Normally, I don't use my blog for news related stories, but as a fan of animation, especially Anime, I wanted to address what happened in Kyoto this month and the major toll it has had on the victims and their families as well as the Anime community. On July 18th, Kyoto Animation, best known for their films, and series, Eiga K-On!, Lucky Star, Tamako Love Story and A Silent Voice endured an arson attack at their studio one facility, leaving at least 34 to 35 dead, and roughly 33 injured.
I was away on vacation when it happened. I heard a piece of the story in passing, but did not gather further information until I got back and settled down from my trip. I got back on Sunday last week and started following up on the story on Wednesday night. From my understanding, the suspect involved did this out of spite, claiming that someone in the studio or the studio stole his idea. He threatened the studio, doused the place and some of the employees with gasoline and set everything on fire.
This is a very tragic news story. Waking up one morning to go to work like any other normal day, it would never cross one's mind to suspect something so horrible like this would happen. Anime merchandising company, Sentai Filmworks, one of Kyoto Animation's partners, started a GoFundMe page with the social media hashtag, #HelpKyoAniHeal to help the victims and their families rebuild. The fundraiser has surpassed its goal and is still going strong. I'll leave a link below where you can donate. Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers at this time of need.
Help KyoAni Heal donation page
Blending the Traditional with the Modern according to Takashi Murakami. Post MFA Boston Visit ReflectionsRead Now
To say that the art of Takashi Murakami is eccentric is without a doubt a huge understatement. With a fine blend of traditional Japanese art and modern day pop art, Murakami mixes, not only the old and the new, but elements of the high art and the low art in ways that leads spectators to another level of imagination. From October 18th, 2017 to April 1st, 2018, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston presented an exhibition entitled Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics, which featured a selection of traditional Japanese art from the museum's own collection and a selection of pieces created by Murakami himself.
At first, it seems like the most unlikely combination one could dream up of, but given the context of the rich history behind the arts of Japan and how it shaped the Japanese pop culture of the 21st century, the meaning behind the art of Murakami becomes clearer. The exhibition, fittingly titled Lineage of Eccentrics showcases the heritage Murakami's art depicts through a display of his own works and which traditional pieces influenced them. On one side, museum visitors will see a piece of traditional Japanese art and next to it, a piece created by Murakami himself that borrows from it, mixed with vibrant colors and his signature cartoon (anime) character art. For example, the 17th century folding screen, Poppies from the School of Tawaraya Sōtatsu is among the featured pieces from the MFA's collection. The materials used to create it consists of gold-leafed paper, ink and color paint. Looking to the wall on the right, viewers would see Murakami's rendition, titled Kawaii - Vacances (Summer Vacation in the Kingdom of the Golden) circa 2008, in which one of the materials similarly consists of gold-leafed paper. In contrast to Poppies, the flowers are made with acrylic. Also, the flowers depicted in Poppies are rendered with a slight sense of simplicity, yet more realistically detailed while set in front of a spacious golden background. Murakami's Kawaii - Vacances flowers are arranged in a similar fashion as the ones from Poppies in that they are also in front of a golden spacious backdrop (with clouds behind them in contrast). Unlike the more realistically rendered Poppies, Kawaii - Vacances features flat lined multi-colored anthropomorphic cartoon-like flowers with smiling faces.
So what is it about the collection that makes it so appealing? What possible sort of cultural significance could an art form known for blurring the lines between high traditional art and low commercial art have to offer? Why does something 'commercialized' even need to draw from traditional art? For artists who want to learn how to create his/her signature style, Murakami sets a superb example of how to do it. Because he is both a fine artist as well as a commercial artist, he knows how to build from the arts of the past and offer new insights into them with a modern twist. Without drawing from the traditional arts of Japan as a foundation, the response to post WWII Japan would be very disconnected. To delve into specific detail, when taking Murakami's early career into account, it's known that he is a fan of anime and manga. Even so, at one point, he had dreams of working in the animation industry. Although initially he went to school to garner the skills for it, his career focus shifted and thus majored in the art of Nihonga (traditional Japanese paintings dating back to 1900), instead. Despite earning his Ph.D, he became disenchanted with the art of Nihonga due to its overtly political nature. As a result, he went on to expand his artistic boundaries. The main set back he could see in modern Japanese art was that there was a major focus on incorporating Western trends, which his 90's projects would satirize, receiving less favorable reviews in Japan. Murakami did however, receive a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) in 1994 and traveled to New York City as part of a studio program from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). While he was living in the city, he discovered modern Western contemporary artists and became influenced by their works. The works of Jeff Koons and Anselm Kiefer stood out the most for Murakami. Upon his return to Japan, Murakami defined his signature artistic practices and showcased his recent works at major exhibitions in Europe and the United States. By establishing a cultural foundation for himself as an artist both in the West and Japan, Murakami could take full control over his work and build his own market.
