Japan Archive Offers Free Access to Documentary Films Online

Photos courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan
A still from “Ryojun no kofuku (NFC version)” (1904-1905)

Japan’s historic silent films can now be viewed online for free through the National Film Archive of Japan.

Tokyo-based NFAJ recently launched a dedicated website, Film IS a Document: NFAJ Historic Film Portal, with 87 important cultural and documentary films made from 1904 to 1937 available. These films include those related to industries, education, the Imperial family and military affairs.

The NFAJ has had these films as part of its collection but has had limited opportunities to show them to the public.

With the dedicated website, established in collaboration with the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, the hope is that the films will be utilized for educational and research purposes.

The selection of films includes eight documentaries on the Russo-Japanese War. Among them is “Ryojun no kofuku (NFC version)” (1904-1905), based on “Port Arthur Siege and Surrender” (1905), which depicts soldiers walking with guns and horses carrying cargo.

The collection also includes films that showcase Japan’s thriving industries. In a 1926 film, then Meiji Seika Co. (now Meiji Co.) promotes its main goods, confectionery and dairy products, in “Kashi to nyuseihin.” It is considered to be a forerunner of modern commercials.

Additionally, there are films that feature a steel factory with smoke billowing from it as well as a silk mill where many women are seen working.

Moreover, the website features motion pictures that show Emperor Showa when he was the crown prince, such as one recording his visit to Ise Jingu and other places in 1924, the year of his marriage.

Photos courtesy of the National Film Archive of Japan
A still from “Togu dohi ryo denka jingu narabini sanryo gosanpai” (1924), a film featuring Emperor Showa when he was the crown prince paying visits to shrines with the crown princess to report his marriage.

The website https://filmisadocument.jp/  is currently only in Japanese.

The NFAJ has a collection of about 86,000 films and has launched other websites, including ones focusing on films related to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as well as Japan during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Among the collection, cultural and documentary films and newsreels number nearly 50,000 alone, and there are many important materials, according to the NFAJ.

“We’d like people to know that even in the era of silent films, there was footage that captured a wide range of people’s activities at that time,” said Akira Tochigi, an NFAJ researcher.