Kabuki documentary by Yasujiro Ozu remastered in 4K

© Shochiku Co.
Director Yasujiro Ozu

The only documentary ever made by renowned film director Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) has been digitally remastered in ultrahigh-definition 4K.

Titled “Kagamijishi” (The Lion Dance), the film was also the first talkie directed by Ozu, known for such masterpieces as “Tokyo Monogatari” (Tokyo Story). However, the 24-minute black-and-white film was not released to the Japanese public after it was made in the 1930s, as it was meant to introduce Japanese culture abroad.

The documentary is likely to be a valuable resource for both film and kabuki fans.

“Kagamijishi” features highlights from the kabuki dance drama “Shunkyo Kagamijishi” (The Mirror Lion, A Spring Entertainment). Famous actor Onoe Kikugoro VI (1885-1949) plays the spirit of a mythical creature called a shishi.

Courtesy of Shochiku Otani Library
A scene from “Kagamijishi” (The Lion Dance)

 Filmed at the Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo in 1935, the documentary features the low-angle shots Ozu was known for, as well as the vivid images and sounds of the hayashikata musicians and the bravura performance of Onoe Kikugoro VI.

The beginning of the film also includes footage of Onoe Kikugoro VI backstage that was shot later in 1936.

Ozu’s first non-documentary talkie was “Hitori Musuko” (The Only Son), released in 1936.

The Shochiku Otani Library in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, a library that specializes in stage plays and films, raised ¥4.5 million through crowdfunding to preserve “Kagamijishi” for future generations. The 4K digital restoration was created from a reedited version of the film from 1950.

“[Kagamijishi] is very famous, but it hasn’t been readily accessible to the general public or researchers. I hope its value as visual content will be appreciated again and utilized,” said Prof. Ryuichi Kodama of Waseda University, who specializes in classical performing arts.

“I also hope this initiative will reawaken people’s interest in preserving prewar documentary films,” Kodama added.

 This year marks the 120th anniversary of Ozu’s birth, and the library is considering presenting the film in various ways, including screening “Kagamijishi” in Japan and abroad, and airing it on TV.