A lost gem found confirms who was the father of Japanese filmmaking
In July 1959, Japan’s leading film magazine, Kinema Junpo, published a list of what it hailed as “The best 10 Japanese films of all time.” This list included works by such acknowledged masters as Mikio Naruse, as well as the young but by then amply acclaimed Akira Kurosawa.
Yasujiro Ozu’s “I Was Born But … ” came in third; Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Sisters of the Gion,” second. But the work considered in 1959 to be the best Japanese film of all time was “ChÅ«ji Tabi Nikki” (“A Diary of ChÅ«ji’s Travels”) – which was actually a trilogy of silent films made in 1927 by director Daisuke Ito.
It is strange yet altogether understandable that Ito has long been a largely unknown genius of Japanese film. There have not been the numerous retrospectives, in Japan and abroad, accorded the directors mentioned above. But Ito’s story is rather complicated; and this too has contributed to him being both revered and neglected.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Ito’s passing. Born in 1898 in the beautiful castle town of Uwajima in Shikoku’s Ehime Prefecture, he went to middle school in Matsuyama. As an only son, when his father died in 1916 he was obliged to give up his studies and go to work. But an encounter with the famous playwright and director Kaoru Osanai, a leading light in the new theater movement in Japan, led Ito to Tokyo, where he aspired to be an actor.
Being sauve and good looking, the stage would have seemed an apt choice for him – yet it was as a scriptwriter that he found his first success.