FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
August 31, 2014 posted by

Anime “Jack And The Beanstalk” (1974)

Top Ten lists are popular. I have been asked (before Steve Stanchfield brought it up on Cartoon Research) what I think are the Top Ten (Japanese) anime features, or what my ten favorite anime features, or anime TV series, are.

I have not decided so far. I keep changing my mind, so I want more time to consider this. Yet there is one Japanese animated feature that I have always enjoyed very much, which is hard to think of as “anime” because it does not look “Japanese” at all. Since it is not likely to end up on a “top anime” list, here it is separately.

jack-japan-posterJack and the Beanstalk Jack no Mami no Ki. Group TAC. July 20, 1974 (Japan); February 13, 1976 (U.S.); 96 minutes. Directed by Gisaburō Sugii.

I don’t care if this is Japanese-made; it does not look “foreign” in any way. It looks like the best animated musical feature-length movie that was not made by Disney, before the 1990s with Cats Don’t Dance.

Group TAC Co., Ltd. was founded in March 1968 by former employees of Mushi Productions. Information on the Internet says that it was run by Tashiro Atsumi until his death in July 2010, during a period of extreme financial hardship for the studio. Atsumi had hoped to save the studio from bankruptcy, but after his death, bankruptcy was declared in September 2010 and the studio broke up. Its staff and projects were assumed by the new Studio Diomedéa, and the existing OLM, Inc. (originally Oriental Light and Magic) and XEBEC studios.

Wikipedia’s Group TAC entry does not even list any projects for the studio between its 1968 founding and 1983. According to Wikipedia, Group TAC was best-known for two things: producing the animated adaptations of the literary works of Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933) with the characters shown as anthropomorphized cats, such as Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985); plus the Touch animated high school baseball TV series (1985-1987; 101 episodes) and theatrical features (three) based on Mitsuru Adachi’s manga, all directed by Gisaburō Sugii. After Group TAC’s breakup, Sugii directed Miyazawa’s 1932 The Life of Guskō Budori, again with all the characters as anthropomorphized cats, as a 105-minute theatrical movie in July 2012 for Tezuka Productions.

jack-lobby-250Wikipedia says of Jack and the Beanstalk, “It is the first feature directed by Sugii or animated by Group TAC”, “The feature is […] particularly unusual in the nature of its Western influence, which extends to animation being assigned by character (rather than by scene as it is conventionally in Japan) and the eclecticism of its soundtrack, which includes examples of kayōkyoku pop, progressive, funk and hard rock, enka and other genres”, and “Henry Herx wrote in his Family Guide to Movies on Video: ‘Its songs are insipid and the animation rather primitive[;] still it moves along at a lively enough pace and may amuse younger children.’ Richard Eder of The New York Times remarked: ‘The lines are blurry, the colors muddy, and the action is blocklike. When the characters’ lips move up and down, the words come out sideways.’ He ended his short review with this comment: ‘It is the kind of thing grandfathers are sent out to send their grandchildren to. They will sit silently, side by side, and a quiet loathing will come up between them.’ In 2010, Michael R. Pitts said that the songs are ‘forgettable’. Conversely, the writers of Jerry Beck’s Animated Movie Guide hailed it as ‘A successful Japanese emulation of American fairy tale theatrical cartoon features with many delightful songs’, and gave it four stars.”

I will take the credit for giving it the favorable review in Jerry’s The Animated Movie Guide; I wrote all the entries on Japanese and Korean animated features released in America. As I said, I have always enjoyed the film, which in my opinion was designed from the start to look as much like a traditional American animated musical as possible. I am still humming its first song after forty years. When I was asked to help program California State University at Long Beach’s first Japanese Animation Festival on April 21-22, 2000, I recommended this film (which Columbia Pictures only had one theatrical file print of left by that time; so spliced and worn that Columbia only reluctantly agreed to loan it to CSULB for the festival). To quote again from Wikipedia, “Styled after classical Western animation, it is a musical fantasy based on the fairy tale of the same name with the screenplay by Shūji Hirami, music organization by Yū Aku and songs and score composed and arranged by Takashi Miki with Shun’ichi Tokura and Tadao Inōe.”

jack-us-poster250Jack and the Beanstalk was distributed in the U.S. extremely briefly in 1976 by Columbia Pictures. More people probably saw it on HBO in the early 1980s. I saw it first on RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in the early or mid-1980s. I have always wondered if Columbia provided input to Group TAC while the movie was being produced, since it looks so “American”. The complete film on YouTube credits the English-language production to Film-Rite, Inc. (which IMDb identifies as a New York post-production house active from 1966 through 1985), written by Peter J. Solmo. Jack and the Beanstalk is notable as being the only movie that I know of to combine the voice actors of Titan Productions (Ray Owens, Billie Lou Watt, and so on) and Peter Fernandez’s group (Corinne Orr, Jack Grimes).

In the early days of American anime fandom, a fan interviewed a Columbia executive about its distribution of Jack and the Beanstalk, including its hasty disappearance that was so fast that the studio could hardly have determined whether it was doing well at the box office or not. The executive admitted that, due to the poor record of anime in American theatrical release, Columbia had always considered it to be a tax write-off. When Jack and the Beanstalk actually started to make a profit despite some killer reviews, Columbia hastily yanked it out of the theaters.

Yeah, I can pick a few nits with the film. Jack’s mother complains about them being poor and starving when she is so plump. In the first song, the two verses about the trapped fish and the trapped rabbit seem to be switched with their visuals. The most serious error can be blamed on the original folk tale: why would anyone trade magic beans like those for a dried-up old cow? Who is the bean-seller and what is his motive?

The other details that I noticed are small subtleties that are there for the audience to discover and appreciate. Jack’s “falling in love” with Princess Margaret is really only juvenile puppy love – which she clearly recognizes, as soon as she comes out of her beguilement. Do Crosby the hound dog and the mouse lady-in-waiting seem to have a more than casual relationship, which Jack is completely oblivious of? How stupid is Tulip the ogre, really, and how much is he just putting up with his witch-mother? Does Tulip have genuine feelings for Margaret? How much of his design is deliberately to keep him from being too dark, such as his heart-strewn underpants? Look at the condescension and sarcasm in the song, “Are You HAPPY?”

Most of the characters’ names are unchanged from the Japanese original, but there are two big differences. Crosby the dog was Gurosubi, which does not seem to mean anything (was it a nickname for Gisaburō Sugii?). It was changed to Crosby for the Crusaders’ cross in his dog tag, implying his faithfulness to the Crusaders’ ideals – noticeably stronger than Jack’s juvenile “I wanna be a hero” attitude. The witch was Mrs. Noir, changed to Madame Hecuba – slight, but it does sound more ominous. The credited English voices are Billie Lou Watt as Jack; Corinne Orr as Princess Margaret and Madame Hecuba; and Jack Grimes as Tulip and Crosby. I am pretty sure that Billie Lou Watt is also Jack’s mother, and that Ray Owens is the peddler with the magic beans. Your guess is as good as mine as to the Magic Harp, and the palace courtiers’ human voices.

Anyway, I am glad that the entire movie is on YouTube, with the original American dub both on the sound track and easy to read in the subtitles. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.

Complete movie (English dub)

18 Comments

  • Group TAC was probably famous for producing “Manga Nihon Mukashi Banashi” (Japanese Fairy Tales), which lasted about 25 years on air. I wrote about it here

    http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/cartoon-japanese-folk-tales/

    • I think the best anyone outside Japan might have seen something they did was the brief opening titles to “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan”. It was nothing special really and I don’t know why they bothered using them to do it at but I guess since they had to film that in Tokyo they wanted to show a gesture of thanks to getting a Japanese studio to do that sequence.

  • omg! The animation looks worse than a 60s Popeye!!

    • Are we even looking at the same film? How is this worse then those horribly bland Popeye cartoons?

    • A shame someone had to say it at all, this was a least as decently animated as they could get, I certainly wouldn’t put this at the quality America was churning out for TV in the 60’s.

    • “Uncle” Wayne’s statement is so blatantly false, it can only be labelled as trolling.

  • Speaking of movie guides–and I have Jerry’s THE ANIMATED MOVIE GUIDE–I just heard that this year’s edition of Leonard Maltin’s annual movie guide will be the last one. I’m sad to see it go, though I have to admit it’s been a few years since I bought it.

    Some years ago Maltin split most pre-1960s classics off into a separate book, and a third edition of that will be released next year.

    • Inevitable, I guess, but still hard to believe. I remember what a huge seller Maltin’s book was twenty years ago when I was working in a book store. Honestly, though, it’s been a few years since I bought a copy of it. With so much information at our fingertips via the internet, books like that just seem sort of, well, irrelevant, I guess.

  • I vaguely remember seeing a lot of ads for this when it came out; it seemed like a awfully big push for what looked like a minor film. Only recently caught up with the whole film, and reflected that an American film wouldn’t have made the giant and his mother explicitly cannibals.

    Guessing its success had something to do with the fact that it’s one of the very few iconic stories that didn’t otherwise have an iconic movie. Sure, you can fill an evening with all the shorts (and the Disney featurette), but the closest you come to a definitive feature is the oddball Abbott and Costello feature (a Bud & Lou classic of sorts, but not a mainstream kiddie classic).

