Taken a few years before the Second World War, these images today are a rarity. Given that they are moving images, their historical value is even higher – filmed over 80 years ago.
Japan Yin Thwe (Japanese Offspring) is one of the most famous films by the director U Nyi Pu, who was considered the godfather of the Burmese film in the 1920s. He also starred in the film Myitta Nit Thuyar (Love and Liquor), which made the young director one of the nation’s first film stars.
A lost person can be found one day, but a dead person is gone forever. Time eventually consumes everything. Film archives are a powerful way to preserve important parts of the past, in the face of an ever-changing and devouring world.
The golden age of Burmese film was thought to be dead and buried, destroyed by decades of neglect under military rule. But it turns out these interesting reflections of the past may have just been forgotten, ready to be revived again.
U Nyi Pu’s films may evoke nostalgia for an emerging generation of film fans in the 21st Century.
Most of U Nyi Pu’s works disappeared from the public, but no one knows if they were kept by his family, stored with his family’s A1 Film Production Company or at the National Film Archive. Who knows if they have been transferred to VHS format at the Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV), one of the only television stations in the 1990s?
Story of Japan Yin Thwe
Directed by U Nyi Pu, Japan Yin Thwe was made in 1935, and was screened to large audiences in both Myanmar and Japan. With the outset of war access to the film archives were restricted. Many films were thought to be destroyed after a fire at the A1 Film Production Co broke out after the war.
According to Mr Yoshiro Irie, chief curator at the National Film Archive of Japan, the archive contained many Japanese films – though these were later taken by allied forces after the war. Since 1967, however, America has returned 1200 films it took from Japan.
Whilst examining these historical films, one of the Japanese archivists discovered a film reel in 1992, which he assumed to be Japan Yin Thwe.
“Our goal at the National Archive was to document and preserve the films we received from the Americans,” Mr Yoshiro told to Metro. “As these films are over 80 years old, we’ve faced difficulties preserving them. The emulsion is also flammable, so we have to be careful. We took enough time to find and document every recording in every film can.”
According to an article in a Japanese newspaper, a VHS version of Japan Yin Thwe was transferred from the Japanese to the Myanmar government in 1995. The original still remains in Japan.
From film reel to digital restoration
U Nyi Pu’s film production company A1Film, in cooperation with the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency IMAGICA, the Japan National Film Archive and the local organisation Save Myanmar Film, hosted a press conference on July 18. They announced their plans to restore the Japan Yin Thwe film from the reel to a 2K Digital Cinema Package (DCP) version.
“In June 1935, according to a Japanese newspaper, six travelers including U Nyi Pu came to Japan. The article said that they were in search of cheap filmmaking equipment. The article only highlighted different aspects of Burmese culture and Buddhism, but nothing about the film. Three months later, another article mentioned that U Nyi Pu’s film production had begun” Mr Yoshiro Irie explained during the press conference.
Japan Yin Thwe, filmed in 1935 with sound, became a very first film Myanmar-Japanese co-produced film. In making the film, director U Nyi Pu collaborated with the Japan Photochemical Laboratory (PCL) production company. Companies like PCL used to made silent films, but had started to experiment with sound in the mid-30s.
“It was quite amazing to find out that U Nyi Pu worked with one of Japan’s leading directors, Mr Yoshiro Edamasa to make Japan Yin Thwe” Mr Yoshiro said.
The film is a love story between a young Burmese man, who arrives in Japan to work as a fighter pilot, but falls in love with a Japanese woman. The cast features U Nyi Pu, U Maung Maung Soe, San Nyunt and the Japanese actress Mitsuko Takao.
“The film was shown repeatedly on MRTV in 1995 when we celebrated the 75th anniversary (diamond jubilee) of the Burmese Film industry,” Daw Swe Zin Htike, director and actress told to Metro with a big laugh.
“We need to learn more about our history, and how we have become who we are. We can’t forget our roots. By restoring this film, young people will have the chance to see the golden age of Burmese films again,” she said.
It will cost more than ¥10 million (K137.2 million) to restore the film. It is currently at the IMAGICA Lab being scanned, and is expected to take nearly two months to be fully restored.
The first sound film of Myanmar
Japan Yin Thwe has become the very first black and white digital film restoration, which will be used by the Save Myanmar Film organisation to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Myanmar film industry next year, Ko Okkar, Project director of Save Myanmar Film, said.
“Mya Ga Naing (Emerald Jungle), a silent film shot in 1934 was listed as an important Asian Pacific heritage film in 2018. Japan Yin Thwe was filmed a year later, and includes sound.
Myanmar’s first sound film was Ngwe Pay Lo Ma Ya (No Need to Pay) with the help of an Indian production crew. That film no longer exists. So, technically, Japan Yin Thwe is the first sound film which still exists.
Ko Okkar established the non-profit organisation Save Myanmar Film in 2016, alongside six fellow film enthusiasts, filmmakers and researchers.
Currently, the organisation is preserving old Myanmar films, working with the Myanmar National Film Archive. They also help to maintain film equipment, old photographs and posters. In the future, they are hoping to make own digital restoration.
Myanmar, once Burma, produced first started producing films in 1918. Unfortunately, an overwhelming number of the original films, including the very first film Myitta Nit Athuyar, have disappeared.
“Three films: Mya Ga Naing, Nay Chi Phyar Mha Nwe Thaw Kyaunt (Warm Under the Sun’s Rays) and Hmone Shweyi (Gold Dust), are currently in Germany. Another film called Bawa Thanthayar (Life Cycle) was sold to China. For me, it would be great if we can get all these films back for our 100th anniversary in 2020,” Ko Okkar said.
Help from foreign countries
Myanmar doesn’t own any film restoration technology, and so largely has to rely on foreign countries and organisations to restore their old films. This often comes at a high cost.
In 2013 the Yangon film School and the Goethe Institute restored the 1970s classics Chay Pha Wa Daw Nu Nu (Tender are the Soles of the Feet).
Memory Cinema, a non-profit entity based in Yangon and Paris, restored Mya Ga Naing (Emerald Jungle, 1934) directed by Maung Tin Maung. They also restored Pyo Chit Lin (My Darling, 1950), a film directed by Tin Myint. These films were screened to crowds at the Memory! International Film Heritage Festival in Yangon in previous years. The event first screened heritage movies in 2014, and holds screenings every year.
“I would like to thank all of the people who support the restoration of this film,” A1’s U Thein Htut, a filmmaker who is the grandson of U Nyi Pu, said. “My grandpa would be proud of me if he could see his work Japan Yin Thwe at the 100th anniversary of the Myanmar Film Industry”.
After the film has been restored, it will first be screened in Japan on October 26 at the National Film Archive in Japan, Tokyo. The screening will be accompanied with a discussion about the film. The people from Myanmar who have been involved in the restoration will also be invited to Japan to attend.
In Myanmar, a public event called the “Japan-Myanmar Classics” film festival will also be held in Yangon on 2020, March 3. The festival will take place for three days and the films will explore the cultural relationship between Myanmar and Japan.
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