It’s a submerged and dormant world yet to be discovered, it is or better it was, especially in the 60s, an important area where a certain degree of freedom and experimentation was allowed to a bunch of young wannabe-filmmakers and/or videoartists. It’s the world, never unified and always composed of massive differences, of the Japanese PR movies, science film and educational movies. It’s a bless that such an important amount of works is available to watch online for free at Science Film Museum – free science movies resurrected from the Shōwa Era, a massive visual archive for researchers and cinephiles with a taste in non-fiction.
Although the works subtitled in English are really few, it is indeed an archive worth-checking and the reasons are well explained on their homepage:
The science films such as “THE WORLD OF MICROBES”, filmed using special camera techniques that gave the world it’s first film footage of the world under a microscope received many major awards in domestic and international scientific film festivals A true photographic legacy. From an academic perspective, these films will prove to be effective educational materials for the present and for the future.
However, with the existence of these films known only by a few, they lie dormant within companies that undertook the projects and the storerooms of production companies. Furthermore, as these films were produced in the analog era, the degree of deterioration is severe and their maintenance is proving extremely difficult.
Consequently, we established “The Science Film Museum (Incorporated NPO)” to make practical use of those science films in educational and research facilities by converting them to the high quality digitalization(HD) from the original 35mm negatives through telecine transfer. And we present them through the website, also so that many people can experience the wonders of the mysteries of life.
What I’d like to focus on today are 2 movies made in the 60s by one of my favourite Japanese filmmakers of all time, Kuroki Kazuo, a director who long before establishing himself as an author somehow associated with the new wave (Silence Has No Wing, Ryōma Assassination among others) was a respected non-fiction filmmaker. On The Science Film Museum webpage it’s possible to watch the PR movie The Solar Thread (太陽の糸) commissioned by the ryon campany Torey, and the more known Record of a Marathon Runner(あるマラソンランナーの記録), shot in 1964, the year of Tokyo Olympics, a defining event for Japan that symbolically ushered the country in the elite of Western and modernized nations.
Even if you don’t understand Japanese, the first minutes of The Solar Thread – co-directed with another big name in documentary, Higashi Yōichi – are quintessential and pure cinema from the 60s: disorienting music, vivid colors palette, free-style editing and a taste for the abstract and the experimental that was still alive in the Japanese documentary scene of the time. Here the movie:
As for Record of a Marathon Runner, there are various articles dealing with it online, I would recommend this long interview with Kuroki. Suffice to say that Record of a Marathon Runner represents for various reasons the negative of the Olympics official discourse that was pushed by the mainstream media of the time: