Filmmakers’ networks in 1930s Japan and beyond: The Narutaki scriptwriting collective

Project Leader

Iris Haukamp (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)


This project investigates the activities and legacy of the ‘Narutaki gumi’ scriptwriting collective, a group of young filmmakers in Kyoto between 1934-1937.

Some of the filmmakers and directors who worked across studio lines in order to reinvigorate the popular jidaigeki (period film) genre under the pseudonym ‘Kajiwara Kinpachi’ became prominent members of the filmworld later on and impacted Japanese film with regard to thematic concerns and aesthetics. As ‘Kajiwara’, they displayed a level of joyfulness, creativity and enthusiasm that is not only characteristic for the ‘first golden age’ of Japanese cinema, but also sheds new light on the supposed ‘dark valley’ of Japan’s cultural production during a period of radical political and cultural transformation.

Straddling thresholds between two political system sand being actively involved in the ground-breaking transition from silents to talkies that shook the industry in many parts of the world, the group were part of a crucial piece of Japanese and global (film) history. Despite their less overtly politically engaged outlook than other filmwriting collectives, they operated within local and global frameworks of intellectual discourse on generic innovation, the role and potential of film, and collective practices. Their scripts, partly written for the Zenshin-za progressive theatre troupe’s naturalistic acting and introducing modern language and dialects into period settings, broke with traditional representations of, and ideas about, the past.

This research therefore the work of this prolific group of filmmakers, not only locating it within global and local cultural, industrial, and socio-political histories, but also paying due attention to the cross-fertilisation of artistic and intellectual styles and concerns possible within a professional filmmaking cooperative and through their wider networks.

This research is funded by the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research, research project no.: 21K12894, 2021–2024 (and 19K20825, 2018–2020)

Research Objectives

The main questions asked in this project are as follows:

1. How can we understand the Narutaki-gumi and their work within both local and global trends and contexts?

2. What was the group’s objective with regard to their collective work and what, exactly, were their generic, thematic, and stylistic/aesthetic and innovations?

3. What was the effect in terms of group synergy? In other words, did they transcend the individual artist and who then can be considered as the author?

4. Which aesthetic, intellectual, political movements did they interact with and how?

5. What is their legacy to film and film discourse in Japan and abroad?

In order to answer some of these questions, a database tracing the connections and networks within and beyond the film world is crucial. At a further stage, it will also be expanded to include more contemporary data.