Once he was already well rooted in the high arts, he started to blend the "low" arts of Japanese subculture such as manga and anime into the mix. Eventually, he coined the term, Superflat in 2000, which is a term to describe the 2D flatness of traditional Japanese art and anime and manga. The term, Superflat also takes on an array of other meanings as well, such as the superficial nature of the consumer culture in Japan. It also represents Japan's post-war society, where according to Murakami, trends and various social classes were geared towards flatness, by which he means that after WWII, tastes regarding what can be defined as 'high' and 'low' art have been blurred. When asked about the over commercialization of today's art market in a 2007 interview with BLOUIN ARTINFO, Murakami's response is as follows:
"It's always funny when people say this, because it sounds like they don't understand what a "market" is. Isn't it a place to buy and sell? Personally, I think that the more commercialized the art market, the easier it is to understand strategically. I do appreciate all different kinds of art, though; just like I appreciate all different kinds of people. There are some people who compete in the commercial arena and there are some who abide by more personal, spiritual or idealistic guidelines. If done well, both can be equally satisfying".
And when asked if there is a risk involved in 'straddl[ing] between art and commercial products', Murakami replies:
"I don't think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I've been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line is less defined. Both by the culture and by the past-War economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of "high art." In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that's okay - I'm ready with my hard hat".
To summarize Murakami's statements as well as his experiences throughout his career, whether artists are meeting the criteria of 'high' art or 'low' art, either way, they are all in it to market and sell their works. Regardless of their values represented in their art, all artists are marketing and branding themselves every time they put their work out into the public eye. In either case, if the art the artists are selling display a level of craftsmanship and a solid understanding of stylization, the end results that come of their efforts are truly rewarding. As for the 'straddling' effect, Murakami deftly puts it that in port-War Japan, both 'high' and 'low' art intertwine and receive an equal amount of respect and acceptance. Blending the 'high' and 'low' art in the United States on the other hand, often receives a negative reaction and thus, are seen as separate.
Returning to the question of what possible cultural significance could art blurring the lines between high traditional art and low commercial art have to offer and why would commercial art even be drawn from traditional art, it all boils down to a deep rooted connection to one's own heritage and that the commercial world would never have existed without such a rich history. As bizarre as the works of Takashi Murakami tend to be, when given context from the traditional art of Japan, the branded art contains a deeper meaning behind it. Murakami demonstrates that without that connection and understanding of cultural heritage, what is defined as commercial art wouldn't have a platform to stand on. Even so, in order for artists to come up with a signature style, (as discussed in my previous blog post), understanding that lineage is what gives the artist's effort a significance. It is truly quite surprising to see how much of commercialized art came to be as a result of art history and Murakami as both a branded business man and traditional artist proves it best.
Part 1 of this series of blog posts delved into the early origins of anime, which date back to 1907. The post covered examples of various Japanese animated works prior to World War II. Japan, by contrast to other countries did not have much access to better resources like celluloids, thus their animations were made using cut outs. As the years went on and access to new materials were increasing, various animators adopted the filming techniques of the West, as seen in later animations. Part II covered the effect and influence WWII had on the Japanese animation industry, thus came the propaganda films of the time and how the industry recovered after the war in 1948. With the release of Tōei Animation’s 1958 classic animated feature film, Hakujaden, the industry continued to flourish throughout the 1960’s and onward. In this third and final post in this series, the rise of television animation in Japan and the everlasting influence of Osamu Tezuka’s beloved classic, Mighty Atom/Astro Boy will be discussed.
As previously stated, the 1960’s was a pivotal decade for Japanese animation, not only because it was the decade when Japan’s animated works made their way onto television, but it was also the decade that would start to give the industry its identity. The first televised Japanese animation was Instant History (Otogi Manga Calendar), which ran from 1961 to 1962. Although the series remains lost to this day due to the tapes the show was recorded on being repurposed because of the cost to preserve them, there is one image documenting its existence. The art style resembles that of a Hanna-Barbera or a UPA cartoon than that of what the later years would have in store for the industry, especially the year 1963 with the television debut of Osamu Tezuka’s international hit, Astro Boy.
