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The joy of restoring videos – In the case of the TV drama “Roppa’s Mito Komon”

Takafusa Hatori
Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum assistant

Have you heard of Roppa Furukawa (1903-61)?
From the beginning of the Showa Era to the end of the war, he was a leading actor in the comedy world alongside Kenichi Enomoto, better known as Eno-Ken. Wearing Lloyd glasses, his bright and unconventional performance is done from his noble-like gentlemanly appearance and teeming with wit. Especially through the prewar years, his performance was showered with applause in Showa modern Tokyo. In addition to his singing and vocal mimicry “art”, he is also known for being active in many fields such as displaying of talent the literary profession as a critic and miscellaneous writer etc. He also starred in numerous movies, light comedies, of course, but also exhibiting a unique charm in serious roles such as Masago-cho No Sensei (The Teacher in Masago Town), the second installment of the famous Shinpa melodrama Onna Keizu (Women’s Pedigree) (1942, directed by Masahiro Makino). After the war he gradually lost his popularity, and although he passed away after battling an illness at the age of 57 without continuing the activities befitting the King of Comedy, the achievements he left in Showa entertainment are grand. Through the kindness of his family, an extensive collection of bequest items, such as his diary that was written of a long number of years, have been donated to the Theatre Museum. The Theatre Museum, as well as hosting the 2007 exhibition “Roppa Furukawa and the Revue Era – Modern City Songs, Dance and Comedy”, we have also taken up Furukawa, as well as Sojin Kamiyama, Shojiro Sawada, Kunio Watanabe and Keiji Sada in the “Waseda Related Film People” special exhibition in the permanent exhibition, “Film”, which opened in April 2013, introducing materials that convey enthusiasm of making it into Hollywood.

In this way, Furukawa strutted at will through the theatre, film and literary worlds, but at the same time, his actions in the broadcasting world are also important. In radio, when NHK’s headline program Kohaku Utagassen (a grand song contest between male and female teams), aired in its original form as Kohaku Ongaku Shiai, after the war on New Year’s Eve in 1945, Furukawa starred as host of the white team in the memorable first production. Also, with the spread of television shifting into full swing in 1953, Furukawa was enjoyed in living rooms, starring in programs such as NTV’s long-running Todoroki Sensei (1955-60). Having said that, compared to theatre and film, there was little interest shown towards his activities in radio and television. Especially in the case of television, from its introduction into the mainstream in 1953 until Furukawa’s death in 1961, this was a pioneering time of trial and error, and compared to theatre and film, it cannot be denied that his status in popular entertainment was seen to have fallen. As a result, with the fall in Furukawa’s popularity, it was treated as he fell into television from theatre and film. Actually, with the technological restraints of television at that time, it is well known that, compared with the same video culture of film, he faced many difficulties in making a story interesting. However, when looking at it from the other way, it can be hypothesized that, under these circumstances, one’s unique sparkle could not be lost amid those restraints with viewers demanding, even in single performances, actors’ “talents” to be mesmerizing. How did the pioneering days of television take in the “talent” consummated by Tokyo’s King of Comedy since before the war?
This is a topic of never-ending interest to us.

The discovered 16mm of “Roppa’s Mito Komon”

Regarding this kind of issue awareness, the first piece of good news came in 2011. Every media organization reported that 13 episodes of 16mm film of Furukawa’s posthumous work, MBS’s “Roppa’s Mito Komon” (1960-61), had been discovered. As you all know, the survival rate of television film from the pioneering days is close to zero. To my knowledge, almost no films of television dramas starring Furukawa exist today. With this discovery, a path was opened to a concrete analysis of the “talent” Furukawa showed on television. The person who made the discovery was Professor Yoneo Ota of Osaka University of Arts, who is the driving force behind film preservation and restoration research in Japan.

Furukawa dressed as Mito Komon (2nd from the right)

At the Theatre Museum, when we hosted the autumn special exhibition, Yoroba Kiru Zo! Shinkokugeki To Kengeki No Sekai (I’ll Cut You Down If You Come Closer! Shinkokugeki and Sword-Fighting Drama) in 2014, we requested cooperation from Professor Ota. Chanbara Jidai 2014 (Sword Battle Era 2014), a collection of snippets compiled from Professor Ota’s collection of sword-fighting movies, was shown at the venue. In the process of a series of exchanges, with the deterioration of the previously discovered “Roppa’s Mito Komon” 16mm, immediate measures to restore them need to be taken, and we received a proposal stating his desire to restore the films in conjunction with the Theatre Museum. As mentioned earlier, there is a deep bond between Furukawa, Waseda University and the Theatre Museum. Coincidentally, the Theatre Museum was selected for the 2014 “The project to promote and support priority areas of museum and history museum”, and a financial base for the joint restoration was put in place. This kind of luck piled up, and “Roppa’s Mito Komon” is currently in the process of being digitalized at IMAGICA West. The day when we can witness the final sparkle from the King of Comedy is also near.

The plan as of the end of 2014, is to hold the release of the digital version of “Roppa’s Mito Komon” in conjunction with Professor Ota’s lecture at the end of February, 2015. Please wait for the formal announcement at a later date for details such as dates and venues. I hope that people with diverse interests will gather, and, along with sharing the pleasure that the videos relive, that this contributes to a further deepening of television, film and theatre research.

Takafusa Hatori
Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum assistant

Takafusa Hatori was born in 1982. He majors in film studies. He completed doctor’s program at the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. Kyoto University PhD. (Human and Environmental Studies). Publications include Yoroba Kiru Zo! Shinkokugeki To Kengeki No Sekai, (editor, Waseda University Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, 2014), Eiga No Naka No Shakai / Shakai No Naka No Eiga (Society in Films / Films in Society), (coauthor, Minerva Shobo, 2011), and the essay Eiga = Terebi Ikouki No Eiga Star Ni Miru Datsusutajio – Shisutemuteki Kyoutou (Post-studio – Systematic Joint Struggle Seen in Movie Stars in The Transition Period From Film To TV), (Engeki Kenkyuu (Theatre Research), 2014).