FAQ about the films

You can learn more about the works of Japanese Animation Film Classics.

What is Japan’s oldest animated film?

Japan’s oldest animated film was long thought to be Hekoten Shimokawa's Imokawa Mukuzo, His Tale as a Doorkeeper(芋川椋三玄関番の巻,1917). However, recent research has revealed that another film by Shimokawa was released before this. As of July 2017, the first animated film to be released in Japan is believed to be Dekobo's New Sketchbook, the Tale of Imosuke Inoshishigari (凸坊新畫帖、芋助猪狩の巻,January 1917). Unfortunately, the existence of this film has not as yet been confirmed. The oldest film that can be viewed at present is The Dull Sword(なまくら刀) by Junichi Kouchi, which was released in June of the same year (1917). This film can be watched on this website.
For details, please check this report by The association of Japanese animations.

In what kind of environment would people have watched the films listed on the Japanese Animated Film Classics website at the time they were produced?

The environment would have varied from one film to another. Films were shown in different styles—some were screened in movie theaters along with standard live-action feature films, some were shown at mobile film screenings as part of educational programs, some were presented by individual animators in film circles to be viewed by other fans of animations, while others were sold as home entertainment.

Many of these animated films don’t have sound. Did people watch these films without sound in the old days as well?

Silent films were shown in movie theaters with a live musical accompaniment by instruments such as a piano. A popular style in Japan was for a commentator (narrator) to tell the story or read the lines in a skillful manner. During mobile film screening events held in areas without movie theaters, the screening engineers and other staff may also have served as commentators. In such cases, the musical accompaniment would have been performed in a variety of styles—by playing records or having a simple orchestra play as a form of recreation. At smaller movie screening events organized by film circles or held in people’s homes for entertainment, an even greater variety of methods is likely to have been used to allow the audience to enjoy the images and sound. If you are visiting this website for personal enjoyment or for a study session, we recommend that you come up with and try out new ways to appreciate films.

Film commentaries sometimes mention something called a "record talkie"—what is that? How is it different from an ordinary talkie?

Before soundtracks were created to record the sound for films, a technique called "sound-on-disk talkie" was used to synchronize a phonograph and a projector to play a film. The projectors used in old movie theaters were shortly replaced by projectors designed for soundtrack films. In terms of technology and costs, however, it was initially difficult to embed this functionality in the small projectors used by amateur film makers and in school classes. Given this, record talkies, which involving providing an accompaniment by synchronizing a record with a projector, were often used as a convenient alternative. On this website, we present animations by Noburo Ofuji and Yasuji Murata but—with the exception of National Anthem, Kimigayo(國歌 君か代) by Ofuji—the sound records are missing for these animated films, so they are shown without sound.

How do the techniques used to make animated films at their inception differ from those used today?

The digital animated films that we usually see today are produced using the cel animation technique, but many of the films presented on this website were produced using the cutout animation technique that preceded the cel technique. These films lead us to believe that animation technology was at a considerable level even before the transition to cel animation.

What influence have early animated films had on the subsequent development of animation in Japan?

Influenced and inspired by the work being conducted overseas by people such as Disney, many Japanese animators developed their own techniques through trial and error. This is likely to have provided the technological basis for the post-war mass-production of animated films that followed the production of long government policy films during World War II. Furthermore, it was thanks to the work of Seitaro Kitayama, one of the pioneers of animation who led group productions of animated films in film studios, that film producers like Sanae (Zenjiro) Yamamoto, who served as an executive of Toei Doga (currently Toei Animation) after World War II, was able to achieve success. The fact that Toei Doga produced the work of animators such as Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda leads us to believe that the commercial production of animated films by Kitayama served as the origin of a tradition that animators carry on to this day.

Are there any techniques that are unique to Japan?

Noburo Ofuji's chiyogami cutout animation was done using chiyogami, a type of colorful Japanese paper that features traditional patterns or designs. The cutout technique itself has been used in many places around the world. Ofuji, however, developed his own unique technique by using chiyogami, a traditional Japanese material he knew very well, in cutout animation.

Having already shown interest in the expression of color by using chiyogami paper in the age of black-and-white films, Ofuji also developed silhouette animated films in color by using colored cellophane sheets. Developed in the aftermath of World War II, this is another technique that can be regarded as unique to Japan.

Were there any female animators?

Our records do not indicate the existence of any female animators during this period. Having said that, Noburo Ofuji—who worked as an independent animator—depended on his elder sister Yae to provide assistance, raise production funds and sell his work to movie theaters. Given this, Yae Ofuji can be regarded as a female producer of animated films during this period.

Which films would you recommend?

In addition to The Dull Sword(なまくら刀) by Junichi Kouchi, which is the oldest existing animated film in Japan, the following films are definitely worth viewing from a technological and historical perspective:

A Ship of Oranges(みかん船), an early Noburo Ofuji film that features the shipwreck motif that Ofuji would repeatedly depict throughout his lifetime.

Two Worlds(漫画 二つの世界), a detailed cutout animation by Yasuji Murata.

Detective Felix in Trouble(FELIXの迷探偵), a puppet animation by Shigeji Ogino.

An Expression, an abstract film in which Ogino attempted to express forms in color.

Nonsense Story, Vol. I: Monkey Island(難船ス物語 第壱篇 猿ヶ嶋), the debut film of Kenzo Masaoka.

Spring Comes to Ponsuke(ポン助の春), a talkie by Ikuo Oishi.

Arichan the Ant(アリチャン), Japan's first film to be created by Mitsuyo Seo using a multiplane camera stand.

On this website, you can search for animated works from the "Categories" page by genre, type of motion, technique, and character. Please give this feature a try.

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