Bantsuma Tachibana Universal Rengo Eiga (阪妻・立花・ユニヴァーサル連合映画)

Bantsuma Tachibana Universal Rengo Eiga was a Japanese film company that was jointly established between a Japanese company and an American company (its contract was signed in September 1926 and terminated in May 1927).

Brief history/summary

In September 1926, a star actor of the time named Tsumasaburo BANDO signed an agreement with Universal Pictures Co., Ltd of the U.S., under which Bando Tsumasaburo Productions (Bantsuma Puro) was to produce films for Universal. The purpose of the agreement did not involve showing films in the United States. By taking advantage of Bantsuma's popularity in Japan, the head of Univeral's Japan office intended to show films produced by Universal together with films produced by Bantsuma Puro.

Ryosukue TACHIBANA of Ichiritsu Shoten, who established Bantsuma Puro in 1925 and became its chief executive officer, used Shiro NAKAGAWA's "Nakagawa Shiro Production Studio" in Nara, as well as Toyojiro TAKAMATSU's "Takamatsu Azuma Production, Azuma Studio" in Tokyo. He then established 'Uzumasa Studio' at Uzumasa, Kyoto and began producing films starring Bando on May 2, 1926.

Under this agreement, according to Tachibana, Universal was obliged to provide filming and lighting, development and special filming equipment equivalent to two-hundred thousand dollars at the time, as well as dispatch three to four technical staff members, while Bantsuma Puro obtained the right to dispatch an actor and an actress every year to Universal City (California), have them appear in films if necessary and distribute films produced at Uzumasa Studio through Universal.

Carl Laemmle, the founder and president of Universal, sent a message to those involved in Japan's film-making business that expressed his hopes for the improvement of Japanese movie technology. On October 4th of the same year, six movie cameras manufactured by Bell and Howell, two outdoor generators and eighty pieces of lighting equipment arrived at Yokohama Harbor together with director Jay Marchant, development engineer Alfred Gosdin, filming engineer Harold Smith and electrical engineer (lighting engineer) Al Bockman.
Izumi KANZAKI (father of actress Hisako SAKURA), a reporter of Jiji Shinpo who was also known as an Esperantist, became the advertising manager of 'Rengo Eiga.'

The company's first film "Kirishitan Ocho" was released on January 28, 1927, together with "Taitei no Misshi" (directed by Victor Tourjansky), a French film distributed by Universal. Involved in the production of "Kirishitan Ocho" was director Norio YAMAGAMI, filming engineer Yasusaku TAKAJO and other staff from Toho Eiga Seisakusho, the actress Nobuko SATSUKI and actor YOSHINOBU TAKAHASHI, and its filming was done under the guidance of Harold Smith and Al Bockman. The film attracted the attention of Japanese film critics and received rave reviews.

However, the greatest fault of 'Bantsuma Tachibana Universal Rengo Eiga' was the fact that Shochiku held the right to distribute films starring Bando, based on a contract that applied to the fourth film of Bantsuma Puro "Sonno" as well as subsequent films. Therefore, Bando could not appear in 'Rengo Eiga' films except for "Arashi ni Tatsu Onna," which was directed by Tokuji OZAWA. The company's historical dramas without a star were unable to attract audiences, betraying Universal's expectations. The agreement was terminated at the end of May of the same year and the disputes went all the way to litigation.

The dream of Tachibana and Bando to make inroads into the world market ended up as a mere dream. The 'Contemporary Drama Division of Uzumasa Studio' was dissolved, and the three films called "Hiko Yasha" were never completed and the company left behind thirty-five silent films.