Between Silence and Sound

The liminal space of the Japanese “sound version”

Authored by: Johan Nordström

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Cinema

Print publication date:  August  2020
Online publication date:  August  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138685529
eBook ISBN: 9781315534374
Adobe ISBN:


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During the Japanese cinema’s transition to synchronized sound, the practice of releasing so-called saundo-ban films, commonly referred to as “sound versions”—silent films with a mechanically synchronized soundtrack consisting of music, song, special effects, and occasional unsynchronized dialogue/narration—became a widespread practice. This chapter charts the industrial, technical, and economic reasons for the development, refinement, and later specialization of this mode of Japanese film production that existed roughly between 1931–1941, and which achieved a broad popular audience in the early 1930s, after which it continued to carry a strong rural and working-class appeal. Although largely neglected by contemporary critics and early canonical historians as a mere stepping stone to full sound films, the sound version film was neither a temporary phenomenon nor a passing fad quickly abandoned in the mid-1930s. It constituted an economically viable mode of production, and as a vibrant form of cinematic expression, its liminal nature—not silent, yet not full sound—encouraged active stylistic experimentation, extending and rewriting the very grammar of silent cinema’s filmic language, and indirectly, its dynamic range of expression.

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