Home > Background to the Film > Origins, Editing and Multiple Versions

Origins, Editing and Multiple Versions


The version presented on this website is a 16mm black and white silent documentary film (65:30 minutes) with title cards in English. It was found under the English title Investigation of the Lord Lytton Mission into the Manchurian Incident at the Library of Congress, Washington DC. There is no additional information about the producers, the manners of circulation or how it got to the United States in the first place, nor about any connections of the film’s makers with its subject, the League of Nations. Some information can be deduced from the film itself, and some was found through further investigations. Even a first look suggests that this version of the film is an unfinished one. The strongest indicator for this is the fact that at the end of the film a number of inserted title cards appear without any further filmed scenes. The font of these title cards differs from the one used throughout the rest of the film.

Stills from the film showing two differently styled title cards.

As to its origins, the film contains evidence that its provenance lies with the Japanese South Manchurian Railway Company (S.M.R.), which was controlled by the Japanese government. For one thing, the inscription "S.M.R. Photo Service" appears in the front window of the camera car. In addition to this, the S.M.R. is known to have produced film reports on the events of the Manchurian Incident as part of their propagandist support for the Kwantung Army (Standish 2005: 122).

Still from the film.

From this we can conclude that the S.M.R., which had its own film and photo departments, and by extension the government of Japan were the initiators of the film. This is confirmed by files held at the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR). According to correspondence from December 1932 between the information section’s boss at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Toshio Shiratori, and the chief of general affairs of the S.M.R., Ishimoto, the film was indeed originally produced by the S.M.R. (Correspondence on December 17, 1932; JACAR: B02030888500, picture 48-49). The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs then distributed the film to its diplomatic offices abroad in order to reach foreign audiences.


Though it was intended, the film was not at once distributed throughout the world, and certainly not in this unfinished form. The JACAR documents indicate the existence of numerous different film versions with different narrations. These we have summarised in the following chart:

Apparently, the S.M.R. delivered the original film material about the travels of the Lytton Commission to the Japanese Imperial Bureau of the League of Nations in Paris and Geneva. This version was then shortened and the Bureau in Geneva added English and French title cards (JACAR: B02030888500, picture 48-49/B02030888900, picture 41). Several copies of these edited versions were delivered to the Japanese diplomatic offices in a number of European countries. Again, they produced several versions with subtitles various languages such as German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese intended for local screenings (JACAR: B02030888600, picture 20-34). As a result there came to be a whole number of different edited versions in several European languages. At the same time, the S.M.R. itself edited its original film and delivered it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (JACAR: B02030888700, picture 14). Today the subtitles of this S.M.R. version The New Born State of Manchukuo (I / version 3 in our chart) can be found as English and Japanese text documents in JACAR, which show a lot of similarity to the version at the Library of Congress. The correspondence between the Japanese diplomatic offices in several European states and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan reveals that the different versions of the film were indeed shown in various European states as well as in Japan; the USA are not mentioned. Yet Japanese diplomats considered the film as unsatisfactory for the purpose of introducing an international audience to Manchukuo. Therefore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs instructed the S.M.R. to re-edit the original film to focus less on the League of Nations and more on the developments and progress of Manchukuo (JACAR: B02030888500, picture 48). This new film, too, was named The New-Born State of Manchukuo (II / version 4 in our chart). Again, a number of versions were produced with title cards in Japanese, Chinese, English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and forwarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan to its network of worldwide consulates and offices.

Multiple Versions

As outlined above, a confusing variety of film versions was produced by a number of different institutions at different points of time. In the course of this project, we have managed to unearth three surviving versions and fragments in film form. In addition JACAR provides the full-text title cards of two more versions, which correspond to the finished film versions 3 and 4 (New-Born State of Manchukuo I and II) in the above chart. This section compares the three films in order to see how they correlate with one another and the two title cards versions in an attempt to place them in our production and distribution chart.

Generally speaking, the intentions or at least the priorities of the films seem to have shifted in the course of producing the various versions. An overall comparison shows that the film producers increasingly focused on convincing the world public of the legitimate status of Manchukuo. The gradually changing use of propagandist elements and the increasing instrumentalisation of the Commission – and consequently the League of Nations – can be interpreted as a response to growing international opposition against Japanese actions.

