May 2012

Research on TV Producers: People Who Have Contributed to the Development of TV Documentaries in Japan
Part III: Junichi Ushiyama

Dramaturgy of Images

Koji Hamasaki/Makoto Higashino

The part III of this series features Junichi Ushiyama (1930–1997), a legendary documentary producer for commercial broadcasting. Mr. Ushiyama joined the Nippon Television Network (NTV) as a member of the inaugural class and worked at the forefront of TV documentaries. By quoting his words, both written and spoken, and from the record of interviews, the authors explore his philosophy for “documentaries” and “TV programs.”

In his early days, Mr. Ushiyama was energetically involved in news broadcasts including reporting on location as a political journalist. Aspiring to produce full scale documentaries, he planned Non-fiction Theater in 1962, which became the first documentary series of commercial television. Mr. Ushiyama emphasized the importance of making documentaries that prioritize the authorship and signature of the producers. “We have to avoid ending up with a mere presentation of facts and explanation of them. We need to pursue a viewpoint of a human being.” (Quote from a promotional statement of the program) His words carried his strong  determination to compete with a precursive NHK documentary series Nihon no sugao (Japan Unmasked). His policy successfully engaged a number of young film directors including Nagisa Oshima in Non-fiction Theater, which energized the series furthermore. However, the series had to be pulled out after the controversial telecast of Betonamu kaiheitai senki dai ichi bu (War Chlonicle of Vietnam Marin Force Part I) (1965). However, the producer effectively utilized this experience in his later works; he launched a number of innovative programs including Subarasii sekai ryokou (Great World Tour) (1966-90), pioneering a new field of “visual anthropology.” Mr. Ushiyama is also a harbinger of video archives; he felt it necessary to have a video library and established the Japan Video Culture Center. Some regards these moves he made in the last half of his life as Ushiyama’s “turning point,” but this is not the case. His interests towards Asia and war were consistent throughout his career. In his later years, he became a documenter again, not a producer, and made programs depicting “war and Asia.” Mr. Ushiyama adhered to his philosophy for making documentaries for life -- no authorship and no signature, no documentaries.

The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research