The Toy Film Museum
This museum is dedicated to pre-cinema history and toy film projectors. We opened this museum on “International Museum Day” with the hope that it will further the preservation of film heritage and the future development of cinematic arts culture.
On December 28, 1895 the Lumiére Brothers debuted their Cinématographe at the Salon Indien du Grand Café on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. This marked the birth of cinema, and this year we celebrate the 120th anniversary of that occasion.
The Cinématographe was a film camera, a printer and a projector all in one. Movies are generally considered to have come about as a culmination of various inventions that emerged from the industrial revolution: inventions in the history of photography, in which actual items were recorded scientifically; in the history of optical toys that were moving picture devices using persistence of vision technology; and in the history of the magic lantern, which enlarged and projected images.
Focusing on such developments in the context of pre-cinema history and the history of photography, this museum exhibits daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and optical toys that produced the illusion of animation, such as thaumatropes, phenakistoscopes, zoetropes, and praxinescopes. We also have a collection of magic lanterns that represents the history of this device as well.
Movies became popular worldwide, beginning the history of mass media that brought moving images to multitudes of people. The Cinématographe arrived in Japan in 1897. The first exhibition of a film shot by a Japanese occurred two years later in 1899. Audiences were wild with enthusiasm for the performances of the first star of Japanese cinema: Onoe Matsunosuke or Medama no Matchan (“Eyeballs” Matsu). Long lines of movie-goers snaked out from the cinema box office. In those days entertainment was not as plentiful and diverse as today, and film reigned as the most popular entertainment.
Film’s attraction spread until it reached even the confines of private homes. Toy projectors made of tin were developed in Europe and North America and films made specifically for these projectors, as well as excerpts of theatrical films, were sold for home use. It was soon customary for the average household to enjoy films at home. By the time silent film reached its peak in the 1910s and 1920s, it was possible to manufacture high quality home projectors. In Europe and North America, the production of 35mm home projectors came to an end with the increasing popularity of amateur filmmaking around 1930.
Projectors for home use were imported into Japan in 1907. By the 1920s, cheap domestic versions were being produced that became popular among the general public as "home projectors" or "home moving picture machines." Theatrical films were also cut up and sold as “home movies” or “moving pictures for home use.” These were short excerpts around 20 seconds to 3 minutes long. These are what we refer to as "toy films". No doubt there are still individuals who can recall watching toy films at home as children.
This museum introduces many Western and domestically produced projectors manufactured between approximately 1900 and 1940. Visitors can enjoy handling these devices. In this age of the ephemeral digital image, the fundamental principles of film technology can be difficult to comprehend, but toy projectors allow us to advance the film one frame at a time so that even children can easily understand how moving pictures work.
In the 1930s, talkies gained momentum in the Japanese film industry too, and silent films without sound tracks became a thing of the past. Costly cellulose nitrate film stock could be recycled for its silver content; after WWII, it was destroyed as hazardous waste because it was highly flammable. As a result, pre-war Japanese cinema was scattered to the wind and vanished. The situation in Japan is such that young people probably don't realize that just a small percentage of films survive featuring actors like Bandô Tsumasaburô and Ôkochi Denjirô, swordfight film stars that were responsible for the golden era of Japanese film. Only very few films featuring Onoe Matsunosuke remain, although he made thousands over the course of his lifetime.
The percentage of film works that have been collected and preserved at the Tokyo National Film Center is 0.2% for the 1910s, 3.8% for the 1920s, and 10.7% for the 1930s. This is lamentable compared to what has been preserved abroad. Valuable portions of Japanese film history elude us. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, such losses occurred because of the fragile nature of the film material itself, Japan's high temperatures and humidity, fires in studio film storage units, natural disasters, and wartime losses. But it is also true that there is little awareness of the importance of film preservation among individuals working in film-related fields as well as the general public in Japan, where the focus is on the next new trend with little regard for preserving the past. In 1938, The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) was created to protect movies from the fallout of war, but Japan only joined the Federation 55 years later, in 1993. This gap of a half century is a clear example of the difference in awareness regarding film preservation.
Restoration of Japanese film began with the rediscovery and restoration of director Itô Daisuke’s Chûji tabi nikki (A Diary of Chûji's Travels, 1927) under the auspices of the National Film Center and Ikueisha, Inc in 1992, just one year before Japan joined FIAF. Nani ga kanojo o sô saseta ka (What made her do it?, 1930), directed by Suzuki Shigeyoshi, was the first film restored in the private sector after it was discovered in Russia. It is a representative work of the “tendency film,” socialist tendency films that depicted the early Shôwa period (1925-1989). Members of this research center were responsible for its restoration. The restoration was first shown in 1997 at the Kyoto Film Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, and eventually abroad.
In the process of carrying out this restoration, we began to sense a crisis in the state of Japanese film preservation; in 2003 we initiated the Toy Film Project in order to discover, restore, investigate, and research films. Since 2006, we have conducted film restoration and preservation workshops each summer. At this point, having continued such activities for many years, we have collected and restored about 900 films, We continue to enter their information into a database so that visitors can view the entries on a computer in the museum. We hold screenings of silent films with benshi narrators and live music, as well as lectures on related topics, workshops, etc., which all are welcome to attend.
We close with a request. If you have small gauge films such as 8mm films or Pathé Baby films, or film prints of any kind, by all means please contact us. We have the equipment and facilities here to view them and would appreciate the opportunity to examine them. We can also convert such films to DVD format. Be aware that if the film has an acidic odor, decomposition has already begun. Allow us to save these films before it is too late. Discovery of old films will help fill the gaps in the history of Japanese cinema.