By John Oursler
Tired of the Valentine's Day rom-com movie tradition? Japan Society has one remedy for your heart's discerning tastes with its Dawn of Japanese Animation series, showcasing 38 animated films made between 1929 and 1948 -- most of which have never before screened in the United States.
Running Feb. 13-16, the programs are divided into thematic categories: Day one focuses on the popular sword-fighting shorts known as "Chambara Action & Adventure"; day two switches gears for horror- and comedy-inspired animation; day three features some of the earliest and most controversial pre-World War II Japanese propaganda films; and the series winds up the festival with a more traditional Valentine's theme of music and dance. Each night is capped with a live-action short film that series programmer Ryo Nagasawa said will give the audience a better sense of Japan in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s., with the final night's Singing Lovebird being a particular highlight.
And if your knowledge of Japanese animation is confined to Miyazaki and Astroboy, you needn't worry -- the festival isn't solely for the Japanese cultural enthusiast. Nagasawa told The Reeler that even the earliest Disney characters had an impact on Japanese animators, subsequently making their animation aesthetically Westernized while maintaining the folklore and history of Japan. "Miyazaki, Takahata and Tezuka grew up with these animations," said Nagasawa, emphasizing the films' influence on the directors of classics like Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies. "Miyazaki and Takahata both worked at an animation studio established by animators from this period."
Nagasawa said the Japan Society is especially excited to share the propaganda films. Like Popeye, Bugs Bunny and other American animation of the period, these works were targeted for young viewers. "These propaganda animations were funded by the Japanese government for the purpose of educating children with national policy, such as war against the U.S. and U.K. and invading South Asia," she told The Reeler. "Popular characters were used for greater effect."
Though the films are distinguished thematically, the different nights share many similarities -- chief among them the films' penchant for spirited swordplay and rousing sense of humor. For example, Sanko and the Octopus, screened on the "Horror and Comedy" night, plays more like Ozu meets Jaws, where a middle class, middle aged man gets swept away into an adventure with a deadly sea creature. Though an unlikely combo, the Japan Society improved the original silent film with recently added score and narration.
Dawn of Japanese Animation screens Feb. 13-16 at Japan Society; visit the venue's Web site for program and ticket information.
Posted at February 13, 2008 10:16 AM
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