Michael Raine mjraine at
Sat Sep 13 18:32:59 EDT 2008

Alex asks an interesting question about the NFC's raison d'etre. I've been trying to trace how the film library / archive movement began in Japan. Roland probably already knows, and the NFC probably has a book on this -- if anyone has any leads, I'd be happy to hear them! Anyway, here's some of what little I think I know ...

It seems to me that the idea of a Japanese film library / archive, at least from the late 1950s, was explicitly set up around the non-commercial exhibition of the films. There were debates in 1950s journals about how to do film history: should it be left to the older critics (Iijima Tadashi et al) or could young critics see enough films to make their own arguments (Sato Tadao and others)? Critics, at least, talked about a film archive as a way of publicizing and understanding film history through primary texts. There were a bunch of "national museum of modern art old film special appreciation society," "film history study group special screening society," "silent film appreciation monthly exhibition society" and the like even before the Museum opened its new screening room in 1962. Shimizu Akira wrote an excited description of the new space: 210 seats, raked seating, 35mm and 16mm projection at all frame rates and aspect ratios, and a glass booth for commentary (this is how unsubtitled films were sometimes shown). As Shimizu wrote, it was the "ideal place to study living film history." 

The first retrospective was the French film festival where Rules of the Game was shown, as discussed a few days ago (in response to Ayako: I don't know whether the film was subtitled or not: other films on "permanent loan" were; the rest definitely were not. Apparently Maruo Sadamu, Sadoul's translator who was in France at the time, supplied details on the films that was sold in book form at the festival). The French film festival was the brainchild of Henri Langlois, the idea being two-fold: to preserve film in case of a Third World War by distributing them around the world (!) and to educate people about film history. As Shimizu again enthused: it's as if the screening room had been converted into the (French) Cinematheque for four months! 

So I think the idea of public exhibition was one of the principles of the Japan film library / archive movement, similar to the "rescue, collection, preservation and screening" principles of the International Federation of Film Archives. It does seem that the NFC in Kyobashi (opened in 1970, I think) was built to further those goals. Which doesn't excuse the lack of research facilities attached to the archive, such a those at peer institutions like the BFI, but even the BFI's open library and "mediatheque" are relatively recent developments, and are justified precisely as a move away from stuffy research toward "public access." I suppose the real question is how much we can expect governments to sponsor the "critical" study of film history when their interests like more in publicity and popularity, and the economic center of gravity has shifted so far toward TV and other media. 


Michael Raine
Assistant Professor in Japanese Cinema
The University of Chicago
mjraine at

-----Original Message-----
From: Alex Zahlten [mailto:Alex.Zahlten at] 
Sent: Friday, September 05, 2008 6:03 AM
To: KineJapan at
Subject: Japanese governmental agencies/film

Hi everyone, this discussion is very interesting, I think.


As for the NFC and its staff, to be fair it must be said that they ARE constantly stripped for funds, constantly overworked and stretching their limits. The NFC's original raison d'etre was preserving film, and I don't even believe (anyone who knows for sure can weigh in) that promoting film culture i.e. screenings was in their original charter. So a bit bizarrely, as I understand it, it was originally conceived as an institution for the preserving of films, which weren't necessarily planned to be shown. The whole structure of the institution today is still shaped by this. 


alex at

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