Time Travel Back to Tokyo After World War II, and See the City in Remarkably High-Quality 1940s Video

In May we fea­tured col­or footage of a bombed-out Berlin a month after Ger­many’s defeat in the Sec­ond World War. Today we have footage of Tokyo, the oth­er Axis pow­er’s cap­i­tal city, shot in that after­math era, albeit in black-and-white — but at such a high lev­el of clar­i­ty and with such smooth­ness that it feels as if it could have come from a his­tor­i­cal movie made today. These clips, assem­bled into a sort of music video by the record pro­duc­er and DJ Boo­gie Bel­gique, take us for a ride down a shop­ping street in the Shin­bashi dis­trict, past mar­ket stalls in Shibuya, along­side the riv­er, and even into areas meant exclu­sive­ly for the occu­py­ing Amer­i­can forces.

Giv­en that, and giv­en the obvi­ous­ly high tech­nol­o­gy used to cap­ture the footage itself, the occu­py­ing Amer­i­can forces more than like­ly shot this film them­selves. But when did they do it? Clear­ly, Tokyo has had time to build itself back up after the immense destruc­tion of the war, but how much time exact­ly? The Japan-watch­ers at Rock­et News 24 have put their heads togeth­er to answer that ques­tion. “Japan was occu­pied from 1945 to 1952, so it was most like­ly around that time,” writes that site’s Scott Wil­son.

He goes on to enu­mer­ate the visu­al clues that help pin down the year, includ­ing one poster for “Hat­su Imai, the first woman elect­ed to the Japan­ese House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in 1946” and anoth­er for Mir­a­cle on 34th Street, orig­i­nal­ly released in Novem­ber 1948. The con­sen­sus, in any case, seems to call this the Tokyo of the late 1940s, the city that Yasu­jirō Ozu, one of Japan’s most beloved auteurs, used as a set­ting in films like The Record of a Ten­e­ment Gen­tle­manA Hen in the Wind, and Late Spring.

But Ozu nev­er includ­ed any vis­i­ble traces of the Amer­i­can occu­pa­tion, much less the clear pres­ence we see in this doc­u­men­tary clip, in large part due to the demands of the Amer­i­can cen­sors. They frowned on any direct ref­er­ence to the Unit­ed States, to the point that they almost cut out of Late Spring the admir­ing ref­er­ence to Gary Coop­er, to whom the main char­ac­ter’s match­mak­ing aunt com­pares the suit­or she’s cho­sen for her. That main char­ac­ter, named Noriko, went on to appear in Ozu’s Ear­ly Sum­mer in 1951 and Tokyo Sto­ry in 1953 — not as the exact same per­son each time, but always played by Set­suko Hara, rest her sweet soul, as the arche­typ­al young-ish woman in post­war Tokyo. How many real-life Norikos of Shin­bashi or Shibuya, I won­der, turned their heads to watch the Amer­i­can cam­era crew pass by?

via Rock­et News 24

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Haunt­ing Unedit­ed Footage of the Bomb­ing of Nagasa­ki (1945)

Dra­mat­ic Col­or Footage Shows a Bombed-Out Berlin a Month After Germany’s WWII Defeat (1945)

Berlin Street Scenes Beau­ti­ful­ly Caught on Film (1900–1914)

Watch 1920s “City Sym­phonies” Star­ring the Great Cities of the World: From New York to Berlin to São Paulo

1927 Lon­don Shown in Mov­ing Col­or

Lon­don Mashed Up: Footage of the City from 1924 Lay­ered Onto Footage from 2013

Three Films Cap­ture 1940s New York, Chica­go & Los Ange­les in Vivid Col­or

An Intro­duc­tion to Yasu­jiro Ozu, “the Most Japan­ese of All Film Direc­tors”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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