We know what happens when writers go on strike. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen happens. X-Men Origins: Wolverine happens. There is no need to give the obligatory third example, these two terrors exalt the need for real writers as well as 10 good films could on their own, but with Quantum of Solace’s writer’s strike-hobbled production being given a recent boost in attention by the Apple TV+ Bond Documentary, no one is left wondering the toll a movie takes when one of its key creative voices pipes down. But, have writers ever saved a project- or better yet, a studio- when technicians and stars went on strike? It’s a rare occurrence as it is, but we do have at least one example. So, how exactly are writers able to save a studio in crisis?
In the middle of Japan’s Golden Age of Cinema, the higher-ups of studio Toho, the biggest and best of the premiere Japanese film studios, had another general strike on their hands, and though it would be squashed by 1947, irrevocable change was underway: All of Toho’s name actors, their brightest stars, and many technicians, up and left the company to start their own studio; Shin Toho (literally ‘New Toho’).
With the faces of the Japanese film industry migrating overnight, Toho faced a serious conundrum; if they could not lure customers to see their films solely on the basis of their quality (and thus, via good word of
mouth), the studio would surely be undone by Shin Toho’s dazzling roster.
Indeed, Shin Toho announced a massive slate of star-studded productions, and in response Toho gathered their writers and directors at a hot-spring inn on the Izu Peninsula to set a plan of attack in motion. Writers and directors put forth prospective scripts and concepts, and the studio heads portioned out who would be attached to which projects, as well as how much time everyone had to crank them out.
Teinosuke Kinugasa, Kajiro Yamamoto, Mikio Naruse and Shiro Toyoda were each given one segment of an anthology romance film to create. Other directors were allotted their preferred projects, promising up and comer Senkichi Taniguchi was allowed to mount his first directorial effort, and Akira Kurosawa was attached in some form to three films.
Writers contributed to each other’s work as they could, and as they often had to in order to match the ridiculous deadlines they faced. Kurosawa and co. wrote To the End of the Silver Mountains in three weeks from scratch. Kurosawa was given a quarter of the anthology film to write, and he did so in four days. And working with a classmate going back to kindergarten, Kurosawa pumped out the script to one of the best of his early films; One Wonderful Sunday, shortly thereafter, avoiding making a perfunctory movie, and instead writing an emotional, timely, and somewhat experimental tear-jerker. Kurosawa himself admits that were it not for the pressure of competing with Shin-Toho, he would never have been able to get so much done.
The Toho team’s efforts paid off. Not only did their films succeed, and in so doing usher in a new generation of stars to combat Shin Toho’s, but the studio ballooned to international success, releasing some of the greatest and most iconic films of all time. As for Shin Toho, they had the occasional gem, but going up against Godzilla, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, there was only ever going to be one outcome. Quality took the prize home; Toho is still operating to this day, and it is thanks exclusively to their writers and directors.