Becoming Static: Experiences of Pathé Baby before the Second World War in Japan [EN]

Yosaku Matsutani

 

Osamu Tezuka (1928–1989) remains a leading cartoonist in Japan. Before the Second World War, his father
Yutaka Tezuka had been a famous amateur photographer and filmmaker. When Osamu was a child, Yutaka
showed him many 9.5 mm films (e.g., Chaplin films and Disney animation) that Yutaka owned and
photographs that Yutaka took. That Yutaka and his image-making greatly influenced Osamu’s later
creative activity is well known. For example, one of Osamu’s masterpieces is “Message to Adolf,” which
focuses on humanity around Jews, the Germans, and the Japanese. One source for this work was
photographs Yutaka took in March 1941 in Kobe. In the frame, Yutaka included many wandering Jews that
had escaped Nazi persecution, crossed Eurasia, and landed in Kobe. We cannot guess how Osamu, then 12
years old, perceived those photographs, but 40 years later, they were certainly one of the triggers for
Osamu’s masterpiece.
In Japan until about 1940’s, amateur photography and film permeated homes or small local communities,
whose members were thus affected, such as Osamu Tezuka’s case. However, previous researchers into that
era’s amateur photography and film, especially into small-gauge films such as the 9.5mm “Pathé Baby,”
evaluated such image-making as “artistic” film and detached it from home or small local communities.
Then, they intended to connect Pathé Baby image-making with experimental or avant-garde films made
after the Second World War and, eventually, to establish a genealogy of alternative Japanese films against
normative commercial movies based on narrative.
However, based on analyses in previous research, we might not be able to understand the case of Osamu
Tezuka. Because of Pathé Baby’s characteristic compactness of scale, economy, and mentality, it remained
in homes or small local communities until the 1940’s and associated people, objects, and media.
Consequently, Pathé Baby became a dynamic system wherein society, culture, and history were rearranged.
In this paper, based on studies about Pathé Baby’s images and devices, contemporary media (newspaper
and magazines), and 9.5 mm film stock, I discuss the rich aspects of Pathé Baby before the Second World
War in Japan.

 

Yosaku Matsutani works on problems of film style, film history and film culture, problems of art practices
since the aesthetic turn, and the relationship between science & technology and art. He is currently
Associate Professor of Faculty of Letters Department of Philosophy at Kokugakuin University, Tokyo. His
published works include papers on amateur image practices in Japan before the second World War, on the
aesthetic experience of the insect, and on image practices in outer space.

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