Making its debut on January 1st, 1963 with its pilot episode, Atomu tanjo (The Birth of Atom or The Birth of Astro Boy in the U.S.), the animated adaption of Tezuka’s popular manga series would be the spark that would forever define the Japanese animation industry and give it its own identity. To completely grasp why Astro Boy is often understood as the ‘first anime’, it’s important to trace back to Tezuka’s life before and after WWII, how Astro Boy was initially conceived (as Tetsuwan Atomu or Mighty Atom) and the events that occurred after Astro Boy’s television debut in the United States.
Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) was known for his immense passion, dedication and hard work. Exposed to the arts at an early age, Tezuka had a huge love for film and animation. He started writing and drawing his first original stories at age 13. As he worked on manga, he went to school to study medicine. During the second World War, like all other artists in Japan at the time, his work was reduced to creating propaganda pieces, thus he continued to retain his artistic value in secrecy. After WWII and witnessing the aftermath, rather than letting agony and resentment consume him, he devoted his craft to encourage understanding human nature and those from other cultures. As fan, friend and translator Frederik L. Schodt described Tezuka’s wisdom after WWII in his book, The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution, “he developed a lifelong interest in the complexity of human nature, a deep belief in the need to communicate with other cultures, and a belief in the power of manga and animation to help do so” (Schodt, 30). These themes were greatly explored throughout Tezuka’s works and were perfectly fitting for the time.
Astro Boy’s introduction goes back to 1951 in a series entitled Atomu Taishi (Ambassador Atom) for Shōnen’s (Boys) magazine. Ironically, although Atom was the titular character, he served as a plot device for later in the story. Due to the overly complex plot and the high number of characters, Ambassador Atom was met with minor success. However, Atom became a favorite amount Tezuka’s young readers. Under Shōnen magazine’s then editor-and-chief, Takeshi Kanai’s suggestion, Tezuka made Atom the lead character. At first, he was reluctant to do so, deeming it difficult to make a robot a relatable character, but Kanai suggested to rewrite the character with human traits. Atom was reworked to behave like a young school boy, which resonated with Tezuka’s readers. The Mighty Atom manga series was met with great success.
Although Tezuka’s forte was illustration and storytelling, his true passion was animation. He had hoped to create fluid animation just like the works of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer, whose works he grew up with. In 1961, Tezuka started a small studio called Tezuka Osamu Productions, which later became Mushi Productions the following year. According to Schodt, “Tezuka’s goal was to create both commercial and experimental animation, using profits from the former to the latter. But in the beginning, everything would have to be financed by the profits from his manga work” (64). That meant that the company's animation projects would be completed on a tight budget and with limitations, therefore Mushi Productions used the limited animation technique created by Hanna-Barbera and UPA than the full animation that the likes of Disney. As simple as it sounded, this labor of love turned into a seemingly bottomless commitment to completion. In other words, Tezuka and his creative team would overwork long hours to the point of burnout from staying overnight and working with nearly no breaks.
Because of the long hours of labor Mushi Productions put into the making of the Mighty Atom/Astro Boy anime, the animated series proved to be a huge success both in Japan and overseas. So, the good news was that Tezuka paved the way for the Japanese animation industry to flourish and with the help of television writer and editor, Fred Ladd introducing Mighty Atom (under the name Astro Boy) to American audiences, new Japanese animated works would continue to prosper and branch out to the United States in the years and decades to come. The bad news was that because Tezuka was the first Japanese animator to create a television series, consisting of 30-minute-long episodes, something that was never done in Japan before, his approach to creating animated shows became the standard for Japanese animators. As a known fact that to say working as an animator in Japan is no easy task is undeniably an understatement, yet modern anime follows in the footsteps of Tezuka’s workflow, which leads to low pay. If the working conditions are not healthy for their employees, why is Tezuka’s approach still used to this day? According to Toshi Nakamura on Kotaku in his article How The "Godfather of Anime" Screwed Up Modern Anime, “Tezuka…supported his creation through merchandising and his own money. This lay the groundwork for the anime production model: Make an anime a[s] cheaply as possible and make up the loss through tie-in goods and character merch. Because Tezuka was basically the God of manga in Japan, no one questioned his methods and this became the norm”. It should also be noted that Tezuka did not approach animation the way a businessman would. “Unfortunately,” writes Schodt, “hoping to make the series more competitive and thinking that it would ward off potential competitors, an over-confident Tezuka agreed in his bid to Fuji TV to adhere to a cost and production schedule that bordered in the inhuman” (67) and of corse, the money made off the merchandise wasn’t enough to cover expenses. With each new work, the company continued to produce and the expenses continued to raise. Debt accumulated, proving it difficult to make a profit. 119 Mushi Production employees started a union in the early 1970’s, with prompted Tezuka to step down as president and in 1973, the studio filed for bankruptcy. This lead the company’s intellectual property to legal issues that didn’t come to a complete solution until the late ‘90’s. Mushi Prodections did relaunch in the late 70’s as the new Mushi Productions, but Tezuka had no part in it. As Schodt notes, Tezuka “was primarily a creator and not a businessman like Walt Disney” (94-95) and thus, his dream to excel in animation never materialized. He did continue working on animation while writing new manga through his original company name, Tezuka Productions after recovering from debt and would continue his work until his death in 1989.
