This film is part of Free

MacArthur's Japan

In March of Time's report from post-war Japan, the Emperor renounces his divinity to study marine biology, while his subjects put feudalism behind them and tentatively embrace democracy.

Documentary 1949 18 mins


March of Time assesses the arrival of democracy in Japan after centuries of feudalism. Deft editing evokes a sense of rapid and epochal changes in industry, education, farming and women’s rights. At the centre of the changes, imposed by Douglas MacArthur’s benevolent post-war occupation of Japan, is Hirohito’s renunciation of his divinity. Now mortal and a marine biologist of some renown, he is seen here with his family, exploring rock pools on a beach.

By 1949 the glory years of March of Time may have been in the past but this piece, while somewhat bombastic in tone, maintains the newsreel’s trademark fast-cutting style, well-suited to this depiction of a country undergoing swift and historic changes. Shots of a Toyota factory employee at work on the production line, eating at home with his family and fishing with his son, give a warm domestic feel to the final scenes of the issue. Elsewhere, a woman laughing at a US cartoon in a newspaper shows an aspect of American culture that would be absorbed by post-war Japan and become part of everyday life in the country in the form of the quintessentially Japanese manga comic strip.