Issun-boshi: Chibisuke Monogatari (Tiny Chibisuke’s Big Adventure) (1935) © Digital Meme
The National Film Center, Toyko, has announced the discovery of two anime films from the silent era. Given the fact that less than 4% of Japanese films made before 1945 still exist, any such discovery, as brief as these titles are, is heartening news.
Anime might be thought of as a modern phenomenon, but the history of Japanese film animation stretches back to the early silent era. Soon after American and European animation films were first seen in Japan, around 1914, Japanese filmmakers were imitating them and coming up with their own distinctive native style.
The two films that have been uncovered (they were found in good condition in an Osaka antique store) are Junichi Kouichi’s Nakamura Katana (1917), a two-minute tale of a samurai tricked into buying a dull-edged sword; and Seitaro Kitayama’s Urashima Taro (1918), based on a folk tale in which a fisherman is transported to a fantastic underwater world on the back of a turtle.
There’s a little more information in a Reuter’s report, but no images or clips just yet.
If you are keen to see what silent anime looks like, the enterprising Japanese publisher Digital Meme sells a four-DVD box set, Japanese Anime Classic Collection, which features examples from 1928 onwards, some with benshi narration (the Japanese actor/presenters who explained the stories of films to audiences and who enjoyed stardom in their own right). Digital Meme retails a number of Japanese silents on DVD with benshi accompaniment as a special feature, and I’ll put together a post some time soon about these and the world of the benshi.