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5 Oldest Japanese Anime Films

PS has been watching anime as long as she's been living. For her, it's a perfect getaway to the cherished world where everything's possible.

Anime gained widespread popularity in the 1980s with series like Gundam and Dragon Ball. However, very few people are aware that the first anime was developed nearly 70 years before these series. Though the history of animation in Japan starts in 1907, the mainstream anime was created in 1917. The information about early anime was destroyed because of the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923. It was in the year 2007 when the remains of old anime were discovered in an antique market.

While there was much anime produced in the early years, the five of them became most renowned of all.

Imokawa Mukuzō Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa)

Imokawa Mukuzō Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa)

1. Imokawa Mukuzō Genkanban no Maki (The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa)

Director: Oten Shimokawa

Released: 1917

Imokawa Mukuzō is one of the oldest lost films of the Japanese anime industry. It is a silent film. After its discovery in 2007, it gained the title of the first anime film ever produced, though there is speculation that Oten directed some other movies before this one.

The film was more of an experiment rather than an actual movie. Since the advanced technology wasn’t available during that time, Oten, originally a manga artist, produced the film by drawing the characters on a blackboard with a chalk. To give the animation effect, he redrew the elements as necessary.

Oten Shimokawa is also by the name Hekoten Shimokawa. He is regarded as one of the founders and pioneers of anime. Since celluloid cells were costly, Oten used chalk, white wax, and ink to draw the characters and the necessary environment.

Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki (Namakura Gatana)

Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki (Namakura Gatana)

2. Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki (Namakura Gatana)

Director: Jun’ichi Kouchi

Released: 1917

Namakura Gatana is a four-minute-long, silent film. It is about a samurai who is too foolish to buy a dull-edged sword. His stupid decision makes him a center of laughter as he can’t even fight the weakest opponents.

Desperate to know why his sword is useless against all, he unconsciously starts attacking random townspeople. As a result, townspeople defend themselves and in a matter of a moment, knock him down.

Namakura Gatana is a Japanese term for “The Dull Sword”. The short version of the film is available on the Internet. Though it is said to be the root of the anime, summing up the concept of old Japanese anime industry with just a few minutes video doesn’t really speak much.

Urashima Tarō

Urashima Tarō

3. Urashima Tarō

Director: Seitaro Kitayama

Released: 1918

The film is based on the Japanese folktale of the same name. It is about a fisherman, Urashima Tarō, who travels on the back of the turtle to the Dragon Palace. The palace is located beneath the sea and said to be the home to God Ryujin.

When he returns home, he realizes that it’s been hundreds of years when he went to the palace. The film demonstrates the expression of a person who comes back home after a long journey and feels left out.

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Seitaro Kitayama was a director, cinematographer, and animator. He was among the first few who initiated commercial production of anime films.

4. Dōbutsu Orimupikku Taikai (Animal Olympic Games)

Director: Yasuji Murata

Released: 1928

The film is about the Olympic games meant for animals. There are various sporting disciplines and diverse animal species come to participate. Monkeys perform gymnastics on the bar, bears, and hippos participate in swimming, kangaroos, and pigs take part in a duel. Duck comes first in an 800 m race against a hippopotamus, a camel, and a bulldog. Polar bears take part in the pole vault, while pigs try to win by a trick, but end up crashing.

In the climax, the final trophy is awarded to the elephant who came first in two events. Filled with enthusiasm, everyone tosses elephant in the air praising him for his victory. Unfortunately, the trophy shatters into pieces when the elephant falls down on it.

This is one of the most important works of Yasuji Murata. It was inspired by the Olympic Games held in Amsterdam in the same year.

Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women)

Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women)

5. Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women)

Director: Kenzo Masaoka

Released: 1933

Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka is the first film to feature voiceovers. It was a black and white movie and was considered one of the best artworks by the 12th Japan Media Arta Festival.

The movie is centered around a man who is a father of four children. His wife has a large physique. She is 5.9 ft (180 cm) tall and weighs 260 lb (120 kilograms).

He is subjected to continuous domestic violence. Completely retarded by his wife’s behavior, he begins an affair with a typist at his office. In his sleep, he ends up disclosing the secret to his wife.

The wife gathers more information and goes to his office to confront both of them head-on.

Kenzo Masaoka was quite famous for being the first to use recorded music and cel animation. Cel is a part of traditional animation, in which each frame can be used multiple times to save extra work.

Each of these anime films brought a breakthrough in the anime industry. Imokawa Mukuzō Genkanban no Maki shows the early methods used for animation, while Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka shows how the animation techniques drastically changed within a decade.

These artworks play a crucial role in the development of modern animation. It is also an indication that there’s always room to produce better and more entertaining anime films.

© 2020 Prachi Sharma


Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on July 14, 2020:

I had no idea. Thank you for sharing.

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