There’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit since I moved to Gifu prefecture a decade or so ago, a place I discovered by chance surfing the internet: a movie museum located in Hashima City, a few kilometers away from where I live.
Movie museums, archives and places devoted to the preservation and history of cinema and movies (big spectacles, home movies and video art alike) are more and more becoming for me an interesting field to explore. Therefore, even though it is striktly speaking not about documentary, but more about documenting film and its history, I’ve decided to start a series of posts about the few, but very active, film museums/centres in Japan.
The most famous of these are the National Film Archive in Tokyo and the Kobe Planet Film Archive in Hyogo, the latter a place featured many times on this blog and a mini-theater in its own right that I’ve visited many times and through which I’ve been able to discover many important movies. Another one I’d like to visit one day is the Toy Film Museum in Kyoto, recently in the international news because of the discovery of a once-believed lost movie from Ozu Yasujirō, Tokkan Kozo.
Located at the periphery of the “empire”, in an old area in the city of Hashima, the 羽島市資料館 Hashima Movie Museum is hosted in a small two storey building.
Established in 1996, the museum shares the building with the Folk History Museum, but the look of it (from the inside at least) is definitely more indebted to cinema than ethnography. At the entrance on the ground floor the visitor is welcomed by dozen of film posters from different eras, with the main exhibition space located on the first floor. One room is filled with old movie cameras, some of them bulky machines dating back to the 1940s, flatbed editors, speakers and posters, a real feast for the eyes, and as you can see from the photo below, there are even some seats from and old theater. Probably the seats belonged to the Takehana Asahi Cinema, a theater beloved by the people of Hashima and a place that once was an important part of the community, the theater was active between 1934 and 1971. The museum stands in the same spot where the Takehana Asahi Cinema used to be.
Even after its closure the old building remained intact and untouched through the end of the 1980s. At that time the people of Hashima started to pressure the city for having back a cinema in their neighborhood, the intetest probably kindled by the surgence of mini-theaters during the decade and fueled by the money flowing through baburu period. Around 1992 after an inspection the building was found dilapidated and in danger of collapsing, but hundreds of movies posters were discovered inside its vaults. This lead to the decision of taking a different path and embarking on a new project, and that’s how the movie museum was established. The new building was modelled after the old theater on its South facade and after the Takegahana castle on its West facade.
(the old Takehana Asahi Cinema and the South facede of the museum, source )
The other room is set as a screening room with rows of chairs at its center and a small screen at the far end of it. The walls are adorned with film posters and other memorabilia, mainly about jidai-geki movies from the golden age of Japanese cinema. The highlights were for me two very old and beautiful long posters from the 1930s of which I could not, unfortunately, take photos. According to its homepage the museum stores more than 50.000 (50.000!) items between posters and other memorabilia, of which only a small part was on display the day I visited it.
The room every second Saturday of the month turns into a screening place were people gather to see and probably discuss different movies chosen by the staff of the museum. I Want to Be a Shellfish (1959), Nobuko Rides on a Cloud (1955), and The Bullet Train (1975) were among the movies screened during this year.
I think the museum sets a good example of what local movie theaters located outside big cities might hopefully become in the future: a place to preserve and celebrate the history of cinema, but also one that could work as a small repertoire theater and a “amateur” screening room where to enjoy a wide variety of films.