Japan on Film

The vibrancy of the Meiji era is revealed in these early films of Japan, restored by the BFI National Archive.

Early filmmakers had a particular fascination for Japan. Nearly all the early film companies sent cameramen to capture the landscapes, temples, processional events, festivals and customs of the islands. The Japanese aesthetic was influential and fashionable in the western nations in the early 20th century, so audiences were thrilled to see the country and its people on film. This selection of views of Japan between 1902 and 1913 - broadly coinciding with the end of the Meiji era - all survive at the BFI National Archive and have been restored and digitised to coincide with the celebrations around the 2020/21 Olympics held in Tokyo. Many of the French Pathé titles still have their original stencil colouring, which adds to their charm. 

The collection also includes two films shot outside Japan that reflect widespread western interest in Japanese culture of the time, and Around Japan with a Movie Camera, a compilation specially created for the BFI London Film Festival 2021.

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Around Japan with a Movie CameraAround Japan with a Movie Camera

Documentary191275 mins

Intense interest in Japan by the West made it a favourite destination for filmmakers from the earliest days of film. This selection of films from 1901 to 1913, newly restored by the BFI National Archive, takes us on a fascinating journey through Meiji Japan.

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Among the JapaneseAmong the Japanese

Interest film19202 minsSilent

Upper-class Japanese ladies dress up for an open-air afternoon tea, to appreciate the shortlived cherry blossoms.

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The Ainus of JapanThe Ainus of Japan

Interest film19133 minsSilent

This ethnographic film offers a brief overview of the traditional culture of the Ainu, an ethnic minority in Japan.

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Japanese AcrobatsJapanese Acrobats

Performance19136 minsSilent

Acrobats exhibit their physical agility and masterly skills with assorted spinning and balancing feats.

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Shooting the Rapids on the River Ozu in JapanShooting the Rapids on the River Ozu in Japan

Travelogue19117 minsSilent

A wild boat ride through the Hozu River’s white-water rapids, set against a beautifully coloured natural background.

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Japanese School ChildrenJapanese School Children

Non-Fiction19042 minsSilent

In a school gymnastic festival, boys and girls demonstrate their physical rigour through exercise and dance.

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Japanese FestivalJapanese Festival

Interest film19095 minsSilent

A vibrant festival with parades of fishermen and geisha celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama Port.

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Japanese Procession of StateJapanese Procession of State

Non-Fiction19044 minsSilent

A moment from a Shinto procession, surrounded by onlookers standing along the roadside.

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Japanese FuneralJapanese Funeral

Non-Fiction19041 minsSilent

A grand funeral procession of rickshaws and a horse-drawn carriage flaunts the wealth and power of the deceased.

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Some Japanese TemplesSome Japanese Temples

19125 minsSilent

Pathécolor’s mechanical stencil colouring is put to good use illustrating a festival at an ancient shrine.

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Japanese TypesJapanese Types

Travelogue19115 minsSilent

Miscellaneous shots of Japanese social classes, from the poor to the wealthy, and the masses to the individual.

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Shooting Rapids in JapanShooting Rapids in Japan

Travelogue19065 minsSilent

Be prepared to get drenched as you slip past dangerous rocks in this violent ride down the rapidly flowing Hozu River.

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Picturesque JapanPicturesque Japan

Travelogue19079 minsSilent

A grand tour of Japan’s major cities, offering scenic views of the streets and daily life.

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London: Late Emperor of JapanLondon: Late Emperor of Japan

Non-Fiction19120 minsSilent Location: London

Journalists congregate outside the Japanese embassy in London following the announcement of the death of the Emperor Meiji.

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Russo-Japanese War ProgrammeRusso-Japanese War Programme

Non-Fiction190519 minsSilent

A series of battles in the Russo-Japanese War is presented as a visual spectacle.

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Fishing with Cormorants. Isle of Yeso. JapanFishing with Cormorants. Isle of Yeso. Japan

Interest film191110 minsSilent

Fishermen set out on the river with trained cormorants

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Rice Industry in JapanRice Industry in Japan

Non-Fiction19108 minsSilent

The process of rice harvesting in the early 20th century, from reaping the crop to milling the grains.

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Rice Festival in KyotoRice Festival in Kyoto

19118 minsSilent

Celebrations for the festival, including a Courtesans’ procession, the parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) and traditional theatre.

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Trick film19043 minsSilent

Stencil colour and exotic décor add dazzle to a magic show conducted by white performers in yellowface.

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Japanese Dancers and Japanese Stave DuelJapanese Dancers and Japanese Stave Duel

Documentary19054 mins

The performance of a masked dancer is followed by a scene from a kendo match, contrasting grace and ferocity.

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Japanese DancersJapanese Dancers

18940 minsSilent

Twirling and swinging cloth strips, three dancers present a lively performance for the earliest Western filmmakers.