Japan finds films by early "anime" pioneers

TOKYO (Reuters) - Two early 20th century Japanese animated movies, crafted by pioneers of the “anime” that has since swept the world, have been found in good condition, a researcher at Tokyo’s National Film Center said on Thursday.

U.S. and European animated cartoons were introduced in Japan around 1914 and soon inspired works by Japanese cartoonists and artists, including Junichi Kouchi and Seitaro Kitayama, two of whose works were found in an Osaka antique store.

“Nakamura Katana”, Kouichi’s two-minute silent movie that tells the story of a samurai tricked into buying a dull-edged sword, was first released in 1917.

Kitayama’s “Urashima Taro”, based on a folk tale in which a fisherman is transported to a fantastic underwater world on the back of a turtle, came out the following year.

Together with Oten Shimokawa, whose 1917 “Imokawa Mukuzo, The Janitor” is thought to be the first commercial Japanese animated film, Kouichi and Kitayama are considered “fathers of Japanese anime”, said National Film Center researcher Yoshiro Irie.

“Now everything is digitalized, but these early animated films were made on the same principles used now,” Irie said.

But while modern anime is often used to tell complex, dark stories, the brief early Japanese animated films mainly surprised viewers with the simple fact the pictures moved, Irie said.

They also made people laugh.

“It was an era when people were surprised just to see that the pictures moved,” he said. “The films are also full of gags.”

Reporting by Linda Sieg