To wish a happy 100th anniversary to Japan’s oldest animated films, The National Film Centre at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo has opened its own Japanese Animated Film Classics website. All 64 of the streaming works, which debuted between 1917 and 1941, will be available to view with English subtitles until the end of 2017.
If you want a glimpse at the ancestry of the anime medium, you can view the films by heading to this page, selecting a title, then clicking the red button with the play symbol and the characters “作品を見る” that appears on the right. Things get easier to navigate once the player is open. There, you can simply switch to subtitles by clicking “With English subtitles” at the bottom of the page. Then press play, and away you go.
The oldest surviving short film streaming on the site is Junichi Kochi’s ‘The Dull Sword’ (‘Nakamura Gatana’). It’s the story of the foolish samurai you can see below, who purchases a dull-edged sword in the film that debuted in June 1917. The version you can watch on the website is “the longest, digitally restored version”, which even then is just four minutes long.
The film was uncovered in an Osaka antique shop in 2008, as part of a double whammy discovery with the 1918 Seitaro Kitayama film ‘Urashima Taro’. There’s still argument over which director had the earliest anime film between Oten Shimokawa and Kitayama, several of their lost films believed to have predated ‘Namakura Gatana’. These include Shimokawa’s ‘Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki’, which was thought to have premiered in January 1917, but may in fact have premiered later that same year, instead predated by two other Shimokawa films. However, all of these films are outstripped by a 50-frame shot of a sailor boy’s salute. The creator unknown, this film was discovered in 2005, and could be as many as ten years older than ‘Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki’.
Other directors featured on the website include Ikuo Oishi, Shigeji Ogino, Hakuzan Kimura, Mitsuyo Seo, Yasuji Murata, Noburou Oofuji, Kenzo Masaoka, and Sanae Yamamoto. We’re fascinated with the history of this wacky, wondrous medium we’ve come to know and love, so we’ll definitely be checking this site out. If you do, let us know which film you enjoyed the most!