Probing a Void in Documentary Film History:
The Rise and Fall oof the Nippon Eigasha Jakarata Studio

Okada Hidenori


On March 1, 1942, the 16th Army under Lieutenant General Imamura Hitoshi landed on the island of Java, and on March 9 forced the Dutch army to surrender. The filmmakers in the publicity unit accompanying the troops landing on the Merak coast were culture film (kulturfilm) director Ishimoto Tokichi, responsible for Geijutsu Eigasha masterpiece Snow Country (“Yukiguni,” 1939); cameraman Itoda Raiichi from Nikkatsu Tamagawa Studio; camera assistant Kikuchi Shu; and several others. While this story is by no means unique to Java, they formed a hybrid unit that made no distinctions between fiction and documentary filmmakers.

After following army orders to film the Dutch army’s surrender at Bandung, the film crew proceeded to Batavia (Jakarta), and immediately took over Multifilm Batavia, the studio-cum-film processing laboratory managed by the Dutchman J.C. Mol. Multifilm was a company that produced educational films in pre-war Holland, and Mol an expert recording engineer who had provided his own recording studio for the great French director René Clair’s early talkie Under the Roofs of Paris (“Sous les toits de Paris,” 1930). Mol had been a director of outstanding scientific films at Multifilm, where his work earned strong support from Joris Ivens’s cinema group Filmliga, before fleeing the German army for colonial Batavia because he was Jewish.

Multifilm Batavia, which he purchased from Dutch capital and established in 1940, fell into Japanese hands within just two years. The company had the latest equipment, such as the Akeley camera, equipped with sound recording functions, and the Debrie automatic developing machine. Russian exile I. W. Fedrov assisted Mol, and the Indonesian Tafsir managed the film developing equipment. According to Takaba Takashi, who soon joined the Japanese unit from the Timor battlefront, the Japanese staff were too embarrassed to show Mol the worn-out Eye-Mo and Le Parvo cameras they carried. They discovered raw film stock that had continued to be imported from the US at nearby the nearby port of Tanjung Priok, enabling them to replenish the stock that had fallen into the ocean during the landing. Ishimoto and others persuaded Mol, Fedrov and their staff to work together with them, and those who agreed were spared from the military camps. Ishimoto had been one of the leaders of production group Geijutsu Eigasha, which had debated Paul Rotha and done hands-on studies of British documentaries, so Kikuchi has raised the possibility that they trusted Ishimoto, a well-educated person who knew English and had a deep understanding of Western arts. They also held a screening of Mol’s science films in the studio, and Mol could hear evidence of Ishimoto’s deep appreciation for his works. Here occurred a meeting between two documentaries.


Members of publicity units from the Sumatra landing and places throughout the south soon converged in Jakarta. Famed cameraman Nagaoka Hiroyuki, a mainstay of the Shochiku Ofuna Studio, was also part of the Sumatra group. The Java publicity unit’s first news film was Ketika Hari Kelahiran J.M.M. Tenno-Heika di Tanah Djawa (“The Emperor’s Birthday in Java,” 1942), which filmed the streets of Bandung on the Emperor’s Birthday (April 29). This film was also released in Japan, making it the sole wartime work from Java to be preserved domestically (at the National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo). Another work from the publicity unit period is the film Jaesjio (“Double Tide,” 1942) featuring the theme song “Yaeshio,” which celebrates Japan and Indonesian “friendship.” Lieutenant-Colonel Machida Keiji, who was well known as a cultivated soldier, gives a speech at the beginning of the film, followed by one by Sukarno. Keio University professor Kurasawa Aiko suggests that Sukarno’s speech could be his first appearance after deciding to cooperate with Japan.

The publicity unit was an influential group that included cultural figures from every field, beginning with journalist Oya Soichi, as well as Abe Tomoji (writer), Takeda Rintaro (writer), Iida Nobuo (composer), Kono Takashi (artist), Kurata Bunjin (film director), Yokoyama Ryuichi (manga artist), and Ono Saseo (painter). When plans were made for a comprehensive propaganda strategy encompassing distribution and screening activities, the creation of a new organization specializing in films came to be viewed as a necessity. The result was Djawa Eiga Kosha, established on October 1, 1942. In addition to consolidating all production and distribution operations, the organization implemented a traveling screening unit for areas without movie theaters. Oya was installed as chairman and Ishimoto as production head, and Takaba Takashi supervised accounting, equipment management and actual operations. News films officially came to be called Djawa Baharoe, and this company produced eight installments until it was reorganized in March 1943.

Djawa Baharoe, which means “New Java,” is also known as the name of the propaganda magazine founded in January 1943. Already, cultural production was an issue of utmost importance for the occupation of Indonesia. As Kurasawa has indicated, this was because the Japanese army had overextended its frontlines, leaving the armed forces in control of this immense area understaffed. Here, the media of film, along with publishing and broadcasting, became critical. This kind of organized propaganda strategy did not occur in other areas occupied by Japan.


Djawa Eiga Kosha was dismantled on April 1, 1943, and Nippon Eigasha established a Jakarta studio (abbreviated below as “Nichiei Jakarta”) to take over production, with the Java branch of distribution company Eiga Haikyusha in charge of distribution. Thus, film activities in Java were formally linked with the mainland system. Nippon Eigasha, a major production company established in 1941, emerged from the 1940 merger of four large news film companies into Nippon News Eigasha, in line with Japan’s national policies. As a result, the plural trends in pre-war non-fiction media, namely newspapers and wire services, formed a colorful cohabitating “motley household.” Until Japan met defeat in August 1945, even documentary film history displayed a surge in activity particular to having received national support.

