What does a 100-year-old Japanese animated film look like? Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art is posting its collection online.
The picture is surprisingly steady. In the film, the unfortunate samurai rolls his eyes, grimaces and fights with a recalcitrant sword. This four-minute pantomime called Namakura Gatana (The Dull Sword) was made with paper cutouts. It was captured on nitrate film in 1917, making it one of the oldest animated films to be made in Japan. Japanese animation is 100 years old this year and the National Museum of Modern Art (which houses the National Film Center) has given it a virtual cinema: 64 shorts made between 1917 and 1941 have been restored, subtitled in English and put online. Westerns, short moral tales, mini-documentaries, musical interludes, reinvented fablesthese imaginative gems, by turns sensitive, edifying and whimsical, can thus be seen outside Japan for the first time. Viewers can discover the adventures of Momotaro, a Japanese hero born in a peach, crabs and raccoons wearing kimonos, and a hare that is inevitably overtaken by the tortoise.
Before Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, the likes of Junichi Kouchi and Noburo Ofuji were pioneers of animation who worked with scissors and brushes. Tomoya Kimura, guest researcher at the National Film Center in Tokyo, explains. “In the early days of Japanese animation, there were two production styles: small companies that made advertising and educational films, and then independent illustrators whose approach was artistic, not commercial. This is what makes their works very unique and experimental.” Watch them and be amused, transported and astonished. Through late December.
Japanese Animated Film Classics
© «At the Border Checkpoint» (1930, Noburo Ofuji) - Courtesy of National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo