The print of “Issatu-Tasho-Ken (一殺多生剣)”, Daisuke Ito’s 1929 film, was discovered and is scheduled to be screened at Kyoto Film Festival in October.
Probably it is not a familiar title to you; even the name of the director, Daisuke Ito, is not usually among “all-time great Japanese directors” list. You might have seen the still photograph above in some of the Japanese cinema history books, though. The film was produced during the pinnacle of Jidaigeki cinema, late 1920s and early 30s, and Daisuke Ito was the central figure of the era. The reason the late 20s being the most productive years of Jidaigeki is usually attributed to grave recession and social uncertainty at the time.
Many of socio-cultural changes in Japan during late Meiji era and Taisho era had driven imperialism/capitalism to cul-de-sac, causing economic depression, ever-increasing unemployment and strains of tragic labor problems. This environment provided the Petri dish for Proletariat movement, not just in political theater but also in art and literature. In case of cinema, some Jidaigeki auteurs, such as Daisuke Ito and Masahiro Makino, redefined the genre from kid’s entertainment to adult’s art, to express social environment of the time in re-framed historical settings. Daisuke Ito’s films were extremely popular and his works in late 20’s include “Chuji Tabi Nikki”, “Zanjin-Zanba-Ken” and “Issatu-Tasho-Ken”.
But many of his films were missing for several decades. While early Ozu films were discovered by foreign audience thanks to prints availability, the Jidaigeki genre was usually associated with Kurosawa both in Japan and overseas. Only older generation who remembered the shocking encounter with Ito’s and Makino’s silent films repeatedly asserted these films should not be forgotten.
In 1991, the parts of “Chuji Tabi Nikki” were discovered in Hiroshima, which underwent digital restoration. This was the beginning of re-discovery of Ito’s influential works. The abridged 9.5mm prints of “Zanjin-Zanba-Ken” was discovered in 2002. Now, we have another discovery, “Issatu-Tasho-Ken”. No details were given, but I assume it is abridged version.
According to Tadao Sato’s “The Birth of Japanese Cinema”, “Issatu-Tasho-Ken” is about small-time Samurai’s indecisiveness in the face of changing times. These samurais with petit bourgeois mentality were metaphor for those who in audience; intelligent but powerless. It doesn’t sound outdated, does it?