calling all KineJapan members for Abe collection news

ReelDrew at ReelDrew at
Thu May 19 19:35:24 EDT 2005

To all the members of the KineJapan group:

Many of you will remember that back in February, it was announced that the 
National Film Center in Tokyo was acquiring the film collection of the late 
Yoshishige Abe.  It was rumored that it consisted of up to 45,000 titles and that 
this might be the largest single find of Asian films, many of them silent and 
thought to be lost.  Reportedly, Abe and his father had acquired rare Korean 
films, including the celebrated 1926 silent, "Arirang," from the early period 
of Korean cinema which had been said to have completely vanished during the 
Korean War.  His collection was also said to include many long-lost Japanese 
silents such as missing Mizoguchi films.  However, others noted that Mr. Abe was 
reputed to be an eccentric and rather mysterious individual who would never 
show the films said to be in his vast collection but only a catalogue listing the 
films he claimed to have.  Consequently, there were a few skeptics who 
questioned whether the collection ever existed except in his imagination.  Because 
it would take a while to process all this, including transporting whatever 
films existed to the archive in Tokyo, it was understood that it might be several 
more months before there would be more definite information on the Abe 

Not long after this announcement, I began corresponding with a source in the 
Tokyo archive who, first of all, confirmed one thing--namely, that Abe really 
did have a collection of films although it was not yet known what works it 
included.  Subsequently, I learned from the source that the Tokyo archive was in 
close contact with the film archive in South Korea, a strong indication that 
they had now established the Abe collection did include rare Korean films from 
the missing 1923-1937 era--at least, that they had likely found "Arirang."  
Understandably, the film devotees in Korea were positively ecstatic at the 
prospect of their national film heritage finally being recovered.

Last week, the source informed me that on the Friday, May 13 that has just 
passed, the films in the Yoshishige Abe collection would arrive at the Tokyo 
archive and that the source, along with others in the National Film Center, would 
be present at this event.  The archivist told me, however, that the 
collection was not the 45,000 number initially given but was about 2,000 films.  That 
did not surprise me, as I had thought the earlier figure given was too large.  
More disconcerting, though, was the news that the films were mainly 16mm. 
prints and might not be so rare.  Since then, I have e-mailed the archival source 
concerning what the people present at the National Film Center on May 13 
observed.  I would think there might be markings on the cans of film indicating 
their titles or some other kind of information.  To date, however, I have 
received no reply from this or other sources.  Nor has anything appeared in the news 
or on this board concerning the Abe collection since the archive took charge 
of the films last week.

For this reason, I'm posting here to ask if any KineJapan members in Japan, 
including those with contacts in the National Film Center, might be able to 
provide  to me and other interested people here any new information they might 
have on the Yoshishige Abe collection.  It is, of course, entirely possible that 
Abe and his father, when they were collecting rare Korean and Japanese films 
in the 1950s and 1960s, copied them onto 16mm. and then discarded the original 
35mm. nitrate.  Although archivists have long since abandoned this approach, 
it was not uncommon for film preservationists around the world in those years 
to choose 16mm. as a preservation format and simply toss out the 35mm. 
nitrate.  On the other hand, it is also possible that Abe's collection largely 
consisted of 16mm. copies of the more familiar or standard American, European and 
Japanese silents and early sound films that can be found everywhere, with 
perhaps some of the rarer cut-down (for home use in the '20s and '30s) 9.5mm. and 
16mm. copies of Japanese silents that have turned up in a number of collections 
in recent years.  In this case, his collection would hardly be as remarkable 
as he liked to claim.  And in the case of Korea, it would be especially 
heartbreaking if the imminent prospect of finally recovering some of their early 
films has turned out to be a will o'the wisp.  Understandably, many people in the 
Japanese archival community might be a bit embarrassed if they were in a sense 
a victim of an elaborate hoax perpetrated by Mr. Abe--hence, the reason no 
information seems to have been forthcoming since last Friday.

Again, I would be very appreciative if any knowledgeable KineJapan members 
could make the proper inquiries and provide the information here regarding the 
precise nature of the Abe collection and whether it includes any of the rare 
Korean and Japanese silents that it was reported to have back in February.  No 
matter how painful the let-down might be, it is essential that the facts about 
this collection come out.  More than anything, it illustrates how important 
film preservation is and how we must be all the more diligent in preserving and 
making more widely available the precious Asian silent films that have 
survived the ravages of time.

William M. Drew

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