Even silent, grainy black-and-white images from early films can provide a more visceral feeling of an era than history books do. That’s what makes these street scenes from Tokyo in the late 1940s so intriguing. Plus, the images are surprisingly high quality.
Here, the record producer and DJ Boogie Belgique uses archival footage to accompany his "Ms. Yutani" composition. Crisp images show Tokyo residents walking past street shops in the Shinbashi district as cars flow pass in the road beyond. Two kimono-clad women wander through market stalls in what is now Dogenzaka in Shibuya, an entertainment district.
The clips must have been captured by a high quality camera, a clue that along with glimpses of sections of the city intended for occupying American forces only suggests that American forces filmed these scenes, writes Colin Marshall for Open Culture. Speed limit signs in English (20 mph) and a U.S. military bus passing by support this idea.
The footage without music can be found on archive.org. Another similar clip tours past a long string of wooden houses and shows a policeman directing traffic. A third features a drive from an airport terminal to a military port.
At RocketNews24, Scott Wilson reports on efforts to guess a date for the first video. Viewers have picked through the footage for clues: A poster on a pole bears the name of Hatsu Imai, the first woman elected to the Japanese House of Representatives, in 1946. Another sign seems to be a movie poster for The Miracle on 34th Street, originally released in Japan in November 1948. Japan was occupied by American forces from 1945 to 1952, so these tidbits point to a late 1940s date for this footage.
Commenters on the RocketNews24 story suggest that the footage is second unit footage for the Humphrey Bogart movie Tokyo Joe. That movie was released in 1949 and featured extensive documentary-style clips for background, filmed in Japan, writes Rob Nixon for Turner Classic Movies.
Even without knowing the footage’s exact provenance, a dive into the streets of post-war Japan is fascinating.