Toei Company (東映)

Toei Company Limited is a Japanese film production and distribution company. It is widely known within Japan as a major film company. As of 2005, it has thirty-four directly-managed movie theaters and two film studios located in Tokyo and Kyoto. It is also famous for being a major shareholder of TV Asahi Corporation (it was the largest shareholder but is currently the second largest with a 16% share) while TV Asahi is Toei's top shareholder with an 11% share. Toei's head office is located at 3-2-17 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo.


Tokyo Eiga Haikyu (Tokyo Film Distribution Company), founded on October 1, 1949, bought the former Shinko Cinema Tokyo studios in Oizumi, Tokyo and launched a studio-for-rent business in 1951. Later it merged with Oizumi Films, which had achieved success in the film production industry, and Toyoko Film Company (founded in 1938) which had run movie theaters in Shibuya, Tokyo and Yokohama City in order to develop the areas along the Tokyu Toyoko line, but after World War Two it rented the former Shinko Cinema Kyoto Studio from Daiei Motion Picture Company to start film production and changed its name to Toei. Tokyo Kyuko Dentetsu was involved in the establishment of Toei, as indicated by the absorption of Toyoko Film Company. Keita GOTO created Toei in the same way that Ichizo KOBAYASHI founded Toho. Within Toyoko Film Company there were some former members of the production staff of the Manchukuo Film Association who had returned from mainland China such as Mitsuo MAKINO and Kanichi NEGISHI. They were automatically moved to Toei and took major roles in the newly-formed company aiming to be 'the fourth power' in the Japanese movie industry after Shochiku, Toho, and Daiei.

As outlined above, Toei is categorized as a company which was established after World War Two, but both its eastern and western studios took over those of Teikoku Kinema Engei Kabushiki Gaisha (Imperial Cinema Entertainment Company), Shinko, and Daiei Second (Toyoko) and as with these studios, Toei specifically focused on mass entertainment.

In 1957, Toei set up a studio for animated film next to Oizumi studio, Tokyo and had the former Nichido Eiga (previously Nihon Doga Eiga), whose name had changed to Toei Doga (now called Toei Animation) in the previous year, vacate the premises. In the 1950s, Toei had many popular actors on its books, including Chiezo KATAOKA, Utaemon ICHIKAWA, Ryunosuke TSUKIGATA, Ryutaro OTOMO, Kinnosuke YOROZUYA, Chiyonosuke AZUMA and Hashizo OKAWA, and their work created a period-film boom (Toei Jidaigeki). In 1958 Toei started producing TV films earlier than other competitors. A few years later it established Toei TV Productions, with its studio in Oizumi. From the middle of the 1950s to the beginning of the 1960s a string of famous actors and actresses of Toei modern drama, such as Shinjiro EHARA, Hitomi NAKAHARA, Ken TAKAKURA, Yoshiko SAKUMA, Tatsuo UMEMIYA, Yoshiko MITA, JJ Sonny CHIBA and Reiko OHARA, made their debut. Toei reached the biggest audiences in the film industry and created Daini Toei (one year later the name was changed to New Toei) in 1960 to double its productivity and gain a 50% share of the Japanese film market.
However, this didn't work well and only two years later the new company was broken up
In the 1960s the whole Japanese film industry entered a period of recession and period drama became less popular. In order to reduce costs Toei pressed ahead with a drastic downsizing of the Kyoto studio between 1963 and 1964, and most of the employees were moved to either Toei TV Productions or Toei Animation. In addition, the big-name actors Chiezo KATAOKA and Utaemon ICHIKAWA, who were also board members of the company, were forced to terminate their exclusivity contracts, even though they stayed on as board members, and Utaemon retired from acting. Due to their very expensive contracts Toei had to let some leading period-drama directors leave including Kunio WATANABE, Sadatsugu MATSUDA and Yasushi SASAKI.

From 1963 Toei had great success with its Ninkyo films starring popular actors and actresses such as Koji TSURUTA, Ken TAKAKURA, and Junko FUJI (now called Sumiko FUJI and the mother of Shinobu TERASHIMA) and this led to a Yakuza-film boom (Toei chivalry films). After 1973 docudramas starring Bunta SUGAWARA including the "Jingi Naki Tatakai" (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) Series and "Torakku Yaro" (Truck Men) Series became popular.

