Kurosawa's Missing Film: Those Who Make Tomorrow
by Patrick Galvan
April 24, 2018
Blog
 

Akira Kurosawa in 1993One of the benefits of being an Akira Kurosawa fan in the 21st century is that the vast majority of the cinematic endeavors by this fine artist are, these days, easily accessible. Of the thirty motion pictures Kurosawa considered part of his official filmography, not one has been refused a bona fide Blu-ray or DVD release and not one has gone undistributed in the stateside market (appropriately subtitled). Film fans who are just now getting into Kurosawa’s work are quite fortunate. No longer must we hunt down old VHS tapes or the books of Donald Richie to, say, get an idea of what his four wartime movies were like; nowadays, it’s a simple matter of picking up the Eclipse boxset put out by Criterion. What’s more, the director’s non-“canon” projects are steadily making their way into our hands. His 1971 television documentary Song of the Horse can be located with some resourceful searching. A few films he wrote but did not direct are available on DVD in Japan. Scripts he never had the chance to shoot have since been realized by other moviemakers (and these films have been distributed in the United States as well).

There is, however, one particular film in Kurosawa’s oeuvre which remains persistently elusive; and the circumstances under which it was made and subsequently faded into obscurity are interesting, to say the least. Many sources—including the director’s own autobiography—insist his first movie after World War II was the liberal drama No Regrets for Our Youth (1946). The film in which actress Setsuko Hara completed her transformation from a poster girl for wartime nationalism into a symbol for occupation-approved democratic values is often credited as Kurosawa’s first step into postwar cinema. But in reality, it was his second. Released six months earlier in that same year, under the domineering influence and scrutiny of the Allied occupation, was a picture he co-directed with two other people, completely disowned, and rarely discussed in interviews. A picture which has reputedly never been shown outside its native country, never re-released in Japanese theaters, and never distributed on any home media platform anywhere in the world. Due to some scant but awfully persuasive tidbits of evidence indicating a copy still exists somewhere, I wouldn’t feel comfortable labeling this a lost film. But for all intents and purposes, we can probably slap the adjective “missing” on this incredibly obscure motion picture. The name of the film: Those Who Make Tomorrow (1946).

Like pretty much every non-Japanese moviegoer born after 1946, I have not seen the movie under discussion and thus have no informed opinion on it. I cannot testify as to the elegance of its artistry, the efficiency of its dramatic content, the believability of its performances, etc. I cannot offer any first-hand insight, nor shall I pretend to. But what I can and shall do is present information I’ve collected on the subject and hopefully generate some interest in what it was about and why it was made. Primarily, this article is my means of passing along research on an Akira Kurosawa film we cannot see and may never see. Given Kurosawa’s tremendous importance in the history of cinema, I feel this is only right.

One more disclaimer. In writing this article, I’m relying heavily on the work of film historians Donald Richie, Stuart Galbraith IV, and in particular, Kyoko Hirano, whose extraordinary book Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo: Japanese Cinema Under the Occupation provides so much detail on the film and the greater context surrounding it that I might not have attempted such an undertaking otherwise.

 

Background

In telling the story of Kurosawa’s missing film, one must turn back the clock to about a year before its release: August 27, 1945, the day the Allied Forces set foot on Japanese soil for the first time. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had occurred mere weeks earlier; the second world war was, for all practical purposes, over, with Japan on the losing end. Now the Land of the Rising Sun was subjected to a temporary spell of control from the west. General Douglas MacArthur would not arrive for another three days and the official surrender wouldn’t be penned until September 2, but the occupation (run primarily by the Americans) was not willing to wait for signatures from the imperial government to start implementing their plans for the defeated country. According to then-contemporary United States politicians, extreme nationalism and militarism had been the root causes of Japan’s wartime aggression; it was MacArthur’s task as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers to weed out these social systems via “westernization” and replace them with democratic values. And part of his strategy in doing so was to seize control of the media—everything from newspapers to literature to movies—and dictate what could or could not be published/filmed in Japan.

The Americans were well aware of the potential influence entertainment-oriented mass communication had on the public, having produced a number of successful propaganda pictures on their own turf. (A 1942 study indicated the Why We Fight documentary series proved a more persuasive tool for inspiring soldiers than mere lectures.) They were similarly aware of how the Japanese wartime authorities restricted the content of movies and how fiscally successful some of their respective propaganda movies had been. So, the occupation authorities reasoned, the media could ideally be used to help convert Japan into a pacifistic, nonaggressive state. With MacArthur’s authorization, the first wave of Allied personnel to occupy Japan established an office for exactly that purpose, called the Information Dissemination Section. Going into power on that same aforementioned August day, this branch of the occupying government immediately set out to “re-educate” the public through their strict supervision and complete control.

Twenty days after the official surrender, the Information Dissemination Section was rebranded as the CI&E (Civil Information & Education) section and later on, a subdivision called the Motion Picture and Theatrical Branch was established within its ranks. In addition to banning wartime propaganda films and kabuki theater (which the occupation perceived as a celebration of feudalistic loyalty), CI&E wrapped its fingers tautly around the preproduction stages in the Japanese film industry. For the next four years, until 1949, studios were required to provide fully translated copies of all scripts to the Americans before shooting began. If the U.S. censors caught anything adjudged nationalistic, militaristic, etc., changes had to be made. And there was no turning back, no reverting to a previous draft, for censorship extended to the post-production phase as well. Up until the official end of the occupation in 1952, no Japanese film could go to theaters without being screened for both CI&E and another government branch, CCD (Civil Censorship Detachment). So even though there were plenty of Japanese film employees who did not particularly take to the politics being forced upon them, they had no choice but to go along with the new rules and guidelines: making a nationalistic film in 1945-1952 Japan was virtually impossible.

It was not the goal of either occupation sector to wreck the Japanese film industry. On the contrary, the American forces wanted very much for Japanese movies to prosper, albeit by telling the sort of stories that presented/championed behaviors and ideologies they deemed suitable for the Japanese people. To encourage productivity early on, CI&E summoned representatives from each of the major film studios in Japan and laid out for them lists of recommended subjects. And one of the encouraged directions for Japanese artists to take was making films which promoted “the peaceful and constructive organization of labor unions.”

In the early years of the occupation, labor unions were viewed as a metaphorical spit in the face to the allegiance-demanded beliefs prevalent in the war. With them came the notion that it was acceptable for blue-collar and white-collar people to toss aside steadfast loyalty to their superiors, defy the obligation to best serve those above them, and seek improved working conditions, higher monetary compensation, and better futures for themselves. In other words, labor unions represented individual rights: something the occupation forces very much wanted to push. To make movies about organized labor and the rights of workers to look out for their own well-being was to seize opportunity of the moment. It was also hoped that initializing a postwar movement within the film industry and promoting it through their art would encourage businesses to follow suit in real life. And so, with the blessing of David Conde, the anti-capitalist chief of CI&E’s Motion Picture Unit, the studios started forming unions of their own.

And in spring of 1946, the labor union at Toho announced production of what was essentially a propaganda movie about its own politics. Those Who Make Tomorrow was underway.

 

Pre-production

Those Who Make Tomorrow posterThe timing could not have been better. On March 20, 1946, less than two months prior to the film’s release, Toho’s labor union went on a fifteen-day strike. Having been denied improved pay and working conditions, the union—which consisted of 5,600 employees—ceased productivity, returning to work only upon being granted the following: a minimum monthly salary of six hundred yen (plus overtime) for all studio employees; and the right to form a production administration committee which could actively participate in the hiring of new talent and the selection of future projects to pursue. Scripts chosen by the union, of course, still had to meet occupation standards; but unionized employees surely would’ve found it tempting to make a propaganda piece about their own agendas, considering their recent victory against the company and that they now had some say in what could be shot. Most encouraging of all, however, was that CI&E chief David Conde had been the one to suggest Toho make such a film in the first place. Thus there was little chance of the Americans finding qualms with the project.

A U.S. citizen born in Canada, Conde attained his position at CI&E having participated in psychological warfare operations for the American government. And though his reign as CI&E chief lasted a mere couple of months, during that time, he effectively cemented his reputation as a hyperactive, quick-tempered man bursting with passion for reforming the Japanese film industry. (He was known to yell and bang his fists on tables during meetings, an attitude which no doubt intimidated the studio representatives.) Conde was widely suspected to have been a communist or communist sympathizer, as he was quite critical of capitalism (beliefs which just might’ve gotten him in trouble later on); but these revisionist attitudes of his perfectly complemented what the occupation was seeking in late 1945 and early 1946. And as one of the more domineering figures to help initiate the postwar organized labor movement in Japan, he was all too enthusiastic for Toho (who possessed the most powerful union among the film studios) to move ahead with the production of Those Who Make Tomorrow. There doesn’t seem to be much, if any, information on whether or not he actively participated in the story creation, but the film could very well be described as a pet project shared between him and the unionists. It was certainly not a “director’s film.”

Even though the film consisted of a singular linear narrative, the union, possibly for the sake of time, opted to hire three directors, each man placed in charge of filming one-third of the screenplay. In addition to Kurosawa, the directors were: his mentor, veteran craftsman Kajiro Yamamoto; and Hideo Sekigawa, whom Donald Richie claims would go on to make an array of films heavy in anti-American sentiment as soon as the occupation authorities and their censorship programs vacated in 1952. According to Kurosawa’s testimony, his own portion of the film was shot in a week’s time, therefore making it reasonable to assume Yamamoto and Sekigawa completed their respective parts according to a similarly brief schedule.

 

The story

A great deal of the following synopsis is paraphrased from the one found in Kyoko Hirano’s book Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo. So detailed is her recounting of individual scenes—right down to lines of dialogue and choices of composition—one can deduce she scored a screening of the picture during her years of research. (How and where she managed to do so, if she managed to do so, would be the first of many questions to come forward should I ever cross paths with her.) But, I digress. Onto the story.

After an opening credits sequence laden with a song championing the unity of the common people, we are introduced to our protagonists. The film revolves around a working class family, the Okamotos. The father, Gintaro (Kenji Susukida), is an anti-unionist employed in an iron-manufacturing company. His unmarried daughters, Aiko (Mitsue Tachibana) and Yoshiko (Chieko Nakakita), work in a revue dance troupe and as a script girl for a local film studio, respectively. These are the early years of the occupation and organized labor is becoming something of a trend in modern-day Japan, much to Gintaro’s disdain. And little does he suspect an outcropping of this new, anti-traditionalist movement is brewing in his midst, from the family renting the second floor of his house. The tenants are headed by a railway engineer named Hori (Masayuki Mori), whose co-workers at the factory are currently on strike. Hori wants to join them but he feels he shouldn’t; his son is gravely ill. But with his wife’s encouragement, the engineer leaves the house and joins his comrades, who are singing and displaying banners in protesting current labor conditions.

Meantime, at the movie studio where Yoshiko works, business continues as usual, albeit with an undercurrent of disaffection. While shooting a scene featuring a movie star named Fujita (played by real-life Toho star Susumu Fujita), some lighting technicians perched in the rafters above the set complain about their financial circumstances. “Only the company is making money,” one of them gripes. Another chimes in: “We are happy to work on this excellent project, but we need economic security.” Down below, Fujita is joined by an actress named Takamine (again, played by a real contract player, Hideko Takamine), who states: “We can never make ‘rich’ films under such conditions.” At this point, we jump to Aiko’s workplace. One of the girls in the troupe has been out sick due to strenuous overwork; and her colleagues are none too pleased with the rough conditions being thrust upon them, either.

Back at the studio, an update arrives on the railway station strike: management has been overtaken by labor. An inspired Yoshiko then suggests she and her fellow employees follow their example in demanding a better future.

At first, Gintaro is disgusted that one of his daughters has fallen under the anti-traditionalist influence spreading through the community and suggests Hori, living in their household, is the root cause for it. He stubbornly persists in believing that unions are for the wrongheaded, that companies would never sink to the point of firing their employees, that sticking with the old-fashioned sense of die-hard obligation is the right and noble thing to do. He is, of course, all the more upset when unionization comes to his company and when he himself is let go in a massive company-wide layoff. So much for his earlier claim that “Our company president would never do something so inhuman.” Starting to realize his beliefs were in error and that he was wrong to judge Hori, Gintaro himself becomes inspired to take part in the organized labor movement when Hori’s ailing son passes away and yet the railway engineer persists in taking a stand at the factory.

Trouble hits big time at the theater. A vicious stage manager (Takashi Shimura) fires one of the girls for being out sick—even though it was the harsh working conditions implemented by him which spawned her condition. As a result, the remaining dancers organize a strike. Outside, a group of similarly wronged people march down the street, singing and displaying banners. Among them is Gintaro, who in “a close-up from a low angle,” joins in song. The strikes continue with everyone banding together against their respective companies, and on that note of uplifting unity, the film ends.

 

Parallels to Toho

Based on what can be ascertained from historical context and available evidence, Those Who Make Tomorrow appears to have been not only a movie about the politics of Toho’s union, but a movie, essentially, about Toho itself. As Stuart Galbraith IV pontificates in his book The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, even though the studio in the picture goes unnamed, it is likely supposed to be Toho. As mentioned earlier, two major stars under contract at the time, Susumu Fujita and Hideko Takamine, appear in the movie literally as themselves. Galbraith further notes that elsewhere in the story, another star, Seizaburo Kawazu, makes an identically named cameo. If that blatant casting gimmick is not enough, the fact that the movie is about studio employees joining hands with counterparts in railway companies and dance troupes all too clearly connects the dots.

For those who haven’t done their homework: Toho was formed as a conglomerate of various smaller companies. The merge came under the supervision of railway tycoon Ichizo Kobayashi, who got into movies by building theaters near his train stations and purchasing small film companies to produce original material to exhibit in them. Before his cinematic foray, Kobayashi established the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater (which featured an all-girl revue); and at the time of Those Who Make Tomorrow, Toho was still latched onto its theatrical division. So the three companies in the film whose personnel take on protesting—the movie studio, the dance theater, the railway—all too clearly represent Toho’s background.

As for the character of Gintaro, employed in an iron-manufacturing company? He might be the one completely fictionalized add-on, as I’m not aware of any professional associations between said industry and Toho at the time.

 

Those Who Make Tomorrow poster 2

 

Release and reception

In promoting the film, Toho publicity department employee Shigemi Hijikata drew up a poster showcasing the film’s theme of the common people banding together. In it, workers are presented holding red flags and signs, and the poster did not feature elaborate portraits of the film’s stars. (Note: I was unable to locate this particular poster, though I did find one similar, which can be seen above.) David Conde, who had more or less spearheaded the project, was smitten with Hijikata’s poster and requested the original from the studio, which Toho bestowed upon him in early May. Conde was similarly enchanted with the film itself, giving it his complete endorsement that spring. General release of the film was clearly calculated. Those Who Make Tomorrow went to theaters on May 2, one day after the first May Day celebration permitted in Japan in many years. (The holiday, recognized abroad as a celebration of laborers, had been basically suppressed by the country’s wartime authorities.)

But for co-director Akira Kurosawa, there was nothing special at all about Those Who Make Tomorrow. In fact, if you read his autobiography, he completely skips over the film, refusing to even acknowledge its existence. Despite the presence of three directors working on three separate parts, Kurosawa felt no one had ample space to inject a personal touch into the final product. “In sum, it is a film made by [a] committee and it is a good example of how uninteresting such films can be,” he told Kinema Jumpo in 1970. “[E]ven now, when I hear [the May Day songs], it reminds me of this film and makes me sleepy.”

Now, Kurosawa was no stranger to propaganda movies by this point in his career. Just two years earlier, he’d finished his second feature, The Most Beautiful (1944), about workers in a war factory valiantly struggling to make their quota despite the physical and mental odds stacked against them. It was a product clearly made with the purpose of inspiring the public to play their part in the war effort, even though it was very clear by 1944 that Japan was on the losing end. Not only that, The Most Beautiful was a picture Kurosawa looked back on years later and admitted to having very fond feelings for. He never explicitly states why this was in his autobiography, though he did seem interested in the semi-documentary approach in which he directed it; and the fact that he met his wife, actress Yoko Yaguchi, on the set might’ve tugged at his heart’s most sentimental strings. Flashing forward to 1945, Sanshiro Sugata: Part II was even more blatant in its politics—specifically anti-west politics—presenting not one but two sequences in which subhuman American characters went about bullying people until the pure-hearted hero stepped in and put them in their place. By Kurosawa’s own confession, it was a film made at the behest of the studio; he himself was less interested in the overall concept and more keen on a subplot regarding a supporting character.

So in a sense, it is interesting that despite having worked on two propaganda pictures during the war that Kurosawa would turn around and disown something cut from a differently colored but similarly plain piece of cloth. On the other hand, in those earlier pictures, Kurosawa had a chance to inject some of himself into the story. He contributed to or completely wrote the scripts, he directed both films in their entirety, he spliced the shots together, and there were, at the very least, elements about them which commanded his interest; whether or not he’d wanted to make them in the first place, these were his films. By contrast, he didn’t write a single word in Those Who Make Tomorrow, he concocted none of the story elements, he didn’t even have a chance to utilize his world-renowned editing instincts in post-production. Everything had been decided ahead of time for him, and everything that came afterward was apparently put together in his absence as well. The one compliment he did pay the picture was that the portion he shot wasn’t too bad for something made in a week.