    By the way — Did “Beanstalk Bunny” ever make it to DVD? That’s the one with Bugs, Daffy, and a giant Elmer (“All wight you widdle wascals . . .”).

    • I vaguely remember seeing a lot of ads for this when it came out; it seemed like a awfully big push for what looked like a minor film. Only recently caught up with the whole film, and reflected that an American film wouldn’t have made the giant and his mother explicitly cannibals.

      I would say that was an interesting approach (of course in some stories the giant was often made to be a cannibal anyway). It certainly liven things up a little way we’re giving a kingdom that was taken over by the two villains with the princess sedated as she first appears and for Jack to set things right as the story moves along.

      Guessing its success had something to do with the fact that it’s one of the very few iconic stories that didn’t otherwise have an iconic movie. Sure, you can fill an evening with all the shorts (and the Disney featurette), but the closest you come to a definitive feature is the oddball Abbott and Costello feature (a Bud & Lou classic of sorts, but not a mainstream kiddie classic).

      I use to watch that movie and over over, it was something that video companies like Goodtimes bothered releasing anyway since it was Public Domain. There was also the Hanna-Barbera version with Gene Kelly I use to watch a lot as well.

  • I don’t care if this is Japanese-made; it does not look “foreign” in any way. It looks like the best animated musical feature-length movie that was not made by Disney, before the 1990s with Cats Don’t Dance.

    A pal of mine name Dave Merrill once said he felt the character designs had a very Franco-Belgian look to them and I could agree there, they obviously knew how to ‘hide’ that look we came to know a lot about Japanese animation.

    Wikipedia’s Group TAC entry does not even list any projects for the studio between its 1968 founding and 1983.

    It’s a shame Wiki doesn’t provide much on this studio, but I bet if you ask Ben Ettinger about it, he’ll give you the skinny, Fred!
    http://www.pelleas.net/aniTOP/index.php

    One thing from Ben I do remember him explaining was how the film was produced. Instead of assigning each sequence to an animator to do, each character in the entire film would be animated by that one animator. For example, one person did Jack, another did Margaret, another did Crosby and so on. They were given credit for those ‘roles’ in the opening credits itself (which otherwise was not seen over here but I’ll go to that soon). It was rather innovative for a Japanese film to go this direction, I don’t think it was never done again.

    Anime News Network has this listing of all Group TAC has done in it’s life.
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/company.php?id=95

    After Group TAC’s breakup, Sugii directed Miyazawa’s 1932 The Life of Guskō Budori, again with all the characters as anthropomorphized cats, as a 105-minute theatrical movie in July 2012 for Tezuka Productions.

    It was actually kinda nice Tezuka Pro helped to finish that one at all. The original “Night on the Galactic Railroad” is such a masterpiece all it’s own.

    Wikipedia says of Jack and the Beanstalk, “It is the first feature directed by Sugii or animated by Group TAC”,

    That could be true unless they had done a TV show or something else before 1974, and Gisaburo Sugii had previously worked as an animation director on “Belladonna of Sadness” for Mushi Pro.

    It’s a shame the previous reviews had nagged on the film’s flaws yet having first watched it as a 9 year old from an airing on The Disney Channel, I fell in love with it the very first time. I think I still have the VHS tape from the time it was recorded on there in ’86! I sorta compare it to viewers’ thoughts of Godzilla Vs. Megalon, you’re either with it or not (and that film gathered quite a following in the ensuing years thanks to TV and home video saturation).

    As I said, I have always enjoyed the film, which in my opinion was designed from the start to look as much like a traditional American animated musical as possible. I am still humming its first song after forty years.

    What’s your favorite tune? Mine is “No one’s happier than I” (which does have a very Carpenters flavor to it, they were quite big in Japan at that point in time).

    I recommended this film (which Columbia Pictures only had one theatrical file print of left by that time; so spliced and worn that Columbia only reluctantly agreed to loan it to CSULB for the festival).

    For years I had a faded 16mm Eastman print of this one too, but had to sell it a while back simply out of financial concerns.

    I have always wondered if Columbia provided input to Group TAC while the movie was being produced, since it looks so “American”.

