In 1908, the French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn launched one of the most ambitious projects in the history of photography. A pacifist, internationalist and utopian idealist, Kahn decided to use his private fortune to improve understanding between the nations of the world. To this end, he created what he called his Archive of the Planet. For the next two decades, he dispatched professional photographers to document the everyday lives of people in more than 50 countries all around the world. Kahn's wealth enabled him to supply his photographers with the most advanced camera technology available. They used the autochrome - the first user-friendly camera system capable of producing true-colour photographs.
Some of the most important of all the 72,000 colour images in Kahn's Archive were shot during three separate visits (in 1908, 1912 and 1926) to Japan. As an international financier, Kahn had established a network of contacts that included some of the most prominent members of Japan's business, banking and political elites. Consequently, Kahn's photographers were granted privileged access to places that would have otherwise been off limits - including some of the royal palaces, where they shot colour portraits of the princes and princesses from Japan's Imperial family. But some of their most fascinating images capture moments from the lives of ordinary Japanese people at work and play. This film showcases Kahn's treasury of films and autochromes of silk-farmers, Shinto monks, schoolchildren, porcelain merchants, Kabuki stars and geishas - pictures that were recorded at a time when this fascinating country was going through momentous changes.