Kurosawa wasn’t the only one to walk away dissatisfied. Kyuichi Tokuda, secretary of the Japan Communist Party, denounced the film for being “too unintellectualized and uninteresting.” From what Kyoko Hirano describes in her book, the film depended heavily on close-ups of “strikers singing militant songs” as a means of ramming its point home instead of “effectively dramatizing the unionists’ struggle.” Donald Richie, writing in the third edition of his The Films of Akira Kurosawa, similarly put down the production: “The togetherness […] is little short of suffocating—and scenes of everyone working happily together, scenes of emotional community action, scenes of masses of workers rushing to make tomorrow are so frequent that they seriously interfere with the plot.”

 

Those Who Make Tomorrow poster 3

 

Aftermath

Although she doesn’t list any actual figures in her book, Hirano notes the picture failed to leave much of a commercial impact. David Conde might’ve been infatuated with it, but Those Who Make Tomorrow really seems to have been a picture made in the heat of the moment and quickly forgotten soon after. And it certainly didn’t appear to inspire many cinematic imitators. Part of this might’ve been due to artistic shortcomings, but the chief reason would’ve undoubtedly been the rapidly changing political views within the occupation and the United States’ foreign policy. As tensions rose between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (giving birth to the Cold War), anticommunism quickly spread throughout all levels of the American government; and the last thing the occupation wanted was Japan adopting social systems even remotely similar to those held by the Russians. As Hirano writes, film censors were instructed not to permit scenes which glorified organized labor or portrayed capitalists in a negative light. Anything which could possibly attract the Japanese to what was going on in the Soviet Union was off limits. General MacArthur himself banned a nationwide labor strike set for February 1, 1947, claiming it would negatively impact Japan’s economy, though his decision’s been perceived by many simply as a direct accommodation of the aforementioned changes.

Government personnel deemed questionable (i.e. communistic) were drained from the proverbial swamp. By July 1946, David Conde, an instrumental figure in the postwar Japanese organized labor movement, was no longer in a position of power. It remains unclear to this day whether he willingly departed as chief of the Motion Picture Unit at CI&E or if he was forcibly coerced into resignation; but it’s generally agreed upon that his participating in the anti-capitalist documentary The Japanese Tragedy (1946) set him at odds with the sudden wave of conservative sentiment filtering through the U.S. government. (The Japanese Tragedy was a unique case of a Japanese picture signed off on and released by the Americans and then pulled from circulation by the same organization shortly thereafter—a testament to just how swiftly agendas changed in those early years of the occupation.) Conde remained in Japan for about a year after his departure, writing for the International News Service and Reuters until an article of his appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which he lambasted MacArthur’s censorship programs. His visa was denied renewal, and Conde was deported in 1947.

Conde wasn’t the only CI&E employee to be sent home. The military head of CI&E’s entire operations, Brigadier General Kermit Dyke, who had been labeled a “commie” by conservatives, was replaced by the right-wing Lieutenant Colonel Donald Nugent. As for Toho’s labor union, they would undertake two more strikes, the third and final one occurring in 1948. Except, these strikes did not resolve as smoothly as the first. In the course of just a few years, Toho lost several of its top-name stars (hence the numerous New Face actors starring in many of the late ‘40s films); alternate unions and the short-lived Shin-Toho were formed; an anticommunist president assumed control of the company for a spell—leading to the cancellation of several union-started projects; and one strike proved so tumultuous that American troops were ultimately summoned to help bring an end to it. When it was over, the union maintained its right to represent workers at the cost of relinquishing all influence in the management.

And, in the midst of and long after this roaring chaos, Akira Kurosawa became one of the most distinguished and internationally celebrated artists in the history of cinema.

Thus, it is a genuine shame that one of his films (even one he saw precious little merit in) may never again be put before the masses. No matter how good or poor Those Who Make Tomorrow may have been, it is nonetheless part of the director’s cinematic spectrum and, on that level, at the very least, deserves to be seen and scrutinized. I was appalled by the earlier mentioned Song of the Horse (a truly terrible documentary in every sense of the word), but at the same time, I was happy to have had the opportunity to see it—for the same reasons I hope Those Who Make Tomorrow will someday garner a public release in some form. I have no idea if a print still exists; it’s possible every frame has been lost to the ravages of time—especially since there’s apparently been no public demand for this film in the last seventy-two years. But I like to think that somewhere, perhaps in the constantly dwindling lot at Toho, there’s a surviving copy and one day, Akira Kurosawa aficionados will be able to see it. Only then can we decide for ourselves whether or not this truly was a film which defined how “uninteresting” a film “made by committee” can be.