Uzumasa: Hollywood of Japan


If you’re a Samurai Film fan, you have probably seen Uzumasa Limelight. If not, it’s running on many ANA flights this month. Played by the renowned actor Seizo Fukumoto, the film is about a “kirareyaku,” the “drop dead actor” who is always on the losing end of the sword fight in Japan’s numerous Samurai films.

Uzumasa  is the district of Kyoto that’s also known as the Hollywood of Japan. The first film studio was built in 1926 by Tsumasaburo Bando, the “king of samurai dramas. It’s now Toei Studios Kyoto.

And by the way, Japan produces around 600 features a year, making it 4th or 5th in the world for number of productions. (This includes animation, so live action is probably around 300-350.)


Toei Studios Kyoto main gate


Kazuya Yamamoto and Yas Mitsuwa of NAC Inc at main gate of Shochiku Studios Kyoto

Makino Talkie Studios were built in 1935. It’s now  Shochiku Studios, a few blocks away from Toei—and a short walk along the Daiei Dori, the main street, which is painted like a roll of film, complete with perforations.


Follow the Perforated Road: Daiei Dori


Along Daiei Dori: Storefront of NPO for the preservation of the image and Kyoto culture, with an Arriflex 16S and Oskar Heiler head.

Walking along Daiei Dori, there’s an Arriflex 16S camera from one of the studios in the window of the Non-Profit Organization for the preservation of the Image and Kyoto culture. Further along, we come to the Kinema Kitchen, with its movie posters, film memorabilia, and of course, Film and Digital Times.


Film and Digital Times Japanese Edition at Kinema Kitchen


Yoshiko Okada and Yasuyuki Ikumi

Yoshiko Okada and Yasuyuki Ikumi welcomed us to Shochiku Studios and gave us a guided tour around the stages and back lot. A what a lot. This is the place to go if the script calls for ancient Japan, Samurai, Ninjas prowling along rooftops (there are special catwalks to make life easier for the stunt performers), or narrow alleyways waiting for an ambush.


Crew with Sony F55 and Angenieux Optimo 24-290, L-R: Masahiko Yasuda (DP), and Camera Assistants Daisuke Moriguchi, Yoshitaka Maeda, and Shota Yamamoto.


Next stop, Toei Kyoto Studios, where Production Manager Yoshiki Sugimori gave us a guided tour. As the movie Uzumasa Limelight shows, Toei has turned part of the back lot and a few stages into a Studio Tour area. Imagine Universal Studios Tour with Ninjas and Samurai.


Ninja trainee


Samurai at Toei Studios


Yoshiki Sugimori

There’s a nice museum. Descriptions are in Japanese only. Below: Shozo Makino, father of Japanese cinema who was the director and producer of Kyoto’s first film, Honoji Gassen, 1908. See FDTimes article.


Shozo Makino—father of Japanese cinema.


Click on first image below to begin slideshow:

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2 Responses:

  1. Wow! Japan produces 300 animated features!?

    • Jon Fauer:

      Update: 581 features last year. 500 live action. So 81 animated.

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