Over the years, during and after Tezuka’s lifetime, anime as an art form took on new shapes and genres, appealing to various audiences and age groups. With expansions and/or breakaways from Tezuka’s art style and storytelling, new creators would tackle the sci-fi genre with series such as Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Iron Man No. 28 (Tetsujin 28-go), Go Nagai's Mazinger Z (Majingā Zetto), both of which were derived from manga and Yoshiyuki Tomino' s Mobile Suit Gundam (Kidō Senshi Gandamu), which spawned manga adaptions. Early 1963, Toei Dōga stood out from other anime by adding more frames per second in Wolf Boy Ken (Ōkami Shōnen Ken), a series taking place in the jungle featuring a Mowgli type protagonist. It was an original idea not based on a preexisting manga. In contrast to Mushi Productions, whose animation was mostly static except for one body part being animated, Toei Dōga took on a cinematic quality. This was not surprising considering their early expertise in film making with Hakujaden. At first, they were reluctant to take advantage of the new medium, but realizing television was flourishing, they began exploring its marketing possibilities. Although only one episode was dubbed in English, featuring the voices of Hanna-Barbera voice legends Daws Butler and Don Messick, Tōei Animation released the series on DVD sets in Japan and continue to produce new animated titles to this day. Even so, they too proved anime can expand to other genres, especially with the 1966 release, Sally the Witch (Mahōtsukai Sarī), which was based on Yokoyama's manga of the same name. Although it never received a U.S. release, it is known as one of the first shōjo (magical girl) anime along with Tezuka’s Princess Knight (Ribbon no Kishi) manga and anime.
While using the same animation workflow and limited animation techniques still stands prevalent to this day in the industry, former Tōei Doga in-between artist and Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki has been an outspoken critic of the industry because of Tezuka’s unintentional template that lead to the industry’s current state. “Miyazaki openly defied the Tezuka model, creating Studio Ghibli, a production studio that hired animators as employees on a fixed salary rather than temps working on commission”, writes Nakamura. Aside from workflow, even artistically in animation, the team at Studio Ghibli meticulously focus on realistically capturing people, unlike most of anime, in which they often take short cuts when it comes to conveying expression and emotion. Miyazaki is not the only one who recognizes the Japanese animation industry’s flaws and resists them. “Other anime studios like Kyoto Animation and P.A. Works set up their studios outside of Tokyo and develop their anime in-house rather than outsourcing, with dormitories and other systems in place to support their animators” Nakamura indicates.
Reflecting on the first century of Japanese animation, viewers and fans will garner a deeper appreciation for anime as an art form. From the early years using cut out animation to learning from Western animation to the early years of television animation and so on, there’s no doubt anime has come a long way and will continue to evolve. With its broad audiences and array of genres and styles, the art form continues to show promise for further growth and will continue to thrive for generations to come.
In Part 1 of this blog post, I delved into the early origins of Japanese animation debunking the assumption that Osamu Tezuka’s 1963 beloved animated series Astro Boy is the first anime in existence. Based on a panel presented by Charles Dunbar (Study of Anime) at this year’s Anime Boston, deftly titled, The First Anime: It’s Astro Boy, Right?, I discuss some of the early short films used during the presentation plus some groundbreaking films made in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. I provide some historical context of what went into the making of the earliest known and surviving films as well as lost gems and how the art form built up from 1907 to the 1930’s. Moreover, I also review the new innovative approaches that were emerging in the years prior to the second World War.
