Though the sound recording and reproduction technologies had improved in the Allied countries by 1940, Japanese movie industry miserably lagged behind on all counts. Sadly, the engineers and technicians had to live with it, knowing their technologies were utterly out of date. Propaganda filmmaking demanded not-so-ideal conditions not only in terms of subject matters, but also in terms of actual filming itself. One of the most demanding projects was aviation filmmaking.

During the last years of the Fifteen Year War, publications on movies or other entertainment were considered unimportant and the contents were devoted to the patriotic slogans and glorification of propagandistic products. Among these, some cameramen and engineers documented the technical aspects and difficulties of war-related filmmaking. Aviation films in particular required multiple levels of innovation and maneuvering on location. Even with cursory glance, I found several articles from 1943 and 1944, specifically devoted to high-altitude, onboard aviation filmmaking, written by cameramen. “Aviation filmmaking may sound simple to you,” one cameraman wrote, “but actual technical difficulties is well beyond ordinary person’s imagination”. The fundamental issues of low temperature filming conditions, reduced oxygen, and enormous air flow (wind) were discussed in detail, in addition to camera fixtures and vibration problems. The cameras they used were Eyemo, which must have been scarce at this point because of many years of embargo. On negative filmstock from Fujifilm, the only available filmstock at the time, another writer commented “there is nothing else to do. … even though (the filmstock) is unsatisfactory”. In these articles, there was no mention of sound recording on location. It is quite obvious they had separate sound track for air combat scenes, and, I suspect, even for take-off and landing scenes.

The article by Hisashi Kase in Eiga Gijutu (March, 1943) is quite revealing. In the last section, he discusses about exemption (or exclusion) of sound recording engineers from registration requirements in Movie Industry Law. The committee member of the Cabinet considered the aspect of sound in filmmaking was covered by inclusion of actors in the registration, on the grounds that lines delivered by actors and actresses were considered “sound” and nothing else. This reasoning is quite fascinating. Movie Industry Law had been enacted to put pressure on movie industry, which had been reluctant to cooperate with the totalitarian regime. It was about control and censorship. Then, how do you censor sound? Especially non-verbal sound?

It is obvious that Japanese movie industry back then did not think much about recorded sound quality. Technical improvement was way beyond their means at the time. So we have cracking and distortion, heavy noise and frequency imbalance all over the place in the soundtrack. Beyond that, the officials and cultural leaders did not know how sound constitutes idea. They understood “words” but not “sound”.

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  • Great job with this sequence of posts. Was that Susumu Fujita giving a pep talk to pilots, about 1.40 into the ‘Battle Troop’ clip? It is interesting how the infamous footage of kamikaze were taken from the decks of American ships, thus Japanese propaganda had to get creative with model work and multiple exposures