Believe it or not, Japanese animation, or more commonly known as anime, already went through a century-long journey! This definitely deserves a celebration, but no, we are not talking about popping champagne and throwing confetti. We will be celebrating it in a different way, but first, let’s learn a little about the history of the anime that we all love so much, shall we?
The first anime was officially produced and publicly displayed in 1917, exactly 100 years before 2017. Some of the pioneers of Japanese anime include Shimokawa Oten (下川凹天), Kitayama Seitaro (北山清太郎), and Kouchi Jun’ichi (幸内純一). Kouchi’s anime, Namakura Gatana (なまくら刀; An Obtuse Sword), also known as Hanawa Hekonai Meito no Maki (塙凹内名刀之巻; Filmreel of Hanawa Hekonai’s Famous Sword), became widely known as one of the oldest surviving films alongside Shimokawa Oten’s Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (芋川椋三玄関番の巻 or 芋川椋三玄関番之巻; The Story of the Concierge Mukuzo Imokawa), which was also produced in 1917. Most of the early works during this era are unrecoverable as a result of being destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.
In his article in 1934, Shimokawa Oten mentioned that the technique used in producing his early works was drawing with a chalk on a blackboard, erasing it, and then drawing anew to produce the animated movements. It then became a unique technique that he was known for.
According to Matsumoto Natsuki (松本夏樹) who is an expert in iconography at Osaka University of Arts (大阪芸術大学), the first animated film produced in Japan should be Katsudo Shashin (活動写真), also known as Matsumoto Fragment, which was published 10 years before 1917. However, this claim has not been verified. The three-second anime shows a boy who writes “活動写真” (which refers to the title itself), removes his hat, and waves.
In order to commemorate the 100 years of Japanese anime industry, Japan’s National Film Center, which is part of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, released a number of old animes dated more than 50 years ago on a website called Japanese Animated Film Classics. It features over 64 of the oldest Japanese animations, some of them being early silent films. The website is available in both Japanese and English, and some of the anime even have English subtitles.
Having difficulty in deciding which video to watch first? Fret not, as the website categorized them into genres, types of motion, techniques, and characters. You can also choose the video clips by date and by title.
According to Miura Kazuki (三浦和己), a research team member at the Film Center, the research team was created in 2014 to preserve the films. They selected a wide range of films for this project, most of them having an expired copyright.
However, one downside about the website is that some of the sections like the “List of Authors” and “Noburo Ofuji Memorial Museum (大藤信郎)” are fully in Japanese. Hopefully, the website will be updated with an English version of these sections! The anime films will be available until the end of 2017 only, so do not miss out on this chance and start your old anime marathon now!