T. int.: Namiko. Scen.: Iwao Mori. F.: Yutaka Ikedo, Harumi Machii. Int.: Yaeko Mizutani, Den Obinata, Yo Shiomi. Prod.: Orientaru Eigasha (Saitama) 35mm. D.: 54’ a 24 f/s.
Namiko is based on a popular novel, Hototogisu (The Cuckoo), by Tokutomi Roka (1868-1927), a writer, mystic and disciple of Tolstoj, whom he met and whose influence latterly inspired him to retreat to a ‘peasant life’ in the countryside. Published in 1898, The Cuckoo, a romantic melodrama, was a huge success and was filmed repeatedly during the silent era. Tanaka himself had filmed the novel as early as 1919, and fragments, filmed on location at the Zushi beach, survive of the 1922 version by Yoshinobu Ikeda. This early sound version updates the story to the present day. Lead actress Yaeko Mizutani had played the part on the shinpa (‘new school’) stage prior to committing her performance to film. Namiko, the first Japanese feature film to use the imported Western Electric sound system, was produced by Orientaru eigasha, a newly founded studio based in Saitama near Tokyo and loosely tied to Paramount Japan. Fearful that its new knowhow might be stolen, the studio enacted a policy of strict secrecy. Ironically, however, it was to close down after producing this one film. Iwao Mori scripted the film and was involved in its production. Director Eizo Tanaka, another former member of the Nikkatsu Kinyokai, was primarily a filmmaker of the silent period, and a key figure in the shinpa-based cinema of the Taisho Era (1912-1926). Like many directors then active, he participated in the era’s fashionable Westernisation, and among his early works were adaptations of Tolstoj and Cˇechov He is most famous, however, for Kyoya erimise (The Kyoya Collar Shop, 1922), the last major film to use onnagata (female impersonators) instead of actresses. He directed very few sound films, but lectured on film technique at university level and made acting appearances. Though Namiko was not a hit, Iwao Mori later recalled that “If nothing else, the sound must be said to be magnificent”, while future P.C.L. director Kajiro Yamamoto wrote: “Yaeko Mizutani’s sweet voice seems remarkably erotic, and one thinks, ‘Ah, so this is the appeal of the talkie!'”. Viewing the film in the 1970s, Noël Burch wrote that the film “is shot entirely in single-take sequences. This was certainly due in part to the sound-editing difficulties experienced also in the West, but despite an occasional track-in for dramatic emphasis, close frames are extremely rare, and the camera tends to take in an entire room from the outset, with the characters gradually occupying the frame from the outset. The film may well have been adapted from a play, like so many of its Western contemporaries, but the ‘theatricality’ of its decoupage is specifically Japanese”. The Western Electric sound system would not be fully utilized in Japan until the following year, when Nikkatsu picked it up and started to use it in its own sound film productions.