A Japanese Researcher Tweets Vintage Photos Colorized Using Neural Networks

Emperor Showa Mickey Mouse

The Japanese Emperor visits Disneyland, accompanied by Mickey Mouse. Image source: Hidenori Watanave.

Hidenori Watanave, an associate professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, has been exploring a tool created by researchers at Japan's Waseda University that colorizes images using neural networks and posting some of his results to Twitter.

Waseda University's online project, called Neural Network-based Automatic Image Colorization, was developed by researchers Satoshi Iizuka, Edgar Simo-Serra and Hiroshi Ishikawa. Neural networks are computer systems that work in a way that's similar to the human brain. Anyone can use their web-based tool to add color to black-and-white images.

Watanave has used the tool in several projects devoted to preserving and mapping eyewitness testimony from World War II, including an interactive map of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Watanave is also the creator of a similar innovative mapping project that tracks the last moments of the victims of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Often, however, Watanave experiments with a variety of images, which he then posts to Twitter. Watanave has used the neural network-based technique to colorize a variety of photos from Japan's experience during the Second World War.

Image of bombardment on Okinawa filmed from an American military aircraft. Smoke rises from the islands around Toguchi, Okinawa. From the Peace Learning Archive in Okinawa (沖縄平和学習アーカイブ). Colorized by neural network.

In February and March 1945, Japanese forces and the Allies fought the Battle of Manila, which destroyed the city. Colorized photo originally from http://www.vintag.es/2016/12/18-rare-vintage-photographs-that-show.html

Many of the colorized photos he posts are ones he collected and curated as part of his projects detailing oral histories of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

Nagasaki immediately after the nuclear blast. A demolished Urakami Cathedral.

Hiroshima immediately after the atomic bombing. Looking southwest from the north side of Kamiya-machi crossing. Photo from the Hiroshima Archive.

Not all of Watanave's experiments have to do with the war. Many photos depict scenes from Japanese history over the past century or so.

In October 1975, Emperor Hirohito visits Disneyland in California.

Women enjoying a hot-sand bath in Beppu sometime in the 1930s.

Photo taken by Arnold Genthe in 1908. It's unclear where in Japan this photo was taken.

And not all of Watanave's colorization experiments have to do with Japan. This interesting photograph provides a window into the Korean War:

Marilyn Monroe entertains troops deployed in 1954 during the Korean War.

Watanave's Twitter feed can sometimes produce interesting results. Here, a Twitter follower appears to recognize a colorized photo of her own mother taken nearly 50 years ago in Tokyo:

Dressed in their Sunday best and in a traditional Japanese hairstyle, young women enter the workforce [around the time of the annual Coming of Age Day] on January 5, 1970, in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

Thank you for posting this photo. That looks like my mother when she was young.

Technical details of the Waseda colorization tool can be found here. The browser-based tool is available for use at http://hi.cs.waseda.ac.jp:8082/. The creators note that the tool is intended for non-commercial purposes only.

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