    You do sorta wonder that, of course the film was released in Japan nearly two years before the states got to see it otherwise, and even then, the Japanese involvement was kept at a minimum, the original Columbia theatrical and VHS releases only had the Film-Rite, Inc. credit and a copyright at the start to a “Sheridan View Properties Associates, Ltd.” (The DVD release from Hen’s Tooth adds in the Japanese staff credits). Their name also pops up on the trailers/TV spots as well.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fo8ZkKeokc

    One thing missing from the US release I like to point out is this artsy-fartsy, groovy opening title sequence that wasn’t used on the US release or on DVD when that came out. It’s got one more tune I suppose is titled “Hey Jack!” and features a stick figure pop singer character and a lot of trippy visuals.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zex3nsbvs2o

    This sequence was used partially in the German release of the film, though that version strangely took a lot of liberties with the story by calling Jack “Tom” and having both Crosby and the mice talk legibly to the boy and they all understand each other. This certainly messes up one crucial point in the film for me when Crosby has a solo tune that gives Jack a reason to go back up the beanstalk to take care of unfinished business. This version was titled “Tom, Crosby und die Mäusebrigade”.

    Being reminded I still have a 16mm spot in my collection where announcer Danny Dark brings up a sweepstakes at the end for a trip to Disney World to whomever completed the form at the cinemas.

    Jack and the Beanstalk is notable as being the only movie that I know of to combine the voice actors of Titan Productions (Ray Owens, Billie Lou Watt, and so on) and Peter Fernandez’s group (Corinne Orr, Jack Grimes).

    That was pretty fascinating to bring both camps together like that.

    When Jack and the Beanstalk actually started to make a profit despite some killer reviews, Columbia hastily yanked it out of the theaters.

    That was dumb on their part, but given the tax write-off bit, I can understand the frustration there. At least someone else didn’t get saddled with this like G.G. Communications (whom some may recall for their kiddie matinee classics like the Pippi Longstocking flicks). I only thought of them as they handled Toei Animation’s The Little Mermaid” around that time, another familiar classic for fans of a certain generation long before the Disney film).

    The most serious error can be blamed on the original folk tale: why would anyone trade magic beans like those for a dried-up old cow? Who is the bean-seller and what is his motive?

    watching it today, I see he has no need for an eyepatch either! Yet it’s one of those little silly cheats in the film I could live with (as much as seeing an ogre in his heart-patterned boxers).

    The other details that I noticed are small subtleties that are there for the audience to discover and appreciate. Jack’s “falling in love” with Princess Margaret is really only juvenile puppy love – which she clearly recognizes, as soon as she comes out of her beguilement

    We outta be grateful for that. Billie Lou Watt plays Jack very well as someone I want to say is around 10 year olds here. The Japanese verison gives Jack a slightly older voice and it’s hard for me to get the same impact when Jack sounds like he’s already 15.

    How stupid is Tulip the ogre, really, and how much is he just putting up with his witch-mother?

    While I don’t want to spoil how that ends, the conclusion alone always left such a weird, twisted thought in my mind how did that ever came to be. We’re just left to ponder that one!

    Look at the condescension and sarcasm in the song, “Are You HAPPY?”

    In Margaret’s eyes, the giant is a bishonen prince of her dreams until Jack finally brings that all to a close! That song is pretty up there otherwise.

    Crosby the dog was Gurosubi, which does not seem to mean anything (was it a nickname for Gisaburō Sugii?). It was changed to Crosby for the Crusaders’ cross in his dog tag, implying his faithfulness to the Crusaders’ ideals – noticeably stronger than Jack’s juvenile “I wanna be a hero” attitude.

    Most foreign-language releases of this film tend to use “Crosby” as well, which was a good choice in the long run. The dog himself is pretty unique and I wonder how much influences they had from a certain Great Dane from America? It always stood out to me sometimes.

    Anyway, I am glad that the entire movie is on YouTube, with the original American dub both on the sound track and easy to read in the subtitles.

    Here’s an unsubtitled version because some YouTubers don’t check their DVDs when they rip! One thing I will advice is that the sound tends to go slightly out of sync by the very end of the video for some unknown reason.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H2MlQreZ8I

    As I said before, the film was released on DVD a decade ago from Hen’s Tooth Video that features both English and Japanese audio tracks, though the subtitles themselves are really just the English dialogue written out (or “dubtitles” as they call it in fandom), so it’s not adequate if you were following the Japanese audio. For a while now, the film in most markets outside Japan has been distributed by a German company called Atlas International.
    http://www.atlasfilm.com/product/by-genre/family—children/jack-and-the-beanstalk.html

    In Japan, the film seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. It barely received a LaserDisc release in 1987 from Pony Canyon. This release also had a second audio channel featuring a staff commentary during the film as well (which nobody has translated to this day, I’m sure it would’ve been fascinating to see what the thought of what they did back then). There has never been any other home releases of the film in Japan after that.

