Hashimoto Tatsuo
Sound: Mizuguchi Yasumi
Music: Shibuya Osamu
Production Company: Geijutsu Eiga Sha
Source: National Film Archive of Japan

Hakumo-sen was a colonial railway constructed under Japanese rule in what is now North Korea. The film sketches the lives of those who live alongside it, offering occasional glimpses of the passing seasons: poppy fields in full bloom and lumber production; journeys down the river by raft, and the delivery of food rations by gas vehicle; workers toiling to maneuver a train through a blizzard. Conspicuous jumps in the editing suggest that the existing version is incomplete (a 1941 advertisement describes it as a four-reel film—about forty minutes), while the film’s reference to the “Greater East Asian War” points to a release sometime after the breakout of the Pacific War.