The paper presents the process of Japan's modernization as reflected in the films made in the 1920s and 1930s. The national cinema of that period showed both positive and negative consequences of social, political and economic restoration initiated by the Meiji after 1868. The author emphasizes the strong relations between the film and the changes which characterized the theatre and literature at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries, at the same time, pointing out the influences of the classic American cinema, evident in the script, the editing, a frame composition, etc. The basis for analysis are the early films by Yasujiro Ozu, Heinosuke Gosho and Kenji Mizoguchi. The author claims that the cinema became both the symbol of cultural transformation and the reflection of the ambivalent attitude of Japanese society towards the modernization process. A sense of nostalgia for the past, which is so clear in many films, is combined with the awareness of inevitability of change and necessity of abandoning the dreams of independence and self-sufficiency, whereas scepticism towards modem world is balanced with hope for reconciling the contradicting traditions.