Japan’s silent-film era began with an exhibition of Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope film-viewing device in Kobe in November 1896, only about one year after the first-ever public film screening in Paris.

Despite the early importation of equipment and films from abroad, the Japanese film industry took quite a different course from its Western counterparts. For one thing, the influence of traditional performing arts such as kabuki and kyōgen (comic storytelling) loomed large in everything from acting styles to subject matter. Shinpa, another native drama form with a big impact on early cinema, was based on Western drama, but used onnagata (men performing women’s roles) — an ancient convention that filmmakers also adopted.

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