Investigation of the Lord Lytton Mission into the Manchurian Incident

The Library of Congress film version entitled Investigation of the Lord Lytton Mission into the Manchurian Incident (hereafter called Investigation) analysed on this website belongs to a family of versions that differs notably in both content and structure from the family that includes the two more closely related films New-Born State of Manchukuo I and New-Born State of Manchukuo II (versions 3 und 4 in our chart), of which only the title cards have survived. According to JACAR documents, both families originate at least in parts from similar raw material produced by the S.M.R. (version 1 in the chart). According to the film titles and the title cards, the family with versions 3 and 4 focuses mainly on the promotion of the state of Manchukuo, while the family including Investigation concentrates more on the Lytton-Commission. The versions New Born State of Manchukuo I and II were edited in early- and late- 1933 and, as far as we know, constitute the most recent versions. Based on the shifts in filmic focus which tie in with the general shifts in Japanese policy and attitude, it seems likely that the film version Investigation dates back to an earlier point and is probably closely related to what the chart indicates as version 2 (Geneva Version). Based on the source material from Japan we suggest that the film version held at the Library of Congress is a version based closely on the original S.M.R. film, which probably reached the Library of Congress before the Second World War, either through the channels of Japanese diplomacy or through the S.M.R.’s business networks. As for the latter, the company entertained several liaison offices outside Asia at the time. In the late 1930s the American Office of the S.M.R., for instance, was situated in New York, just across the Grand Central at 60 East Forty-Second. In 1938, in the context of the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, which required foreign persons to disclose their foreign political capacities and relationships, Japanese S.M.R. employees were reported doing publicity work for their company in the United States (The New York Times, October 11,1938, 19). This may have brought the film to the attention of the Library of Congress.

Commission of Enquiry into Events in Manchuria

A second, obviously incomplete film version entitled Commission of Enquiry into Events in Manchuria (in this section called Enquiry into Events) is held by the US National Archives. Compared to Investigation, Commission of Enquiry is much shorter; several reels are missing. The archival description confirms the authorship of the South Manchuria Railway Company and the release in the first half of 1932. This film version uses the same title card phrasings as Investigation, but their number is lower. While title cards are identical, dmoving images are used for the same issues. This differing selection from the available filmic raw material brings about a different focus in content. While the film Investigation presents a wide range of topics, Enquiry into Events distinctly emphasises the economic dimension of the ‘Far Eastern question’ by focusing, for instance, more on mining and steel production. There are no similarities to the two title card versions 3 and 4 (see next paragraph). We can therefore assume that Commission of Enquiry is an unfinished early edition closely related to Investigation and to version 2 (Geneva Version); though shorter and with some differences it obviously stems largely from the same body of materials.

The League of Nations Commission of Inquiry in Manchuria / La Commision d´Étude de la Société des Nations en Mandchourie

The third film version we have found is a 2005 DVD edition released in Japan by the title The League of Nations Commission of Inquiry in Manchuria / La Commision d´Étude de la Société des Nations en Mandchourie (hereafter called Inquiry in Manchuria). Some of its scenes are identical to what is shown in Investigation. Overall, however, it differs significantly in content and structure, which suggests Inquiry in Manchuria is not one of the earlier versions. It also differs from title card version 4 (New-Born State of Manchukuo II), whose propagandist emphasis is solely on the newly-created state of Manchukuo without any mentioning of the Commission. The highest overlap is with title card version 3 (New Born State of Manchukuo I), which seems to be an earlier version of 4 that still mentions the travels of the Commission.

For placing Inquiry in Manchuria, two further comparisons are interesting. Especially at the beginning, the structure of Inquiry in Manchuria shows a great deal of similarity with title card version 3; around 50 percent of the first 21 title cards are congruent. In both of them, the focus of content is mainly on the state of Manchukuo and less on the Commission. This suggests a close relation between Inquiry in Manchuria and version 3. The relations can be further specified if we compare the title card phrasings of Inquiry in Manchuria with both title card version 3 and Investigation. Here our findings show that Inquiry in Manchuria differs more strongly from the other two with fewer title cards for the same scenes and more different phrasings whilst the title cards of version 3 and Investigation are relatively speaking more similar to each other. This places version 3 closer to the presumably early film version Investigation. Inquiry in Manchuria, though closely related to version 3, seems to originate from a later point. The assumption of Inquiry in Manchuria being a later version seems to be further substantiated by the fact that many of its title cards are shorter as well as more simple and pointed in phrasing. Apparently the complexity of issues was reduced by rewording texts, by condensing what were formerly several title cards into one and by reducing surplus information. Thus this film version was rendered structurally more fluent and the message of support for Manchukuo was didactically strengthened.

This leads to the conclusion that Inquiry in Manchuria is not one of the early versions produced in Geneva. Rather it is related to version 3 with a strong focus on propaganda for the newly-proclaimed state of Manchukuo and seems to have been produced some time after version 3, which has still got more similarities to presumably earlier versions such as Investigation. Thus Inquiry in Manchuria seems to be the most recent surviving film version that could be found at the time of our research.

Although the various film versions were edited by different Japanese institutions – the S.M.R., the Japanese Imperial Bureau of the League of Nations, Japanese diplomatic missions in different countries, and a film studio in Tokyo – all film examples show similarities to some extent. This suggests that all versions must have been circulating as templates between different offices and that some coordinated cooperation must have taken place. As could be shown above, the film Investigation of the Lord Lytton Mission into the Manchurian Incident presented on this website is very likely a rare example of early film production. It is therefore of great importance for the analysis of the process of film editing and consequently for identifying what the intentions behind creating those films versions were and how they tie in with changing political contexts. Investigation combines propagandist intentions with a focus on international diplomatic efforts while later versions seem to drop the issue of the League of Nations more and more in favour of assertions of legitimacy and economic promotion.