Japanese cartoon makers were just as prone to raid fairy tales & legends for scenarios as their Western counterparts. One possible reason was that many of these films were produced expressly for schoolroom use.
A select group of stories were endlessly recycled. Here are a few examples:
MOMOTARO THE UNDEFEATED (1928)
One interpretation of the origin of the famous “Peach Boy”; a pious war zealot who appeared frequently in animation of the 1930s.
Zenjiro ‘Sanae’ Yamamoto (1898-1981) had been directing animation four years before this one, a pleasing, decorative application of the paper cutout technique that many of the non-US animators favored. In a few scenes, Yamamoto’s
technique of animating the cutout characters on a sheet of glass above the backdrop is apparent. Yamamoto went on to supervise two of the most famous feature cartoons to reach the West in the 1960s, JOURNEY TO THE WEST (ALAKAZAM THE GREAT) and GULLIVER’S SPACE TRAVELS (GULLIVER’S TRAVELS BEYOND THE MOON).
It may not apply in this case, but much of Japan’s Golden Age animation was produced to make wartime values “friendly” to children. It would be years until Momotaro emerged in the notorious WWII propaganda feature MOMOTARO’S DIVINE SEA WARRIORS (not by Yamamoto).
WHY THE SEA WATER IS SALTY (1935)
From a fable also known in the West (and which was adapted for one of Jack Kinney’s POPEYE cartoons in the 1960s!). Another produced by the prodigious Yasuji Murata (1898-1966) in his highly original naturalistic style.
The story told benefits from a tasteful use of minimal animation augmented with camera moves and optical effects. They eloquently convey human nuances and time passage. Note the scene where a slow zoom into a still drawing of the villain is used to plainly communicate his attitude toward his brother. Animated films like this make me ponder what might have been possible if the Disney style hadn’t come to dominate the form.
DANEMON’S MONSTER HUNT AT SHOJOJI (1935)
A slapstick tale of a real life figure who transmuted into legend: Ban Naoyuki (1567 — 1615), a Japanese samurai general. Here, depicted as a lovable, blustering strongman (who uses pince-nez!), he does battle with a house of
tanuki, the funloving, shapeshifting raccoon dogs, led by the one-eyed Date Masamune (1567 –1636) another historic warrior. Both these true-life personalities continue to figure in Japanese popular media.
Here we see the comic, Fleischer-inspired side of Japanese animation, with a hero resembling Bluto, and modern props incongruously figuring in a historic milieu. But still, an atmosphere of comic suspense is maintained.
“Drawings”: Yoshitaro Kataoka, who made some of the earliest efforts in color productions, and was also an artist of manga.
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