Located in a surprisingly wealthy part of Setagaya here in Tokyo is the sprawling home of Toho Studios. Not only is Toho the largest and most famous film studio in Japan, but it’s the owner of one of the more internationally famous film logos, on par for Asian cinema aficionados with MGM’s Technicolor roaring lion.
On location at the studio, you’ll discover a collection of sound-stages, outdoor arenas and warehouses, plus a stream lined with gorgeous cherry blossom trees, all of it originally set up in 1936 by railroad and showbiz entrepeneur, Ichizo Kobayashi.
After pumping out propaganda films during World War 2, Toho overcame a brush with bankruptcy and disfavor with the American occupation forces to unleash a wad of critically successful and internationally-regarded movies by Akira Kurosawa, such as Drunken Angel (see the January 3 entry here), Yojimbo, Ran, and Seven Samurai – a scene from which is now boldly embossed as a huge painted mural across the outer wall of the studio.
It’s at least 10 meters high, and you can’t miss it when you visit the hallowed halls that also saw through films directed by Hiroshi Inagaki (The Birth of Japan), Shiro Moritani (Japan Sinks) and Ishirō Honda (The Mysterians).
In 1954, Honda got together with Toho to skewer the science fiction world when they unveiled the first Gojira movie – better known to you and me as Godzilla – and the studio followed up with over two dozen sequels. The original is still an absolute classic 56 years later and features JapaneseCultureGoNow! fave Takashi Shimura.
I picked up my copy for just ¥980 (about $9) a couple of months ago thanks to the new DeAgostini kaiju classics series. Yum.
While Toho’s star has waned in recent years, the studio continues to produce movies in conjunction with Japanese TV companies like TBS (the Masahiro Nakai/Yukie Nakama WW2 drama, I Want to be a Shellfish, for instance – the one I did the walk-on, gate-pushing MP bit for in the earlier entry here on October 8, 2008).
Toho is better known these days as major playing distributor for smaller production houses like Asmik Ace – the company that unleashed the Ring movies – along with anime studios Production I.G and Studio Ghibli.
Andrez Bergen is senior editor of Impact magazine in the UK. He’s a long-term writer on Japanese pop culture, music, anime, movies and weird stuff who has covered the space since 2001. Andrez also runs Tokyo-based IF? Records, makes music as Little Nobody, writes a personal blog calledJapaneseCultureGoNow!, and can be found on Twitter @andreziffy