In 1954 Toei accepted management of a professional baseball team, the Tokyu Flyers (now called Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters), from Tokyu Corporation and changed its name to Toei Flyers. Additionally, Toei took the initiative at the beginning of the coming TV era: it made an investment in Nihon Educational Television (now called TV Asahi Corporation) to start broadcasting in 1959 and became a major source of programs for the TV station. On September 30, 1964, however, Toei separated financially from Tokyu Corporation and became independent. It is said that there was a feud between Hiroshi OKAWA of Toei and Noboru GOTO of Tokyu Corporation behind the separation: although Okawa was reluctantly dispatched to Toei and became the president, which operated on a shoestring with multiple debts, and managed to succeed in its reconstruction, Goto was focused on development of areas along the railways for both Tokyu itself and the Group as a whole. However, they continued to share ownership of the Toei Flyers.

After the film industry experienced a marked decline from the middle of 1960s, Shigeru OKADA, who became the second president of Toei in 1971, tried to attract audiences with yakuza films and oversaw the production of jitsuroku-ninkyo films and films with sexual or violent content targeting people who didn't watch TV. His business strategy eventually led to commercial success at the box office and overwhelmed his rivals. Moreover, following a decline in the popularity of period dramas in 1975 Toei established Kyoto Uzumasa Eigamura (Toei Movie Land) by relocating a part of the open set of Toei Movie Studios. In 1966, Toei transferred half of its shares in Nihon Educational Television to the Asahi Shimbun Company. During the off season in 1972 Toei and Tokyu sold the Toei Flyers to Nittaku Home Corporation because of the poor performance of the baseball team and the fact that the "Kuroi Kiri Incident," a game-fixing scandal in professional baseball at that time, made it difficult for the team to attract large audiences. On the other hand, Toei tried to promote further restructuring through new business development such as hotels, real estate, and the alteration of a studio's redundant areas into multiple-use facilities. In the main video-content business, to make up for the slowdown in Japanese films Toei created a distribution section for foreign films, though it was in fact limited to films from Hong Kong. Outside the cinema it has also contributed actively to the production of TV films, and since 1989 it has increased the amount of film releases with a series of original videos called "V cinema."

Toei put much emphasis on educational background and personal connections when recruiting full-time employees. According to a book written by Sadao NAKAJIMA, graduates of universities other than Tokyo University, Waseda University, Keio University, and Nihon University College of Art, and of Kyoto University or Doshisha University for the Kyoto Studios, were not recruited unless they had strong personal connections. In recent years, however, this tendency has gradually changed and more and more graduates of universities or vocational schools other than those listed above are able to enter the company. Indeed, two of Toei's most successful directors who strengthened the company, Noribumi SUZUKI and Ikuo SEKIMOTO, dropped out from studies at Ritsumeikan University and didn't attend higher education respectively. Unlike at Toei, employees of other major film companies could rarely work as a director without a university qualification. In addition, Teruo ISHII, who was not originally hired by Toei but transferred from Shintoho before becoming a hit maker in the 1960s, left education after graduating from junior high school under the old system of education, while Kinji FUKASAKU, one of the best directors of the 1970s, was from Nihon University College of Art but belonged to Department of Literature rather than the Department of Cinema. It can be said that the recruitment process for studio staff seems to prioritise ability over academic clique.

Toei has continued a style of patrimonial management exemplified by Okawa and his son, followed by Okada and his son taking the helm of the company; they were originally employed as salaried executives but later became actual owners of the company. Under such strong leadership Toei has kept the most distinctive characteristics of its production. Toei did not embrace the trend of the movie theater being a fancy date spot, and as a consequence was left far behind its rival company, Toho. However, unlike Toho which practically stopped in-house production, Toei has long engaged in original work including TV programs and animation, and it is seen as having great potential to become one of the largest video-content companies in the world.

Corporate culture
With regards to production policy, both Toei and its affiliates basically prioritize quantity over quality; projects are carried out without detailed examination of their feasibility, along the lines of the proverb 'He that oft shoots at last shall hit the mark.'
Toei's strategy is to make the biggest possible profit from a smaller budget than those of rivals Toho and Shochiku, and this translated into success at the box office from the 1950s to the 1970s.

When Akira KUROSAWA made the Japan-US joint production 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' he used the Toei Kyoto Movie Studio for the first time, but on the first day of filming he got angry at the fact that one of the curtains on the set had a crease in it and immediately ceased production; the conflict between Kurosawa and the staff of the studio is said to be one of the reasons he abandoned the movie halfway through. This anecdote illustrates Toei's culture at that time which was at odds with the perfectionist nature of Kurosawa, because Toei's top priority was mass-production; this was quite different from rival Toho where the curtains were always sprayed and made smooth without any specific instruction even a few days before filming.

