Bando Tsumasaburo Productions (阪東妻三郎プロダクション)

Bando Tsumasaburo Productions, founded in September of 1925 and liquidated in December of 1936, was a film company established in Kyoto and later moved to the Tokyo Bay Area in Chiba. It was established by Tsumasaburo BANDO (also known as Bantsuma), a popular young actor of the time, and was Japan's first film production company led by a star actor. Bando built the first film studio at 'Uzumasa' at a time when nothing else was there and produced more than 130 films. The production company was incorporated in 1927 and its official name became Dainihon Jiyu Eiga Productions in 1931.

The Struggle with Makino

Having had a hard time as an Obeya-haiyu (an actor playing bit-roles to establish their career and living together with other actors with similar aims) from around the age of twenty, Bando TSUMASABURO became famous in October of 1923 after being casted in the film "Senketsu no Tegata" (The Fresh Blood Handprint), produced by Shozo Maikino's Makino Film Productions with an original screenplay by Rokubei SUSUKITA. The film made him a star at twenty-one. After Makino Film Productions merged with Toa Kinema, Bando enjoyed a flourishing career as an actor under Makino. However, when Makino separated from Toa Kinema to establish Makino Productions in June of 1925, Bando also became independent from Toa Kinema and founded 'Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' in September of the same year. This occurred when Bando TSUMASABURO was twenty-three years old.

The memorable first production after the establishment of Bando Tsumasaburo Productions was "Orochi" (Serpent), directed by Buntaro FUTAGAWA, originally scripted by Susukita and under Makino as the executive director. However, the film was shot at Toa Kinema's Tojiin Studio since Makino Productions' Omuro Studio was still under construction. Bando had to release his second production, "Ijin Musume to Bushi" (The Foreign Girl and the Samurai) as his first film due to a contract with Toa Kinema that was still in effect.
Around the same time that Makino Productions was established, "Ijin Musume to Bushi" was shot at Azuma Studio in Tokyo by borrowing it from Takamatsu Azuma Productions, founded by Toyojiro TAKAMATSU, to use it as 'Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' Azuma Studio.'
"Ijin Musume to Bushi," starring Bando and directed by Kintaro INOUE, was released and distributed by Makino Productions on September 25, 1925 as a double feature with "Kiketsu Onikage Daisanpen" (Great Onikage, Part Three), directed by Bansho KANAMORI. "Orochi" (Serpent) was then released as the second film produced by Bantsuma Productions on November 20, 1925 with "Gishi to Kyokaku" (Loyal Retainer and Knight-errant), directed by Shozo Makino and shot in the Omuro Movie Studio owned by Makino.

The third production, "Maboroshi" (The Phantom), originally scripted and directed by Seika SHIBA, was shot in a studio that belonged to Shiro NAKAGAWA's Nakagawa Shiro Productions in Nara Prefecture. Although they started shooting the film, "Sonno" (The Loyalists), originally scripted and directed by Seika SHIBA, at Azuma Studio in Tokyo in early 1926, it was decided that Shochiku would distribute their films starting with "Sonno" as a result of negotiations with Shochiku during its shooting. The fifth production, "Suronin" (Masterless Samurai), originally scripted and directed by Shiba, was filmed at Shochiku Kyoto Studio in Kyoto.

The first film studio in Uzumasa

On May 2, 1926, the partnership company, 'Ichiritsu & Co. and Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' Uzumasa Studio' was established, sponsored by Ichiritsu & Co., owned by Ryousuke TACHIBANA, the former sales department manager of the former film distribution company called Toa Kinema. At the time, the area called 'Uzumasa, Kadono County' was covered by a thick bamboo grove. Bando cleared the area and Bando Tsumasaburo Productions built the first 'film studio' in Uzumasa.

During September of the same year, the partnership company placed a contract with the U.S. company, Universal Pictures, Inc., to produce films for them. When the 'Film Association of Bantsuma, Tachibana, and Universal' was established, film crews and equipment were transferred from Hollywood to the Uzumasa studio in October of the same year. The first production created after the establishment was released in January of 1927. However, since Universal Pictures, Inc. desired a film starring Bantsuma and such a film was never created due to a contract between Bantsuma Productions and Shochiku Kinema, the contract with Universal Pictures, Inc. was cancelled at the end of May of the same year and even turned into a lawsuit. The 'Uzumasa Satsueijo Gendaigeki-bu' (the Uzumasa Studio's Modern Drama division) was then closed.

At the end of December of the same year, the company was reorganized and became incorporated. Tachibana became a senior managing director and Bando became a director; however, Shochiku had almost complete control over the management of the company, holding most of the important positions including the president. For all practical purposes, the company was a Shochiku-affiliated production company. The company therefore had to produce not only films starring Bando, but also films starring actors such as Minoru KUSAMA, Reizaburo UMEWAKA and Matsunosuke ICHIKAWA, and then deliver them to Shochiku.

Shooting began in January of 1928 for "Rei no Shinpan" (Judgment of a Ghost) as the first modern drama starring Bando.
It should have been a great piece of work produced by an unusual mix of diverse talents: Ryosuke Tachibana as executive producer; Bando as executive director; Yoshiro EDAMASA as director; and Ureo EGAWA as screenwriter, adapting the story from the novel, "Shashin Monogatari"(Photograph Story), by Yamaji KISHI, which was published in serial form in the newspaper 'Asahi Shimbun.'
However, they had to stop shooting the film because the star-actress, Shizue TATSUTA, who was offered a part opposite Bando, had to recuperate from illness. This resulted in the film being called 'The Great Unfinished Work,' as suggested by its original title, "Photograph Story," implying that the story is fictitious, or rather that the story will never be realized.
It was said that the decision to discontinue production of the film was 'one of the most regrettable events of the year.'

In 1929, since Shochiku squeezed its budget for Bando's films, the number of films to be produced in the year was reduced to nine. For this reason, the production had to change their plans and decided to produce all of their films starring Bando; moreover, they made a bold decision to make the last of the nine films with Bando himself in the director's chair. "Ishimatsu no Saigo" (The Last Moment of Ishimatsu), directed by and starring Tsumasaburo BANDO, who assumed the director's name 'Shuntaro OKAYAMA,' was released on January 10, 1930.

However, Bando left Shochiku as of June 26, 1930 and released a statement criticizing Shochiku's repeated discriminations.
After Uzumasa Studio was handed to Shochiku, the studio was renamed to 'Shochiku Uzumasa Studio.'
The final films shot at the studio were "Karasu-gumi" (Crow Brigade) Part One and Part Two, directed by Minoru INUZUKA. Distributed by Shochiku, they were released on May 9 and June 13 of the same year.

The Studio Located in the Tokyo Bay Area

In January of 1931, Bando established 'Dainihon Jiyu Eiga Productions.'
Using a location provided by Keisei Dentetsu (formally known as Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd.), Bando built 'Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' Kanto Studio' on the approximately five million-square-foot salt fields (later Yatsu-yuen amusement park) on the Yatsu Kaigan seacoast, Tsudanuma Town, Chiba County, Chiba Prefecture (present-day Yatsu, Narashino City). While Paramount Pictures, Inc. distributed the first production, "Rakuyo Uyu" (Hunger in Kyoto), directed by Takashi AZUMA and released it on September 15, 1931, it was decided that Shinko Kinema, which was reorganized from Teikoku Kinema (formally known as Teikoku Kinema Engei Kabushiki Gaisha [Imperial Cinema Entertainment Co. Ltd.]) during the same year, would distribute their films starting from the second production, "Fuun Nagato-jo" (Nagato-jo Castle in Turbulent Times), directed by the same director. This was arranged through the good offices of Tachibana who had become the senior managing director of Teikoku Kinema, received the aid of Shochiku capital and was the managing director of Shinko Kinema at the time.

Tachibana was famous for collecting money like a trickster, using distribution rights as a tool for deceiving people. As written in 'Arakan Ichidai' (The Life Story of Kanjuro ARASHI), with the support of the right-wing group called Kokuryu-kai, Tachibana was a real tycoon to whom even yakuza (the Japanese mafia) could not refuse. Rikuzo FUKUHARA, who later became the top adviser of Sumiyoshi-kai (the second-largest yakuza group in Japan), went to see Tachibana alone out of righteous anger. At the time, Fukuhara was a member of Gurentai (a gang of young toughs), and after talking with Tachibana, he returned with half of his investments.
(Source: Shigeki YAMAHIRA, 'Yu-kyo-tako')

The film produced for the 1932 New Year movie season was "Tsukigata Hanpeita" (Hanpeita TSUKIGATA) which was directed by Bando using the assumed name, 'Shuntaro OKAYAMA' again. During July of the same year, there was an incident where the film's negatives for "Eigoro Futari" (Two Eigoros), directed by Hirofumi OKI and starring Bando, were burned due to a fire occurring at the studio. Although it is not known whether or not the fire had an influence on when the next film was to be produced, the third film released in September became "Shinpen Jakoneko 3: Kaen Kaiketsu-hen" (Masked Cat 3: The Fire was Solved) which was the last of the trilogy, 'Shinpen Jakoneko' (Masked Cat).

On January 20, 1935, the film "Hikoza to Kyuma" (Hikoza and Kyuma), directed by Shiroku NAGAO, was released. During May of the same year, Bando Tsumasaburo Productions decided to return the land and the building for their studio to Keisei Dentetsu and join Shinko Kinema since they had continued to make silent movies, going against the times, and became unable to handle their debts due to film production expenses. "Hikoza to Kyuma" became the last movie shot in the studio.

The Return to Kyoto and Closing

The first movie in which Bando appeared after he returned to Kyoto and joined Shinko Kinema, hiding his production name, "Bando Tsumasaburo Productions," was "Niiro Tsuruchiyo" (Tsuruchiyo NIIRO), created by the executive producer Shintaro SHIRAI, directed by Daisuke ITO, and recorded by Masahiro MAKINO (the founder of the Kyoto branch office of Onei). The film was released on October 15, 1935. Bando struggled with how to perform his role in the talking picture.

It was decided that 'Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' would produce the talking pictures starting from the second production. On December 31, 1935, "Sunae Shibari Morio Jushiro Zenhen" (The Spell of the Sand Painting, Jushiro MORIO, Part One) directed by INUZUKA was screened with two other films: "Hatsu Iwai Nezumi Kozo" (The Rat Man, First Celebration) directed by Toshizo KINUGASA of Kataoka Chiezo Productions, and "Umon Torimonocho: Harebare Gojusan-tsugi Ranma-hen" (The Detective Records of Umon: Journey of the Fifty-three Tokaido Road Stages - Anarchy) directed by Matsuo YAMAMOTO of Arashi Kanjuro Productions. For the New Year movie season, Shinko Kinema was able to present films with a rich cast of big-name actors such as Bando, Chiezo KATAOKA, and Kanjuro ARASHI.

In February of 1936, "Sunae Shibari Morio Jushiro Kohen" (The Spell of the Sand Painting, Jushiro MORIO, Part Two) directed by INUZUKA was released. Six movies were produced throughout the year; however, they formally closed down 'Bando Tsumasaburo Productions' to make the sixth and final film, "Doto Ichibannori" (First to Arrive), originally scripted by Nagao. The company brought down the curtain on its eleven-year history. Bando was thirty-five years old at the time.

After taking a rest, Bando joined Nikkatsu Studio in 1937 with the help of his friend Masahiro MAKINO, whose company called Makino Talkie Seisaku-jo (Makino Talkie Production) had just been closed, and with the help of Takejiro OTANI, the president of Shochiku who headed Nikkatsu. The first production in which Bando appeared after joining Nikkatsu was "Koi Yamahiko," directed by Masahiro MAKINO who had joined the company the same year. Other films starring Bando were "Koi Yamahiko Doto no maki" (Koi Yamahiko - Surging Waves) and "Chikemuri Takadanobaba" (Blood Spattered at Takadanobaba) also directed by Masahiro MAKINO, at the end of 1937. Stories about Bando's remarkable comeback and his greatest successes in talking pictures occurred after he joined Nikkatsu.