colour silent films

Roland Domenig roland.domenig
Thu Oct 30 04:58:07 EST 2003

> Does anyone know to what extent this manual colouring process was practiced,
> if at all, in Japan, if any such films are still in existence, and if there
> are any sources available on the subject?

colouring was a common practice and it starts quite early. when yoshizawa
shoten presented their cinematographe for the first time in tokyo at the
kinkikan in kanda on march 26, 1897 they used hand coloured films. when the
films were shown at the minato-za in yokohama from march 9 on they were
still monochrome. in order to make their films more attractive for the
screening at the kinkikan, where the vitascope and cinematographe have
already been presented in the weeks before, osawa yoshinojo from yoshizawa
had the films coloured. yoshizawa was the leading company for magic lanterns
at that time and had a highly skilled staff for colouring magic lantern
slides. it was thus a natural step to use these skills for film colouring as
well. many of the early films, especially those distributed and later made
by yoshizawa, used colouring. tinting also became a common practice,
especially for shinpa films.

the first film using a colour processing method was YOSHITSUNE SENBON ZAKURA
from the newly established tenkatsu studio. tenkatsu, which is the
abbreviation of tennenshoku katsudo shashin (natural color moving picture
company), was established in march 1914 and introduced the kinemacolor
system of the british charles urban. tenkatsu switched to black and white
soon after, however, because shooting with colour film was much more
expensive than with b/w film. the outbreak of WW1 also caused a shortage of
film stock. 

little of these colour films has survived - as litte of the early film
production has survived in general. not all was destroyed during or before
WW2, however. some coloured films were lost in the 1950's when the museum of
modern art in tokyo (national film center) transferred nitrate films to
acetate film. often the inflammable original positive nitrate print was
abandoned after being transferred onto the acetate prints. according to
komatsu hiroshi most of the coloured positive prints which were restored up
until the 1960's were transferred onto black and white stock, because colour
film stock was very expensive at the time. for instance, from the originally
coloured print of the german expressionist film VON MORGEN BIS MITTERNACHT,
that was imported to japan in 1926 only a single coloured frame has
survived. someone must have cut it out for reference before the original
nitrate print was disposed in 1952 by the museum of modern art.

Roland Domenig
Institute or East Asian Studies
Vienna University  


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