The driving force for the constant production of films in a variety of genres was the profit-oriented business philosophy during the leadership of company president Shigeru OKADA.

The top priorities in regard to the production of TV programs were audience ratings and the procurement of funds for film production rather than the particular framework for a program, therefore, it was often the case that their development was affected by these priorities.

Once the films or TV programs became successful, they were made into series, most of which continued for ten to twenty years.
Examples of these include 'Abashiri Banngai-chi,' 'Jingi Naki Tatakai,' (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) 'Kamen Raida,' (Masked Rider) 'Abarenbo Shogun' and 'Hagure Keiji Juunjoha.'

Nowadays, the number of producers who focus on the structure and content of their work has increased and many of them have absolute power over program production.

Also, after finishing Toei's special-effects productions, many of the regular performers are asked to appear in the general films and TV programs of the company.

Opening scenes
The opening credits of Toei films where wild waves batter three rocks out of which the Toei triangular logo emerges are very famous in Japan, and they have been parodied in many animated video games and variety TV programs. During the heyday of Toei's yakuza films in 1970s, despite the company making enormous box-office profits it was reluctant to pay its staff and performers well and forced them to accept difficult commissions. Because of these attitudes, Toei was criticized and it was said that the Toei sankaku (triangle) represents "san-kaku" (three deficiencies): giri-kaku (deficiency in the sense of duty), haji-kaku (deficiency in shame), and ninjo-kaku (deficiency in humaneness).

The three rocks really represent the integration and solidarity of the predecessors of Toei: Tokyo Eiga Haikyu (Tokyo Film Distribution Company), Oizumi Films, and Toyoko Film Company.

The opening is officially called 'Araiso ni nami' (Wild waves on a rocky beach) within the company. It is said that the scene was filmed at Inubosaki, Choshi City, Chiba Prefecture. It has been used as the opening of Toei films since around 1957. The current version is the fourth incarnation of the scene.

In the current version an image created by computer graphics appears first, then suddenly changes into the well-known scene of the rocks being splashed by the wild waves. You can see the logo even from the beginning of the opening, as it does not pop out between the rocks anymore as in the previous version.

Kyoto Haiyu-Kaikan Hall (a complex mainly consisting of waiting rooms for actors)
In Haiyu-Kaikan Hall at the Kyoto studio, it is said that only major stars are permitted to occupy rooms exclusively; the current members of such a privileged class are Kotaro SATOMI, Kinya KITAOJI, Hiroki MATSUKATA and some others, however, Ken TAKAKURA is the only person to have never used the room even though his name plate remains on the door of his room.
When Toshiro MIFUNE, Shin SABURI, and Chiezo KATAOKA performed together in the same scene of the yakuza film 'Nihon no Don,' they greeted each other in the following fashion: first, Mifune (born in 1920 and who made his debut after the Second World War) said hello deferentially to the two seniors, then Saburi (born in 1909 and debuting in 1931) introduced himself to Kataoka with the words 'I'm Saburi, sir,' and lastly Kataoka (born in 1903 and debuting in 1927) said to the two juniors, 'Hello, guys.'

Along with films, one of Toei's core operations is said to be the excessive production of TV programs. Such operations started in 1958 when the first Japanese TV film appeared, and in its prime Toei produced as many as thirty regular programs a year. The production system was shared by three studios: Toei Kyoto TV Productions, which produced period and early-modern dramas and contemporary dramas featuring Kyoto settings, Toei Tokyo Productions located in Ikuta, and Toei TV Productions located in Oizumi, and the studios competed with each other in order to continue mass-producing the programs.

Although in the first few years they made programs only for their biggest shareholder, NET (now called TV Asahi), they soon made use of opportunities to conclude wide-ranging contracts with other TV stations. Even so, Toru HIRAYAMA, a producer in charge of character series at that time, later looked back and commented in the magazine 'Uchusen' that by the middle of the 1960s Toei was regarded as an NET-affiliated production company within the industry. Today, all ongoing programs except for animation are made by TV Asahi.

In addition, one episode from a children's TV program or a new film is incorporated in the 'Toei Manga Festival,' a seasonal program aimed at children played at movie theaters within Japan.