Makino was born in Kyoto on September 22, 1878. His mother ran a theater, and his association with movies began when the motion picture producer Einosuke Yokota of Yokota Shōkai asked for his help in filming jidaigeki. Shozo discovered actor Matsunosuke Onoe working in an itinerant kabuki troupe. He enlisted Onoe and made him into Japan's first film star, and began directing over 60 Matsunosuke films a year in the early 1910s, all if not all short films.
In addition to creating the unique genre of the Japanese period film, Makino also incorporated trick camera techniques and a myriad of other cinematic methods of expression into his films. In 1919, he founded the Mikado Company and began to produce educational films. He later founded an independent production company, Makino Film Productions, and from 1923, continued his work as a director and as producer. Makino Film Productions turned out many successful movies also made by several other directors and actors.
In 1928, he directed the epic, Jitsuroku Chushingura (True Record of the Forty-seven Ronin), which coincided with his 50th birthday. He died on July 25, 1929.
Shōzō Makino is the founder of one of the most illustrious families in the history of Japanese film and entertainment. Two of his sons, Sadatsugu Matsuda (1906-2003) and Masahiro Makino (1908-1993), were also popular film directors. Another, Mitsuo Makino, was an important film producer, and yet another, Shinzō Makino, also worked as a director (his wife was the actress Chikako Miyagi). Masahiro married the actress Yukiko Todoroki and their son, Masayuki Makino, is the head of the Okinawa Actor's School. Shōzō's daughter, Tomoko Makino, married the actor Kunitarō Sawamura, and gave birth to the actors Masahiko Tsugawa and Hiroyuki Nagato, each of whom married famous actresses (Yukiji Asaoka and Yōko Minamida respectively). Kunitarō's brother and sister are the actors Daisuke Katō and Sadako Sawamura.
- 1914 Kochiyama soshun
- 1921 Jiraiya, The Hero (Goketsu Jiraiya)
- 1928 Jitsuroku Chushingura (True Record of the Forty-seven Ronin)
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