    Speaking of Japan, here’s one trippy piece of publicity art for the film!
    http://www.eiga46.com/?mode=search&pattern=detail&itemid=ami0006s

    Also of note, both the movies soundtrack and a single to the song I suppose Margaret sings had also saw vinyl releases in Japan at the time the film came out. Doesn’t really help out foreigners unless you know enough Japanese to get around it or rely on a middle man to buy these from Yahoo! Auctions and the like.
    http://www.garitto.com/product/17318766
    http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/recoromak/imgs/d/f/df61faa6.jpg

    To leave you guys with something I like to dig up because it’s out there. here’s one last photo to link to! This was something that impressed me the first time I saw it, and often showed it off to others simply because it exists. From around the time of Columbia’s handling of the film, comes this photo from a local Bozo’s Circus program seen in Washington D.C. featuring the host next to a giant plushie of Tulip! Wonder if they gave that out in a contest?
    http://kidshow.dcmemories.com/Bozo620DD3.jpg

    Thanks for such a fine article Fred!

    • And thank YOU, Chris, for such a lengthy and thoughtful comment!

    • Thanks Fred, I knew I’d get the final word in on this simply for having been such a devotee to such an under-looked gem.

    • Great stuff, Chris. I spoke to the CEO of Hen’s Tooth, Steven Newmark, many years back – he actually licensed the film via Atlas Productions, which was the only way he was able to get it. It’s one of several fine anime films that never made the jump to DVD in Japan. I’m particularly fond of Crosby the dog – the animator who handled him looked to be having a blast. Here’s my column on Group TAC:
      http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/the-mike-toole-show/2013-07-14

      Seems like it was a pretty rough turn of events for Mr Tashiro and TAC – they’d so recently made the fine (and quite successful) ONE STORMY NIGHT, but it didn’t help. I’m glad to see that TAC is remembered elsewhere.

    • Great stuff, Chris.

      I do my best.

      I spoke to the CEO of Hen’s Tooth, Steven Newmark, many years back – he actually licensed the film via Atlas Productions, which was the only way he was able to get it.

      At least they went the legal route to obtain it. Regardless of how it looks, it’s the best as one could have for a film of that vintage (being a PAL/NTSC conversion).

      The only other DVD release I know of is one from the shady “EastWest DVD” group that I bothered picking up someplace (probably a garage sale) and could tell their source was the old Columbia Pictures VHS release anyway. I already met someone yesterday who worked for that company and it sounds like whoever they dealt with in obtaining this material did not know what he had on his hands but I’m sure it was all illegit.
      http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Beanstalk-slim-animated-region/dp/B000Z2O0U4

      It’s one of several fine anime films that never made the jump to DVD in Japan.

      Which is a shame really. I noticed one Japanese twitter fan I talked to wished it was as well since he had to import the Hen’s Tooth DVD as well. I guess Kadokawa is the current owners of the film through it’s acquisition of Nippon Herald. And unlike the “Animerama” trilogy of films that did receive DVD releases in the past decade, no love was given to this more family-friendly title at all. Now that the film turned 40th this year, it would’ve been a nice thought for something to happen, even a TV airing.

      I’m particularly fond of Crosby the dog – the animator who handled him looked to be having a blast.

      Who wouldn’t be. We need more of that in our lives really!

      Here’s my column on Group TAC:
      http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/the-mike-toole-show/2013-07-14

      As always, an excellent read!

      Seems like it was a pretty rough turn of events for Mr Tashiro and TAC – they’d so recently made the fine (and quite successful) ONE STORMY NIGHT, but it didn’t help.

      Sad really, and that was quite a good film too before all the Rule 34 stuff showed up. Yet I can’t help but admire the tenacity of a small Aussie group who bothered putting together a English dub of that film they wanted TBS to consider distributing but it never happened. If GKIDS had been around much earlier they’d probably release this one.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ER3FOcZgMqQ

      I’m glad to see that TAC is remembered elsewhere.

      We try to keep the torch lit.

  • As an update to this post, I just want to mention the film FINALLY got a Japanese DVD release last year.
    http://www.fandompost.com/2015/08/13/kadokawa-sets-jack-to-mame-no-ki-anime-dvd-release/
    http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/product/DABA-4891

  • Can anyone out there post a link to a place to buy the (i assume long out of print) 1987 laserdisc? I don’t speak Japanese so it’s hard to research.

    • Probably action sites like “Yahoo!Japan” at this point. I noticed this is currently up over there, but if you had to try to get it, you may have to get it via a middleman service that would buy it directly in Japan and then mail it to you.
      https://page.auctions.yahoo.co.jp/jp/auction/r225126570

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *