HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 62 no. 1 (2016)

Tsutomu Sawamura and his Contributions to the Philippine Wartime ‘National Cinema’

Nick Deocampo



Tsutomu Sawamura was considered a “prophet” of the wartime Japanese cinema. During World War II, he developed in Japan the “spiritist” film movement that developed an idealistic view of the human struggle under the predicament of war. His contribution to Japanese film history was to develop the concept of the kokumin eiga or the “people’s cinema” (otherwise known as the “national cinema”). Sawamura’s assignment in the Philippines, while ignored by both Japanese and local film historians, represented a progress in his intellectual and creative evolution but, more importantly, also remarkably contributed to the development of wartime cinema in the Philippines. Through what I may call as Sawamura’s “aspirational nationalism,” he tried to conceive for the Filipinos a “national cinema” that would be native, antiAmerican and, of course, pro-Japanese. All these values were contained in his philosophy of the “ideal cinema.” It is easy to understand why Sawamura has remained understudied by film historians. It is because he was identified with the fascist wing of the Japanese military and his works were all in the propaganda genre. Working in the Philippines for the Japanese Imperial Army’s Propaganda Corps, Sawamura made the full-length production of a propaganda documentary, Toyo no Gaika (Victory Song of the Orient, 1942), and also wrote the scenario for the missing film, Tatlong Maria (Three Marias, 1944). A study of his film career in the country brings to the open the collaboration made by prominent figures in local cinema with the Japanese propagandists. His engagements with the local movie industry likewise revealed the workings of propaganda in shaping what would one day become the country’s “national cinema.” His story is a fascinating contribution to the very much underwritten chapter and the bleakest episode in Philippine film history.