Established in the midst of the previously described propaganda strategy, Nichiei Jakarta stands out for its remarkably energetic production activities, even among the other overseas bases controlled by Nippon Eigasha’s foreign division. In the south, Manila also had a production base and produced work such as the New Philippines News, but Jakarta was the only place to create a streamlined operation from developing to editing, and there is also evidence that they undertook film developing and other work from locations throughout South-East Asia. Nippon News was sent from the Tokyo head office, and was used in their films. The Jakarta studio also sent films reporting on the south to the head office in Tokyo. Nichiei Jakarta cannot be ignored from the vantage point of personal relationships within film history as well, with figures such as production department head Ishimoto Tokichi; director and editor Ise Chonosuke, who made substantial contributions to postwar documentaries; and cameraman Kobayashi Yonesaku, who went on to earn international renown for his microscopic filming, involved in film-making activities. The meaning of “Jakarta” for Ise, Kobayashi and others has the potential to become an important research subject.

Djawa Baharoe was renamed Berita Film di Djawa at the same time as Nichiei Jakarta was established, and films had weekly public screenings, as a rule, with nineteen installments by December 1943. Themes centered around morale boosting and espionage prevention, but also emphasized hygienic living, sports festivals and depictions of life extending to Pasar Malam (a night market), and the atmosphere exuding from those films is even relaxed in comparison to the mainland Nippon News. During this period, Toho composer Iida Nobuo, a member of the publicity unit, was able to do extremely extravagant sound recordings with a good Dutch-trained orchestra. Artist Ono Saseo, who was captivated by Javanese culture, went so far as to publish a collection of locally drawn pictures. Unfortunately, the puppet-show film Toekang Ngobrol (“Talkative Old Mr. Kromo”, 1943), for which he designed puppets for Nichiei Jakarta, is no longer extant.

Berita Film di Djawa was renamed Nampo-Hodo (“Southern News”) in January 1944, and the production of cultural films began in earnest around this period. The Indonesian film department Persafi, which made fiction films, was assigned Nikkatsu Tamagawa Studio director Kurata Bunjin as chief, and produced works such as Berdjoang (Hope of the South) (1944) using Indonesian directors and actors. According to Shineasuto Huyung no “Showa” (“The ‘Showa’ of Cineaste Huyung,” Tokyo: Gaifusha, 1987) by Utsumi Aiko and Murai Yoshinori, at that time Kurata refused to work on projects directly related to the army like Calling Australia (“Goshu e no yobigoe,” 1944), which dealt with the treatment of Australian prisoners of war, devoting himself instead to the education of Indonesian filmmakers. While the same army division also ordered the production of blatant propaganda, the concerted efforts to transfer technology form a valuable point of contact between Japanese and Southeast Asian cinema history, and are also connected with the birth of postwar Indonesian cinema. The sound recording in the remaining films is excellent, providing a glimpse of the standards that Mol maintained.

Let’s take note of the Nichiei Jakarta staff as of April 1944. It is small scale, and can obviously be understood as being a single studio.

Nippon Eigasha Jakarta Studio staff list
(from the April 1, 1944 edition of Nihon Eiga, excluding local workers)

Chief: Yamazaki Shinichiro (joint appointment in Singapore)
Deputy Manager: Ishimoto Tokichi

General Affairs Department
Department Head: Nagano Shichiro
Department staff: Aoki Seiichi, Hirai Masao, Miwa Koichi, Watanabe Toshio

Planning Department
Department Head: Kobayashi Masaru (joint appointment in Singapore)
Department staff: Murase Toshikazu, Hashimoto Matao, Idogawa Wataru

Production Department
Department Head: Ishimoto Tokichi (joint appointment)
Direction: Ise Chonosuke , Tomatsu Naohiko, Kamisago Taizo
Camera: Kotani, [pronunciation of first name unclear] Kuribayashi Minoru, Kasama Hidetoshi, Mori Hiroshi, Sasahara Matsusaburo, Kobayashi Yonesaku, Furuya Shokichi, Asazuma Kinjiro
Film Developing: Hayashi Ryuji, Sasazaki Iwao
Sound: Masuda Masao
Electrical: Matsuyama Kotaro

Indonesia Film Department (Persafi)
Kurata Bunjin (commissioned from army), Kaneko Toshiharu, Imura Risuke

We must not forget that the unit’s sustained activity over the course of three years and five months, the importance placed on cultural production and the completeness of the facilities were all possible because Indonesia had become a “forgotten land” within the overall flow of the war. The superior Allied forces passed through Java toward the Japanese archipelago, and Jakarta made it to the end of the war without facing warfare. “The eyes of the enemy” was a frequent theme appearing in Nichiei Jakarta news films, and the unit made a cultural film called Taiteki kanshi (“Watching the Enemy,” 1944), but the “enemy” never appears in the film. According to Isshiki Yoshitada, a member of the Burma publicity unit, publicity unit members who returned to Japan even had a saying, “Java paradise, Burma hell.” Nampo-Hodo and numerous cultural films were produced without damage until 1945, and Mol saw Nichiei Jakarta through to the end. In what became the final edition, Nampo-Hodo no.43 Extra (August 1945), sound is missing from one section, in all likelihood because work was interrupted by Japan’s defeat. This film leaves a physical remnant of the rupture of history itself.

After the end of the war, the entire production organization was transferred to Berita Film Indonesia, which was headed by Raden Mas Sutarto, an Indonesian whose career as a cameraman straddled both the Multifilm and Nichiei Jakarta eras. In December they had no choice but to move the production organization to Yogyakarta in order to flee the returning Dutch army’s attack, and probably went on to fight in the four-year war for independence.

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