June 4, 2016 posted by

Lost Early Anime: “Three Tales” (1960)

Oppel and the Elephant

Oppel and the Elephant

Animation has graced presence in Japanese television almost since they’ve been around in the country. Initially, a lot of cartoons shown in Japan were imported from America, mostly from Hanna-Barbera, but there were always attempts to create home-grown animation on television. One of the first of such endeavor is Three Tales.

Hosted and narrated by actress and singer Meiko Nakamura, who also appeared in live-action segments between each shorts, Three Tales is an 30-minute anthology special that, as the title implies, featured three short stories. They were all children’s books that were published in Japan at the era. The three stories are “The Third Dish” by Hirosuke Hamada (1893-1973), “Oppel and the Elephant” by Kenji Miyazawa (1896-1933), and “Sleeping Town” by Mimei Ogawa (1882-1961).

The Third Dish

The Third Dish

“The Third Dish” features the creation of the world, where God gets his angel assistant, Rumi, to help him create the world by giving her three tasks. In “Oppel and the Elephant”, a cruel factory manager forces an elephant to gather supplies, to the point that he starves. Finally,”Sleeping Town” has a boy asked by the Sandman to spread sand across a town full of people who are so awake, that they are making too much progress, destroying the environment as a result.

Sleeping Town

Sleeping Town

All three stories, while having different designs, uses cut-out animation to create limited movements. Each segment has different directors doing all the design and artwork. Keiko Osonoe, who did “The Third Dish”, was primarily an children’s book illustrator. This special is her only known animation work. Makoto Wada handled “Oppel and the Elephant”, probably the most stylish of the three. He was a prolific illustrator who made a few independent animated shorts. Among other films, he directed a short called “Murder” in 1964. Shuichi Nakahara, who did “Sleeping Town”, later became an art director on a few anime, such as “Taotao the Panda”.

The special aired on NHK in January 15, 1960. It was thought to be the first anime made for television, until the discovery of “Mole’s Adventure”, which aired in 1958 on Nippon Television. That said, it’s still a landmark achievement, showing that anime can be viable in television. Astro Boy would debut only three years later, which lead to more animation being made for Japanese television.

Below is the entirety of the special, presented in three parts.


  • I like the jazz score that runs through this show. I’m sure each of the bits of animation are interesting, too.

  • Wow, didn’t realize that this series ever existed, love that “Be Bop” style jazz score from this series. On Oppel and the Elephant the evil factory owner got his comeuppance when the herd of elephants came to rescue of thier comrade and what’s laughable was how the evil factory owner tried to take down one of the elephant by shooting him with a pistol and the bullets ricochet of the elephant’s hide!

  • Love it if you cover “NHK Minna no Uta” someday Charles! That alone was history in the making!

  • I’ve heard about this before. Your information about it is very well done and I’ve now learned a lot more about it.

    In the past, I kind of wanted to watch it out of curiosity, but had no luck in finding it online. Thanks for the links!

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