Before WWII, there were three major motion picture studios in Japan: Shochiku, Nikkatsu and Toho. During 1930s, Shochiku outpaced Nikkatsu in technology, artistry and star appeal. It was arguably the leader in the entertainment industry at the time. Home to the notable directors such as Yasujiro Ozu, Hiroshi Shimizu, Heinosuke Gosho, Mikio Naruse and Yasujiro Shimazu, Shochiku was noted for women’s melodrama, slapstick ‘nonsense’ comedies and social drama. Nikkatsu had been the king of Jidaigeki (period Samurai films) during the earlier decades, its financial woes plagued management and production throughout 1930s. Nonetheless, Tomu Uchida, Masahiro Makino, Daisuke Ito and other seasoned directors exhibited energy and creativity at Nikkatsu. Toho was established in 1937 by Ichizo Kobayashi, the railroad magnate. Toho had the distinctively modern and urban style and it aimed at the younger generation who preferred more liberal and contemporary stories. Due to the global financial crisis since 1929, even these larger studios had problems raising money to equip their studios and affiliated theaters with sound systems.
THE NEIGHBOR’S WIFE AND MINE (1931) Dir. Heinosuke Gosho
I WAS BORN, BUT … (1932) Dir. Yasujiro Ozu (silent)
THE SISTERS OF GION (1936) Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
MR. THANK YOU (1936) Dir. Hiroshi Shimizu
AIZEN KATSURA (1938) Dir. Kosho Nomura
THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM (1939) Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi
SAZEN TANGE AND THE POT OF MILLION RYO (1935) Dir. Sadao Yamanaka
THEATER OF LIFE (1936) Dir. Tomu Uchida
FIVE SCOUTS (1938) Dir. Tomosaka Tasaka
EARTH (1939) Dir. Tomu Uchida
P. C. L. and Toho (写真化学研究所、東宝)
WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE! (1935) Dir. Mikio Naruse
HUMANITY AND THE PAPER BALLOONS (1937) Dir. Sadao Yamanaka
SHANGHAI RIKUSENTAI (1939) Dir, Hisatora Kumagai
Shinkou Kinema (新興キネマ) and Daito Eiga (大都映画)
Shinkou Kinema was an essentially B-movie studio, the subsidiary of Shochiku. Sometimes it functioned as a buffer for talents kicked out of the major studios. Mizoguchi, after having drifted from Nikkatsu to several small productions, joined Shinkou Kinema and directed three movies in 1937 and 1938. Mansaku Itami directed AKANISHI KAKITA (1936), one of the most modern Jidaigeki in prewar era. Daito Eiga was a pure B-movie studio, and produced low-budget entertainment every week. Personally I have never seen any of its product. Most of Daito Eiga films were lost. It seems that every production was overseen by its chairman, Tokusaburo Kawai, and very aspect of its movies, especially its cost, was fiercely controlled by him.
As can be seen from these two plots, the number of movies from these two studio remained constant throughout the decade. In several places, I read Daito Eiga kept producing silent films very late in thirties (due to cost restrictions), and it shows. It is rather interesting that Shinkou Kinema converted to talkies in 1936, almost the same time as its parent company, Shochiku.