The late Etsuko Takano, general manager of Iwanami Hall, a Tokyo movie theater famous for showing foreign art films, played a pioneering role in bringing international masterpieces to the silver screen in Japan before the age of the Internet and cable television.
Takano died of colon cancer at a Tokyo hospital Feb. 9, the 45th anniversary of the founding of Iwanami Hall. She was 83.
Works brought to Japanese audiences by Takano included “The Travelling Players” from Greece, “Man of Marble” from Poland, “The Whales of August” from the United States and “Pather Panchali” from India.
Born in 1929 in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in northeastern China, Takano worked for the Toho Co. movie studio before going to study at the Paris-based Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies.
Takano took up the post of general manager when Iwanami Hall was established in 1968. Her approach of independently digging up foreign masterpieces was a major development at the time and generated a boom in small movie theaters across Japan.
Her accomplishments in popularizing foreign masterpieces won her a number of prestigious awards, including the Kikuchi Kan Prize given to those making contributions to Japanese culture, as well as government recognition as a Person of Cultural Merit in 2004.
Takano was also noted for her achievement in advancing women in the film industry. She served as general producer of the Tokyo International Women’s Film Festival, which lasted for 27 years from 1985.
There were few female movie directors in Japan at the time, but Takano’s presence encouraged many women in the field as they knew she would be receptive to showing their work. She was known for her creed that “To work from the perspective of a woman, is to live with one’s feet on the ground.”
Having witnessed the emergence of many female movie directors in Japan, Takano reportedly said she had “fulfilled a mission.”
Her reach was not confined to aspiring female filmmakers. Male director Kohei Oguri recalled how Takano helped him with his career. “You don’t need to panic because you made a good movie,” Takano said, according to Oguri.
“By supporting quality movies, Takano helped educate audiences as well,” Oguri noted.