It would be impossible to write even a cursory survey history of Japanese cinema without acknowledging the manner in which this history is implicated within and impacted by larger sociohistorical events. The massive changes Japan experienced in the last one hundred years are coincident, of course, with the history of the cinematic medium itself. If the history of American cinema could not be told without recourse to such issues as the massive immigration from southern and Eastern Europe to the United States beginning in the 1880s, increased rural migration from South to North and increased urbanization in general, America's rise to world prominence at the end of World War I, the Depression, and the impact of World War II, among other factors, so, too, the Japanese cinema must be seen in context with Japan's rise to world prominence in its Meiji era (1868-1912), its colonialist expansionism leading to the disastrous Pacific War (1937-45), the Allied occupation (1945-52), Japan's "economic miracle" of the 1950s, and other factors of lasting import. Obviously it would be beyond the scope of this chapter even to begin to deal with these larger questions. Nevertheless, some general comments about the rise, growth, and development of Japanese cinema seem necessary before proceeding to a discussion of the salient aspects of feature filmmaking in Japan.
Cinema the world over arose, not coincidentally, in a period of increasing industrialization, urbanization, familial and cultural fragmentation, and, generally, escalating modernization. Perhaps nowhere were these linked forces more visible the world over than in Japan. Following the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan embarked on a virtual campaign of modernization that became inextricably linked to Westernization. The importation of Western sciences (never ignored, to be sure, but avowedly increased in this period), Western literatures, and even Western models of education and child rearing became not simply the rage but a national goal. This was particularly true in the political, educational, and cultural centers of Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.