Watch Vintage Footage of Tokyo, Circa 1910, Get Brought to Life with Artificial Intelligence

For more than 200 years, the rulers of Japan kept the coun­try all but closed to the out­side world. In 1854, the “Black Ships” of Amer­i­can com­man­der Matthew Per­ry arrived to demand an end to Japan­ese iso­la­tion — and a com­mence­ment of Japan­ese world trade. With­in decades, many fash­ion-for­ward Euro­peans and even Amer­i­cans could­n’t get enough things Japan­ese, espe­cial­ly the art, crafts, and cloth­ing that exem­pli­fied kinds of beau­ty they’d nev­er known before. (Vin­cent van Gogh was a par­tic­u­lar­ly avid fan.) But if Japan changed the West, the West trans­formed Japan, a process ful­ly in effect in the footage above, shot on the streets of Tokyo between 1913 and 1915.

These scenes may look famil­iar to ded­i­cat­ed Open Cul­ture read­ers, and indeed, we pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured anoth­er ver­sion of this film back in 2018. With its speed cor­rect­ed to remove the herky-jerk­i­ness com­mon to old films and with back­ground noise added, these glimpses of the men, women, and many chil­dren of the Japan­ese cap­i­tal, all of them liv­ing between the inward-look­ing tra­di­tion of their coun­try as it had been and the onrush of moder­ni­ty from with­out, already felt real­is­tic.

But now you may feel you’ve been per­son­al­ly trans­port­ed to this cul­tur­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly heady time in the Land of the Ris­ing Sun thanks to the work of Denis Shiryaev, a Youtu­ber who spe­cial­izes in enlarg­ing and restor­ing vin­tage film clips with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

Shi­rayev is also respon­si­ble for the enhanced ver­sions of scenes from Belle Époque Paris, czarist Moscow, Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, New York City in 1911, and even the Lumière Broth­ers’ ear­ly motion pic­ture The Arrival of a Train at La Cio­tat Sta­tion. At the begin­ning of this video he reveals the stages of the process that brought this cen­tu­ry-old footage of Tokyo to greater vivid­ness: de-nois­ing and dam­age removal, col­oriza­tion, facial restora­tion, and upscal­ing to 4K res­o­lu­tion at 60 frames per sec­ond — all assist­ed by neur­al net­works that, “trained” on rel­e­vant visu­al mate­ri­als new and old, crisp and weath­ered, to deter­mine the best ways to make it all look more con­vinc­ing. The results may make you won­der what else will soon be pos­si­ble — sure­ly not a feel­ing unknown to  these ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry Toky­oites.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Life on the Streets of Tokyo in Footage Record­ed in 1913: Caught Between the Tra­di­tion­al and the Mod­ern

A Trip Through New York City in 1911: Vin­tage Video of NYC Gets Col­orized & Revived with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

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

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

1850s Japan Comes to Life in 3D, Col­or Pho­tos: See the Stereo­scop­ic Pho­tog­ra­phy of T. Ena­mi

The Entire His­to­ry of Japan in 9 Quirky Min­utes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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