Dazed Digital

Tokyo / 日本語

Noboru Ohashi: Master of Kimono

January 9, 2012

The legendary craftsman talks about the iconic Japanese 1950s film Bakumatsu Taiyoden

  • Text by Ayumi Seki

Nikkatsu is the oldest film company in Japan celebrating their 100th anniversary project with a digital remaster of one of their most iconic black and white films, "Bakumatsu Taiyoden" directed by Yuzo Kawashima.

Released in 1957, "Bakumatsu Taiyoden" is set in 1862, in the red light district in Shingawa called Yoshiwara in North. It's an escapade that follows one man and his desires, whilst being completely broke. One of the starring highlights are the incredible kimonos. And keeping with this Nikkatsu invited Mr. Noboru Ohashi from Owariya Gofukuten (Owariya Kimono shop) in Kita-Shinagawa, the same place where "Bakumatsu Taiyoden" was located, for an insightful discussion on "Movies and Kimono".

Noboru Ohashi: "Bakumatsu Taiyoden” was a story in Dozo Sagami, one of red-light areas in Tokyo. And our kimono shop is located about 300m from there. We opened in 1890, 30 years before the story. I am the fifth generation.

In "Bakumatsu Taiyoden", you can see three different types of how to dress kimono. One is by prostitute (Jyoro), one is by geishya (Geiko), and one is by housemaid (Jyochu), and all of them wears kimono differently. High class prostitutes played by Sachiko Hidari and Yoko Minamida wear a long underwear (nagajyuban), tie their band (obi) in front, and put on gorgeous dyed-kimono in the night to work. Geiko wears kimono quite similar to the way we wear them these days. Especially in the party sequence in the film, you can see how they dress. They tie their oriobi in back, wear jyuban, and put dyed-kimono on top. This style is almost same as ours.

On the other hand, Jyochu's kimono is alike to ordinary people style at the time. They wear very short length textile kimono. It was cold since there was no heating system, they wear thick berry-warmer tie (haramaki) underneath the kimono. The first reason why their kimono was so short is, because they always running around and washing things, they tried not to dirty the kimono. The second reason is when they wipe floors or draw water, they need to kneel down.

Let’s talk about men’s kimono. I think the way Franky Sakai wears kimono is really cool. He throws his yukata on the air by his foot, and put his both arms when yukata is still in the air. Franky didn’t wear nagajyuban, but instead long drawers (suteteko). It’s probably because when he runs audience can see his bare legs and it’s not stylish. Silk was forbidden back in the time, so they wear nagajyuban or haori with artistic designed lining when they want to be stylish.

The story of the film is in Edo period, and all the characters wear their kimono very neatly and beautifully according to rules. This is the biggest difference from now. Also, the technique of thread, such as pongee or silk crepe, wasn’t as good as now. A filature was built in after Meiji period, so it was hard to get strong thread. There was no chemical dye, so the colours were also limited. It is told that there were almost only two ways to draw patterns on their kimono; by tie-dyed, or by resisting technique. The variety of kimono must be few.

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