Captured Japanese Films, Redux

William Gardner wgardne1 at
Tue Feb 23 13:08:15 EST 2010

Hello everyone, 

Markus' earlier question to the Library of Congress prompted me to contact reference librarian Zoren Sinobad to ask about whether there was any searchable database or other list of the films in this collection. The reply, which I am forwarding below with Mr. Sinobad's permission for those interested in the details, confirms the information also in Abé Mark Nornes and Aaron Gerow's Research Guide to Japanese Film Studies, that there is presently no comprehensive list or searchable database of Japanese films in the LOC. 

Fortunately, however, Mr. Sinobad's self introduction posted to the list a moment ago informs us that he's currently involved in a project to produce a "comprehensive finding aid" for this collection. This is terrific news indeed! 

Mr. Sinobad, thanks again for your reply, and your valuable work in making this collection more accessible. 

Will Gardner 
Swarthmore College 

----- Forwarded Message---- 

Question History: 

Patron: Dear Library of Congress Moving Image librarian, 
You may have heard that the LC collection was the subject of some discussion on the KineJapan mailing list devoted to discussion of Japanese film. One of the KineJapan members, forwarded a very interesting and helpful correspondence with Reference Librarian Zoran Sinobad, discussing the provenance of the prewar Japanese films in the LC collection. Mr. Sinobad mentioned 245 features, 650 shorts and 468 newsreels in the Japanese Collection. I'm wondering if there's a list available of these titles, or a way to browse the titles in the collection without searching for any individual title? 
Will Gardner 
Swarthmore College 

Librarian 1: Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list of titles in the Japanese Collection. The only complete inventory dates from the early 1970's and is still on index cards - in other words, the collection can be browsed by title, but only on Library premises. In addition to the cards, we also have print inspection reports on individual films with credits, summaries and condition statements - again, not something that can be accessed off-site. I don't know if KineJapan members are aware of this, but an apparently complete list of features in the collection was compiled some years ago by Michael Raine, with corrections and annotations by Aaron Gerow. 

In case you are searching for individual titles, whether shorts or features, I'll be happy to check our inventories for you. 

Best regards, 

Zoran Sinobad 
Reference Librarian 
Moving Image Section 
Library of Congress 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Mark Nornes" <amnornes at> 
To: "KineJapan" <KineJapan at> 
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2010 4:17:28 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: Captured Japanese Films, Redux 

Our discussion about the provenance of the LOC print collection made me curious enough to contact the library for clarification, most particularly concerning the possibility that these prints were taken from Japanese American theater owners. Here is our exchange. 


I wrote...... 

You have one of the best collections of Japanese film outside of Japan, and I have a question for you regarding the provenance of these prints. The question was inspired by a discussion on the KineJapan internet newsgroup on captured prints. Someone noted that the Japanese prints in NARA's captured films collection have accession dates before 1942; however, this doesn't make sense because the US was LOSING territory before this date. The only explanation we can come up with is that they were "captured" from Japanese American theaters on the west coast. It occurs to me that your own collection---what I know of it---is weighted to the era just before WWII. Could it be that your prints were taken from the theaters that Japanese American theater owners were forced to abandon? Do you have records about this? Significantly, the Japanese film studies community has always wondered what happened to all the prints being shown in Hawaii and the West coast, as they surely didn't send them back to Japan. It has been a mystery that many people wonder about. 


Hello Markus, 

The Library of Congress does indeed hold one of the largest collections of Japanese films outside of Japan. The material you refer to, covering the period from the late 1920's through the end of WWII and listed in Library records as the "Japanese Collection," does not include any film copies left over from Japanese American theaters in Hawaii and on the West Coast. It would certainly be interesting to know what happened to these prints, and I assume you've already checked with other Japanese-related moving image collections in the U.S., namely the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley and the Japanese American National Museum in LA (the latter being a possible source of information on the theater owners, and, by extension, the fate of the prints). 

Although the Library's Japanese Collection is somewhat "weighted to the era just before WWII," it also includes later films, all the way up to the very end of the war (e.g. Nippon newsreels from summer of 1945). The Collection itself was stitched together from several sources: 

- films received in March 1948 from the U.S. Navy Intelligence School (mostly newsreels and non-fiction shorts). 

- films impounded at the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC and received by LC in April 1948 from the Dept. of State, Division of Security and Investigations. 

- films seized by the U.S. occupation forces in Japan and administered by the Office of Alien Property; transferred from General Headquarters, Far East Command, Military Intelligence Section, this, by far the largest of the three batches, was received by LC in two lots (1951 and 1953); prior to being shipped to the U.S., the prints (almost all on highly flammable nitrate stock) were stored at the former First Tokyo Military Arsenal. 

The Collection initially numbered almost 12,500 reels. Duplicates were offered to other government agencies, while the surplus and damaged material (about 7,000 reels) were disposed of. 

In 1962, Public Laws 87-846 and 87-861 returned the copyrights of the confiscated films to their original owners. On November 8, 1967, an agreement was signed between the National Museum of Modern Art (Tokyo) and LC wherein the Library agreed to return the nitrate originals on the condition that 16mm copies be made in Japan and given to LC. A week later (Nov. 18), the first shipment of nitrate originals left from Baltimore for Yokohama. The Library started receiving the 16mm material in spring of 1969. Notwithstanding the agreement, a number of films have been preserved from nitrate by LC itself (these are the ones we have in 35mm) before the original elements were eventually shipped to Japan. According to a 1984 report, the final tally of what we have is: 245 features, 650 shorts, and 468 newsreels. 

As to NARA's captured films collection having accession dates before 1942, it is indeed puzzling. Of course, it could simply be a mistake - some of LC's nitrate elements returned to Japan in the 1980's have an acquisition date of July 1940 (!) with Office of Alien Property listed as the source. 

I hope this information proves to be helpful. 

Best regards, 

Zoran Sinobad 
Reference Librarian 
Moving Image Section 
Library of Congress 


A. M. Nornes 
Department of Screen Arts & Cultures 
Department of Asian Languages & Cultures 
University of Michigan 

6525 A Haven Hall 
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1045 
Phone: 734-647-3456 
Fax: 734-936-1846 

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