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The REBORN project aims to preserve old film negatives found in Sakamoto Town in Yatsushiro City by cleaning and digitizing them. The negatives were damaged by a flood during the heavy rain on July 2nd 2020. The REBORN project also aims to give Sakamoto Town a “rebirth,” by creating materials such as exhibitions and books to share the memories of the town.

These film negatives, capturing scenes from the Sakamoto area from the 1950s to the 1990s, were taken by the late local amateur photographers Giichiro Higashi and Takao Motomura. The films were handed to Junpei Mizoguchi, a river guide and the owner of a rafting company called Reborn, who then sorted and kept them.

Most of the films were found submerged after the flood caused by the heavy rain. They were rescued by the “Ametsuchi Volunteer Group,” who organized the relief efforts after the disaster. In this book the photographs are printed as they were found, without retouching the damages (such as discoloring, stains, and corruption of the emulsion layer on the film’s surface) caused by the flood and by the films aging.

First of all, our deep appreciations go to the families of Giichiro Higashi and Takao Motomura that generously permitted us to use their photographs and supported the project.Second, we apologize that some of the portraits used in this book are published without the consent of the individuals portrayed. Despite our effort to reveal their identities to ask for their permission, it was difficult to determine all of them because many of the photographs were taken more than fifty years ago. We ended up with some individuals which we could contact and obtain their kind permission. Therefore, we would appreciate it if you could contact us when you find someone you know among the images. We would like to bring their pictures and this book to them.At the moment, we have completed cleaning and digitizing the films, which are now settled in new containers for preservation. 

The activities of the project, including saving the films and publishing this book, are funded by the Nippon Foundation and the Culture Promotion Foundation of Kumamoto Broadcasting Co., Ltd. This book will be distributed to the residents of Sakamoto for free, and it  sold at bookstores. The profit from the book sales will be donated to the revitalization of the area (except for necessary expenses for the project).
※The book is sold out in August 2021 and donations have been completed.

Report About Damaged Negative Films Treatment


The REBORN project was implemented by the Ametsuchi Volunteer Group, which consists of photographers, creators, and curators in Kumamoto. It was organized by Yuuki Toyoda, a photographer, in order to rescue the submerged old negative films in Sakamoto Town in Yatsushiro City damaged by the heavy rain in July 2020. The project consists of two dimensions; cleaning, preserving, and digitizing the negative films; and publication of a memorial book and exhibition of printed photographs.

1 . Cleaning, Preserving, and Digitizing the Damaged Film Negatives

Dealing with the volunteers’ safety under the widespread threat of COVID-19 was a big concern in the cleaning activity. Although rapid treatment is significant when handling submerged films, there were concerns that the damaged films were possibly polluted with viruses, and the risk of infections would increase in the work environment shared by many workers. Therefore, we decided to prevent the infection by several measures: using a large space with ventilators; checking the body temperature of the volunteers; washing hands; disinfection; wearing gloves and masks; and setting a limit for the number of workers. The details of the activities explained below took place at Tsunagi Art Museum and Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto.

First, we sorted out the DP envelopes which were sticking to each other because of the moisture. Then the film negatives and prints in the envelopes were listed, allowing us to see the whole picture of the damages. The list contained a number, notes written on the envelopes, a picture of the item from the outside, and a comment on the item’s condition. Judgment of the condition took place through discussion with curators experienced in treatment of water-damaged items. The items were marked: 〇 for most of the image remained, △ for part of the image remained, and ╳ for most of the image lost. Then we removed water and dirt, opened the wet sleeves, and sandwiched them with alkaline papers to prevent curving and mold while drying.

We counted 114 6x6 films, 78 35mm negative films, 2 6x4.5 negative films, and 11 prints. The items found in a wooden container included 54 films where more than half the image remained, 28 films where part of the images remained, and 25 films that had lost most of their images. All the prints found in DP envelopes had lost most of their images. The films in another small box had no serious damages, except for four films on the top. The container seemed to have escaped the flood, although aging effects and moisture damages were observed on the films.

Although treatment for water-damaged materials is ideally completed within 48 hours, we spent three days. “What we could do” and “as much as possible” completely depended on volunteers, and there was no assurance that we would use the workplace for longer than three days under the concern of COVID-19. After the three-day treatment, film negatives and prints were digitized into a total of 2167 digital images.

2 . Exhibition of Prints and Publication of a Memorial Book

We plan to exhibit printed photographs and publish a memorial book, aiming to share the memories salvaged from the river. Fortunately, the project is funded by the Nippon Foundation and the Culture Promotion Foundation of Kumamoto Broadcasting Co., Ltd. to exhibit the negatives and prints at selected places in the Kumamoto prefecture. We also plan exhibitions in Sakamoto, to make opportunities for the residents who had to leave Sakamoto or who live in temporal housing because of the flood to visit the town again and to have conversations about the area. We publish this memorial book as a part of the project. This book will be distributed to residents in Sakamoto for free, and it will be sold to make donations to revitalize the town through the company called “Reborn.”

The recovery project had limitations in human workforce, time, and financial resources, as the volunteer activities were organized by the private sector. Thus, sadly, we might have failed to treat some items which might have been possible to save. We will, however, utilize the knowledge and network obtained by this experience for future disasters that damage cultural items, especially photographs.

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