Monday, 10 October 2016

The fate of a Japanese silent film in translation

I have one thing to say about this year's Pordenone Silent Film Festival.


OK, two things:


It was my first visit (it's been a banner year for film festivals, what with the Slapstick Festival in Bristol, Il cinema ritrovato in Bologna, and then the first ever Cinema Rediscovered festival in Bristol) and I can't wait to go again.

I thought I would celebrate the brilliance that was this week by sharing a snippet of film translation history that I came across recently. It's a sordid story of silent film, translation, Ireland, criminal behaviour and flammable nitrate...

In researching the distribution of foreign films in Ireland (a task made more complicated because for much of the twentieth century 'foreign films' meant anything not made in Ireland) I came across a fascinating anecdote. On Thursday 21 September 1944 Dublin's Evening Herald newspaper reported on the theft of eight reels of 'the only English translation in the world of a foreign film, entitled "The 27 Martyrs of Japan". The case was heard at the Metropolitan Juvenile court, as the film had been stolen by a fourteen-year-old messenger boy:

Five rolls of the film had been recovered by the time of this first court hearing, and three were still missing. The unnamed boy reappeared in court on 28 August 1944, at which point it was discovered that the missing rolls of film had met an unhappy fate:

The film was in fact The 26 Martyrs of Japan, which had had a long run in Ireland. As reportedly the first Catholic-themed film to be released in Japan, it was much trailed in the Irish press, and opened at the Savoy in Holy Week, 1937:

It's not clear to me yet what form the translation took (there was some talk of a lecturer alongside the film), and why the print was still in Ireland in 1944 - and indeed whether the remaining reels of that print survive somewhere - but the good news is that a version of the film did survive elsewhere and it's once again being screened.

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