Filming Life

Determined to capture real society, the filmmakers in this section trained their cameras on people’s intimate daily lives, traditionally regarded as being unworthy of film. The four films here portray people in harsh circumstances, afflicted by troubles to do with housing, healthcare and child-raising, but also point to potential solutions: a socially-minded approach to filmmaking that gained steady traction during the postwar era.

Housing Problems

UK / 1935 / English / B&W / 35mm / 15 min

Directors, Producers: Arthur Elton, Edgar H. Anstey
Photography: John Taylor
Sound: York Scarlett
Production Assistant: Ruby Grierson
Sponsor: British Commercial Gas Association
Source: BFI National Archive

An unflinching exposé of the myriad poor conditions of London’s slums, Housing Problems also proposes residential development as a possible solution. A prototype of today’s conventional interview format is used, with residents expressing their opinions for the camera and microphone (though interestingly, the subjects received some training before filming). Elsewhere, building plans are explained with the aid of scale models, while in the final scene residents air their grievances to the accompaniment of images of back alleys teeming with life, from babies and animals to the elderly. Sensing a business opportunity in a potential gas usage surge with the spread of housing development, the British Commercial Gas Association financed the film.

Village Without a Doctor

(Isha no inai mura)

JAPAN / 1940 / Japanese / B&W / 35mm / 13 min

Director: Ito Sueo
Photography: Shirai Shigeru
Music: Hattori Tadashi
Production Company: Culture Films Department, Toho
Source: National Film Archive of Japan

Filmed in an Iwate mountain village far from any medical center or hospital, Village Without a Doctor introduces a traveling clinic’s activities while directly communicating the plight of its subjects. Footage of cutting-edge medical facilities in the cities is contrasted with that of patients in pre-modern farm houses, lending a clear narrative structure as the traveling clinic attempts to rescue the village from its misery. Towards the end of the film, close-ups of patients young and old are superimposed with subtitles arguing that a traveling clinic can never be enough, advocating instead for the necessity of clinics run by the villagers themselves. Director Ito Sueo was also involved in the filming of The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1946) shortly after the war.

Renovating Farm Houses

(Noson jutaku kaizen)

JAPAN / 1941 / Japanese / B&W / 16mm / 20 min *Postwar version

Director: Noda Shinkichi
Supervisor: (For the postwar version) Takeuchi Yoshitaro
Photography: Fukuda Saburo
Editing: Yamada Kozo
Production Company: Culture Films Department, Toho, (For the postwar version) Educational Film Makers’ Cooperative
Source: National Film Archive of Japan

Inspired by the farming house improvement movement led by ethnographer and architecture scholar Kon Wajiro (who also appears in the film), Renovating Farm Houses presents in minute detail the problems facing rural abodes in the Tohoku district, including concrete remedies to boot. Director Noda Shinkichi’s unique style is as evident here as in the string of films he made following the war: one particularly innovative scene uses an animated floor plan to reveal the detrimental effects housing design can have on the smooth flow of a housewife’s morning routine. The narration and ninety-second portions at the top and tail of the film are thought to have been postwar additions..

Record of a Nursery

(Aru hobo no kiroku)

JAPAN / 1941 / Japanese / B&W / 16mm / 35 min *Postwar Version

Director: Mizuki Soya
Story: Atsugi Taka
Photography: Hashimoto Tatsuo, Ryujin Takamasa
Music: Fukai Shiro
Producer: Omura Einosuke
Production Company: Geijutsu Eiga Sha
Source: National Film Archive of Japan

Record of a Nursery depicts one Tokyo-based nursery’s modern approach to childcare through the eyes of its nurses, with a naturalistic focus on the children themselves. According to scriptwriter Atsugi Taka, as the nurses became better acquainted with the crew, they became increasingly active participants, even collaborating in the staging of certain scenes. Director Mizuki Soya’s deft camerawork and synchronous recording capture the beauty of everyday life, finding poetry in such quotidian pleasures as planting flowerbeds, sing-songs, lunchtime and sports day. Nursery founder Omura Suzuko was married to Omura Einosuke, the president of the Geijutsu Eiga Sha (Art Film Production Company), which produced the film. Though originally six reels long (about sixty minutes), the shorter postwar version shown here is the only one that remains.

Post-Screening Talks

Land and Rail
Anastasia Fedorova (Associate Professor, National Research University Higher School of Economics [Russia])

The Pulse of the Workplace
Markus Nornes (Professor of Asian Cinema, University of Michigan)

Filming Life
Okada Hidenori (Curator, National Film Archive of Japan)