In the early years of anime, animators used cut outs as seen in Namakura Gatana (1917), Urashima Taro (1918), Kobu Tori (1929) and Mura Matsuri (1930) due to the financial cost of materials other countries could afford. The use of cel-animation rose in the mid-1930’s with Chagama Ondo (1934 or 1935), which was created by Kenzo Masaoka. Ari-chan (1941) by Mitsuyo Seo was the first known anime to use multicamera, a technique used in Disney animation such as in Silly Symphonies, which it’s likely that the film was inspired by the 1934 short, The Grasshopper & the Ants. Not only did Seo utilize the multicamera technique in Ari-chan as seen in the Silly Symphonies short, but his character designs and fluidity in his animation display a slight resemblance. With creative innovators like Masaoka and Seo, the boundaries that restricted the art of Japanese animation were slowly fading and the art form was starting to develop in quality.
Unfortunately, these creative breakthroughs were proven difficult be commercially supported. Due to government control, prewar animation had to be approved and subsidized. This reduced the industry’s productions to public relations (PR) films, as well as educational and propaganda films. One example of a propaganda film of the time was the 1936 short entitled The Toy Chest. This featured Disney’s iconic mascot, Mickey Mouse as the main antagonist attacking Japan. The army accompanying Mickey consists of sinister looking bats and serpents, the islanders are depicted as dolls and stuffed animals and their heroic figure is the Japanese folklore hero, Momotaro, also known as Calm Peach Boy. The film notoriously displayed immense prejudice against Americans and throughout World War II, creative direction was very limited to producing films like it with the same indoctrinating messages.
In 1945, the first full-length anime feature film, Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei or Momotaro’s Devine Sea Warriors was released less than a month before the war ended. The 74-minute long movie is a sequel to 1943 propaganda short, Momotaro no Umiwashi or Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, which runs at 37 minutes. After the war, the Japanese animation industry was at a standstill and thus, no new films were being made until 1948. Japan was the most financially stable among its neighboring countries and therefore, could rebuild its animation industry.
During that year, a new company, Japan Animated Films was founded and eventually bought by Toei Animation in 1956. In 1958, they released the first full-length color anime film, Hakujaden or Panda and the Magic Serpent. The story is about a young boy, who is forced to set his pet snake free. What he doesn’t know is that the snake is a spiritual being. Years later while taking on a human form, she seeks out to find him.
Inspired by the Song Dynasty Chinese folktale, Legend of the White Snake, the project was made as an act of reconciliation between Japan and its neighboring countries. According to Charles in response to an email I sent, he speculates that it possibly might have been "a way to go around censors or avoid old fears that Japan might use new animation as a form of bunka eiga". Because of Japan's history of utilizing animation as a propaganda tool, most notably with Norakuro and Momotaro, it's a perfectly plausible assumption. According to AniPages writer and blogger, Ben Ettinger in his post about Toei Dōga, "[t]o strike a tone of reconciliation with the Asian neighbors Japan had so brutally treated in the recent past, Toei president, Hiroshi Okawa decided on a Chinese story for this film, the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of Japan, the historic implications of which he fully understood".
Consisting of over 13,000 team members and eight months to complete, Hakujaden was zealously constructed and with every extensive commitment to detail, it became strongly influential all around the world. Bringing the art of Japanese animation another step further, Toei Animation also garnered the nickname as the ‘Disney of the East’ after the film’s debut as it was their first challenge to emulate the level of artistry of Western animation studios.
The 1960’s was the decade when the anime industry would start to take flight and truly begin to flourish. From the big screen to television, Japan’s first anime television show entitled, Otogi Manga Calendar or Instant History made its debut in 1961. The basic premise of the series, as the title suggests, dealt with major historical events and involved an animated character learning about it through archived footage and photographs. Unfortunately, the series remains lost to this day and never made its way to home releases. Due to technological costs and limitations, none of the episodes were recorded and the master tapes used for television were most likely discarded or repurposed with new content recorded over. The surviving still image from the show documenting its existence, depicting two comedically drawn cavemen, leaves viewers with a basic idea of what the character designs looked like. At first glance, they resemble a Hanna-Barbera cartoon as their appearance shares absolutely no similarities to any traits most viewers associate with anime. This leaves us with not only how Osamu Tezuka contributed to shaping anime, but also how other studios played their part in making the art form what it is today, which will be explored in the third and final part of this blog post.
