This incomplete print of Japan’s oldest surviving colour talkie depicts a boatman whose engagement to his fiancée is disrupted when he is conscripted to fight in China. He is also searching for his long-lost mother and hopes to reunite with her before going off to war.
About the director
Little is known about Genjiro Saegusa (b.1900), even in Japan. A contemporary at Nikkatsu of Kenji Mizoguchi, he worked prolifically through the silent era and remained active into the 1950s. His date of death is unknown.
His rediscovered action film, Special Express: 300 Miles (Tokkyu Sanbyaku Mairu, 1928) was well received at screenings in Italy and Germany in recent years.
Film and Restoration
The title “Senninbari” or “One Thousand Stitches” refers to the metre-long belt composed of a thousand stitches which the hero’s grandmother prepares for him. These strips of cloth were given to soldiers as they left for war, and symbolised luck, protection, and well-wishes from loved ones. The film is a memento of bellicose times, made when Japan, which had already annexed Manchuria, launched a full-scale war with China.
This was the third film produced by Dai Nihon Tennenshoku Eigasha, a production company that pioneered colour cinema in Japan. They used the American two-strip colour process Cinecolor. On the film’s release, the Kinema Junpo reviewer praised the improvement of the process in comparison with the studio’s first film, Tsukigata Hanpeita (Seika Shiba, 1937), but suggested that the work was lacking in dramatic terms.
As it was not possible to ship the original 35mm colour nitrate positive held at Moscow’s Gosfilmofond archive to Japan, a 4K version was produced and used as the basis for a new method of digital restoration conducted in collaboration with the production companies IMAGICA Corp and IMAGICA West Corp. By analysing the data resulting from photochemical simulations at IMAGICA West, the colour range that the two-colour system could not reproduce could be determined. By preventing that range from being picked up in colour grading, the original colour of Senninbari could be retrieved. The 4K data was converted to 2K and treated to remove dirt, stains, scratches, and the images stabilised. The audio was also restored to reduce clicking, humming, and distortion.
The Restoration of The Thousand-Stitch Belt (1937): Utilizing analog and digital techniques to retrieve the colour of a two-color system