What Is This Mystery Japanese 35mm Color Film?

When I was in Tokyo recently I saw a mysterious 35mm color negative film I'd never heard of before. The only course of action was to buy the film, shoot it, and see what it was like. So how did it turn out and what film was it? Keep reading and find out. 

During my 18 days in Japan, I'd been visiting as many camera stores as I could. I hadn't bought much as I found most prices for cameras and accessories the same as back home. 

One day in Bic Camera I came across something I’d never heard of — Escura Showa Camera Film. The film packaging was intriguing as it features Japanese street scenes that could've been photographed 40 or 50 years ago. I picked up the roll and then put it back when I saw the price of $28 USD. That is quite expensive for a roll of color-negative film. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to buy and shoot the film as an experiment.

Akihabara, Tokyo. On Sundays they close the main road which is flooded with shoppers. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

Taking Photos in Akihabara and Shibamata

After loading the film in my Minolta TC-1 point-and-shoot, I took a few photos in Akihabara before heading to the historic temple town of Shibamata to finish the roll. The TC-1 has been my favorite camera in recent months. A miracle of engineering, it is one of the smallest 35mm cameras ever made and features a stunning 28mm f3.5 Rokkor lens.  

Akihabara was a fantastic place to take photos. It's known as "Electric Town" due to its reputation for being a good place to shop for discount electronics - at least it was before the pandemic. The main street is closed on Sundays and I loved the light, the colors, and the people. 

I loved the sights and colors of Akihabara. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

Unfortunately for me, after half an hour, my family were bored in the shops. We decided to head 45 minutes out of Tokyo to the historic temple town of Shibamata. I thought this would be the perfect place to shoot the rest of the roll given the old street scenes on the film packaging and Shibamata did not disappoint. The town has a lovely cobblestoned street with shops leading from the train station to the temple. I quickly got through all 30 frames on the roll. 

The historic town of Shibamata was perfect for shooting Escura Showa Camera Film. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

What Does "Showa" Mean?

Initially, I had no idea what the words "Showa Camera Film" meant, but thankfully Akira, a reader of my Matt Loves Cameras Substack photography newsletter clued me in. The Showa era was from 1926 to 1989. Many Japanese people born after the war are filled with nostalgia for this time. As a keen history lover, I wondered why I'd never heard of Showa before, until I realized this is the name the Japanese call Emperor Hirohito. 

Escura Showa Camera Film is wonderfully designed. It's bright, retro, and makes you want to shoot it. 

What Could This Film Be?

Before buying the film a few thoughts went through my mind about where this film was from. Here's what I came up with:

  1. A brand new film stock
  2. A repackaged motion picture film
  3. A rebadged stock of an existing film
  4. Old vintage stock 

Possibility #3 seemed the most likely. 

Taken in the grounds of the temple at Shibamata. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

Clues From the Film Box 

Looking at the packaging, there are a few clues as to what the film is: 

  • From the sample images on the box, the film has low saturation and medium grain.  
  • Escura Showa Camera film is listed as C41 film, which probably rules out a repackaged motion picture film. 
  • The film is listed as an ISO 400 film but there is no DX code on the canister. 
  • No country of origin is listed on the packaging. 
  • The film has “24+6” exposures which is quite odd for two reasons. Firstly it’s unusual that a roll of 35mm film would have 30 exposures rather than the usual 24 or 36. Secondly, why label it as 24+6 instead of 30?

Shibamata is a wonderful town with friendly locals and interesting shops. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

Was This Film Cut From a Bulk Roll?

The last clue above indicates that perhaps Escura has cut this film down from a bulk roll. If they were buying film from Kodak — one of the few companies that still produce color-negative film — it seems unlikely it would come in 30 frame rolls. However, if they got a bulk roll of a color film from a distributor, they could cut it to any length they wanted. 

Seeing The Photos 

I took the film with me back to Australia and sent it to Ikigai Film Lab in Melbourne. When they sent me the link to view my photos, I was intrigued. The images matched the colors on the box quite well and were characterized by low saturation and medium grain. Although I prefer to shoot with more saturated color negative stocks, I like the photos and think they suit the subject matter quite well. The real shock was not seeing the photos, but seeing what the lab labeled the folder... 

The colors of this film are more muted than many other color negative films, but I really like it. I'm not so keen on the $28 USD price tag though. 

Image Copyright © Matt Murray 

The Mystery Color Film Is...

My lab labeled the folder as "Metropolis". Wow, I did not see that coming — I had only shot Lomography Metropolis once a few years ago and I swore never to shoot it again. I reviewed my images next to the photos on Lomography's website and it made perfect sense — that's what this mystery film must be. There have been different formulations of Metropolis, so perhaps the roll I'd shot years ago was even lower in saturation, I'm not sure. In my video, I feature a contact sheet of all the images from this roll, so you can what it looks like at a glance. 

Would You Shoot This Film? 

Price tag aside, what do you think of the film? Would this make you try Escura Showa Camera Film / Lomography Metropolis? Let me know in the comments. 

I really enjoyed this little experiment but my go-to film stocks lately have been Adox Color Mission 200, Fujifilm Superia 400, CineStill 400D, and Kodak ColorPlus 200. The way it's going, film photographers are shooting anything we can get our hands on.

Matt Murray is a travel and portrait photographer from Brisbane, Australia.

Matt loves shooting with compact cameras: both film and digital. His YouTube features reviews of film cameras, film stocks, and travel photography with the Ricoh GR III, Fujifilm X100V, and Olympus OM-1.

See more of Matt's photography and writing on his Substack.

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“Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to buy and shoot the film as an experiment.” I.e., “I remembered that if I write an article about it I can write it off as a business expense…”

Ha, I shoot a lot of film, I wish I could write it all off as a business expense but sadly not...

so what does the edge numbering say? any manufacturer codes? do the frame numbers begin at 0 and count sequentially to 30 (or 24+6)?

Hi, there's no edge numbering, no manufacturer codes. You can see a contact sheet of the whole roll towards the end of the video. It all points to this being cut from a bulk roll, hence the weird number of exposures.

Is it my (uncalibrated) monitor, or is there a bit of a lean to the sepia/brown tones?

It looks more teal/blue/green to me.

Hmm interesting thoughts, it just looks desaturated to me, but perhaps it's because I'm comparing it to every other colour negative film I shoot :)

Oh my god...please tell me you investigated what "golden poo" is? That's what the sign to the left and behind the lady in the red jacket says!

ha ha no I sadly don't read Japanese! thanks for pointing that out though, she was a real character!

Just to complicate things a little more, "Escura" is the feminine form of "dark"...in Portuguese. Which brings the question, what's a nice Portuguese word doing in Akihabara?