Uchida’s output during the pre-war period (numbering around 40 titles, few of which survive today), points towards the political complexities of this era for filmmakers working within the studio system and the difficulties for modern viewers in trying to ascribe political identities to them. A lot of the director’s earliest work is described as belonging to the ‘tendency film’ (keikô eiga) genre, noted for its engagement with social issues from a leftist perspective; for example, Living Doll (1929) was a contemporary satire of capitalism about a man who cheats his way to the top before eventually getting his comeuppance. However, the director’s social convictions appear to have been compromised by the increasingly nationalistic climate of the times, which also resulted in pro-militarist works like the third part of The World Turns (Chikyû wa mawaru, 1928) omnibus, Fantasy Chapter (Kûsô-hen), which hypothesised a future aerial attack on Japan, Asia Cries Out (Sakebu ajia, 1933), the first Japanese ‘talkie’ to be shot overseas and The Police Officer (Keisatsukan, 1933), a police drama in the Hollywood vein made with the endorsement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Based on the 1910 novel of the same name by Nagatsuka Takashi (1879-1915), Earth was Uchida’s most highly-regarded work of this first half of his career and an epic landmark in Japanese social realism, also bearing strong influences from German romantic expressionism and Soviet cinema (notably Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s 1930 film of the same name). It portrayed the harsh lives of a rural agricultural community in Northern Japan over the course of the four changing seasons through the eyes of Kanji, a tenant farmer crippled by inherited debt as he struggles to provide for his wife and children. If the film’s critique of feudal capitalism system seems to fall a little short of its target, it was nonetheless bold for the time. Released just before government regulation of the industry came into effect with the passing of the Film Law in 1939, the film was shot secretly on location each weekend over a period of two years while Uchida worked on more commercial potboilers, after Nikkatsu originally rejected the original proposal. When Uchida’s bosses were presented with the finished film, which originally clocked in at 142 minutes (sadly only a short version of the film survives today), they initially refused to release it, but eventually relented due to the director’s longstanding reputation within the company. Earth was voted best film of the year by Kinema Junpô magazine and also played at the 1939 Venice Film Festival. (Jasper Sharp) —JeonJu International Film Festival
Uchida Tomu was born in the city of Okayama, Okayama Prefecture on April 26, 1898 to a family of confectionary makers. After dropping out of high school and spending time as a piano tuner in Yokohama, Uchida worked on and off for the Taisho Katsuei Motion Picture Company founded in May 1920. Nicknamed Tom by his gang, he took the stage name Tomu and became an actor, also serving as an assistant director, assistant cameraman and stagehand. Uchida joined the Makino educational films (Makino Kyoikueiga Seisakusho) in Kyoto, and directed his first film Aa, Konishi Junsa (Police Officer Konishi, 1922) with Kinugasa Teinosuke; however, his innate wanderlust soon had him off traveling around Japan, mixing with the people at the bottom of the social ladder. In 1926 he went to work for Nikkatsu, making his proper directorial debut with Kyoso Mikkakan (Three Days of Competition, 1927). Following his early light comedies, Uchida went on to make the socialist leaning… read more
It's not often that I cry during a film, but this one did it for me, even in it's incomplete 90-minute obtrusive cut.
On Earth (1939), Tomu Uchida’s must-see quasi-documentary “official classic.”