Anime Boston 2017 was another phenomenal gathering for anime fans especially since this year's theme was a huge throwback celebration: Retro! From nostalgic based panels and workshops catered to popular classics like Sailor Moon and Detective Conan to rediscovering obscure classics, fans were bound to garner new insights about the medium. Whether discovering new revelations about familiar classics or coming across rare and forgotten gems, such a throwback themed event certainly would not have been complete without a panel spotlighting the origins of anime. And it all began with Osamu Tezuka’s 1963 beloved classic, Astro Boy, right?...Well...the answer might surprise you.
The First Anime: It's Astro Boy, Right?, presented by Japanese cultural educator and Study of Anime founder, Charles Dunbar debunks the familiar assumption. The panel, as the title implies, delves into Japanese animated works prior to and during 1963. Although, I was not able to attend the panel due to a change in the schedule, I emailed Charles to get a basic idea of what was discussed to gather some information for this blog post. The panel showcased several clips, highlighting how anime evolved in the decades before the 1960's and the stylistic differences between Toei Animation and Tezuka’s studio, Mushi Pro during ’63, (which I’ll go over in Part 3). Upon doing some further research, I came across several interesting facts about the surviving short films, most of which will be covered here.
While Tezuka is famously known as the Father of Manga as well as the Walt Disney of Anime, the art of Japanese animation dates back even earlier in the 20th century. The first known anime ever created is the three second animation, Katsudou Shashin (1907). Unfortunately, most of these works have been destroyed or remain lost to this day following The Great Kantō Earthquake in 1923, which slowed down the industry’s development. In Part 1 of this blog post, I’ll be covering the years building up to World War II and the challenges the Japanese animation industry faced from 1917 to 1934. Part 2 will be focused on the types of works created during WWII, Toei Animation's 1958 full length feature film, Hakujaden and the first anime on television in 1961. In Part 3, I will cover 1963 in-depth and how the art form continued to expand in the coming years.
The 1910's expanded into more story driven animation. Namakura Gatana or Dull-Edged Sword (1917) is a two-minute short that tells the tale of a clueless samurai who thoughtlessly buys an ineffective sword and learns his lesson the hard way upon conceiving defeat each time he encounters an opponent. It is the first known early piece to have a story complete with a beginning, middle and end. Due to the costs of celluloids which other countries were taking advantage of, Namakura Gatana was created using cut outs. It would also be the first animated short to showcase Japan’s animation style. Another known title prior to the earthquake is Urashima Taro or The Fisher Lad (1918), which is based on a Nara Period Japanese fairy tale. It follows the story of a faithful, benevolent fisherman who upon rescuing a turtle is invited to a palace under the sea.
After the Great Kantō Earthquake, Japan was falling behind other countries in animation, most notably Disney. This as a result prompted animators to start their own studios with small teams. In the years prior the mid-1930’s, they continued to use cut out animation techniques, one of which is seen in Kobu Tori or The Stolen Lump (1929). It tells the story of an elderly man with a huge lump growing on his face. After a storm hits, he discovers the forest is inhabited by mythical hybrid beasts and their leader. With his talent to dance, the elderly man impresses them and in return, they remove the lump from his face. Upon returning to his village, he informs someone with a similar problem of their existence. However, this does not mean that he too would be lucky to meet the same fate as the main character. The animation of Mura Matsuri or Harvest Festival (1930 presumably) was designed and animated, using chiyogami. The plot follows the traditional Japanese song and dance of the festival.
Japanese animators began to utilize cels and voiceovers in their later projects in the mid-1930’s. The first known anime to contain voiceover work is the lost film Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka or Within the World of Power and Women (1933). The first anime to use cel-animation was Chagama Ondo or The Dance of the Chagamas (1934 or 1935). Both films were created by Kenzo Masaoka. The first film known to use multicamera was Ari-chan (1941) by Mitsuyo Seo. Masaoka and Seo notably pulled for Japanese animation to be on par with the quality of other countries. It’s possible that Ari-chan was inspired by Disney’s Silly Symphonies animation, The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934). Not only do they share some striking similarities in character designs and movement, but their presentation and stylization is also identical.
While these works still had a long way to go before matching up to the works of American animation as that of Disney, this shift in the materials used and the elaborate camera techniques slightly improved the quality of these films. Unfortunately, as these creative breakthroughs were starting to flourish, most of these works could not be commercially supported unless approved by the government. The years before and during WWII would place limitations on creative input and artistic vision under government control, thus leaving innovation out of the business model as will be discussed in Part 2.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.