THE FIRST ANIME EVER MADE: THE DULL SWORD
“The Dull Sword” (Namakura Gatana) holds a significant place in anime history as one of the earliest known anime films. Produced by Junichi Kōuchi and released on June 30, 1917, this short silent film marks a crucial milestone in the evolution of Japanese animation. It tells the comedic tale of a rōnin, a masterless samurai, who acquires a dull sword. The film humorously portrays his futile efforts to test the sword’s effectiveness on an unsuspecting passerby, resulting in repeated and comical failures.
While “The Dull Sword” is recognized as a pioneer in the anime medium, a couple of earlier films that preceded it, including “Dekobō shingachō – Meian no shippai” and “Bumpy new picture book – Failure of a Great Plan,” were also created in 1917. However, these films, directed by Ōten Shimokawa, are considered lost, adding an air of mystery to the early days of anime.
The concept of lost media refers to instances where original copies of media have been misplaced or destroyed over time. In this context, both “Dekobō shingachō – Meian no shippai” and “Bumpy new picture book – Failure of a Great Plan” fall under the category of lost media, as their whereabouts remain unknown.
Interestingly, a copy of “The Dull Sword” resurfaced after being lost for decades. An antique shop employee in Osaka, Japan, discovered the film in March 2008. This rediscovery shed light on the historical significance of the film and its contribution to the early development of anime.
In summary, “The Dull Sword” is recognized as one of the earliest anime films, released in 1917, with its comedic narrative revolving around a rōnin’s humorous attempts to wield a dull sword effectively. While a few earlier films exist but are lost, “The Dull Sword” remains a remarkable piece of anime history, showcasing the ingenuity and creativity of early Japanese animators.
The Second Anime Ever Made: Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka/The World of Power and Women (April 13, 1933)
During the pre-World War II era, a wave of animators embarked on endeavors to create animated films or cartoons that could stand up to the stature of Disney’s works. This concerted effort eventually yielded an anime milestone: the emergence of voiceovers in animation. This development was marked by the release of a short film titled “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka” (translated as “The World of Power and Women”), directed by Kenzo Masaoka.
Released in April 1933, this black-and-white film marked a significant step in the evolution of anime. “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka” revolved around the story of a father with four children who becomes entangled in an affair with a typist. The film unfolds as his wife confronts him about the affair, leading to a dramatic narrative centered on personal relationships and their complexities.
Although no existing prints of the film have been found, relegating it to the status of a “lost film,” “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka” managed to achieve success upon its original release. Its storyline resonated with audiences, and the film’s accomplishment can be attributed to the implementation of cel animation technology and multiplane cameras. These technological advancements paved the way for the creation of subsequent anime films such as “The Dance of the Chagamas” in 1934 and “Ari-Chan” in 1941, expanding the realm of anime storytelling and visual expression.
In summary, the pre-World War II era witnessed determined efforts by animators to rival Disney’s achievements, resulting in the emergence of voiceovers in anime. This evolution is exemplified by the 1933 short film “Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka,” directed by Kenzo Masaoka. Despite being a lost film, its success spurred advancements in animation technology, contributing to the growth of anime and the creation of subsequent works in the field.
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