Review
Japanese Anime Classic Collection
Oatari Sora no Entaku (The Plane Cabby's Lucky Day) has a vision of 1980 in which people get around in the city by personal airplanes.
© Digital Meme. All rights reserved.
It's sorely needed because, as far as many are concerned, that evolution doesn't exist. Before Disney chairman Joe Roth referred to Hayao Miyazaki as "Japan's Walt Disney" in 1996, it was Osamu Tezuka who was known as the "Walt Disney of Japan." It turns out that it wasn't such a bad parallel. Many people think Disney invented American animation, and likewise many believe that anime magically sprang from Tezuka's pen. In reality, Disney and Tezuka deserve credit for revolutionizing their respective animation industries, and creating foundations that others built on over the decades. Both, however, were preceded by decades of other animation, which was fascinating in its own right. But while there's a book called Before Mickey, there's no equivalent Before Tetsuwan Atom—at least, not in English. Until such a book is written, Japanese Anime Classic Collection will have to serve in its place.

The collection is arranged in chronological order, with most of the films spanning from 1928 to 1936 (a mere five films cover 1938 to 1950); all are black and white. Although the silent era was drawing to a close in the West when the first films here were coming out, it persisted for a while longer in Japan because of a particularly Japanese spin. Where Western films often had live music to accompany them (usually a piano or an organ), Japanese films also had a benshi—a narrator who would provide running commentary, as well as voices for the characters. Most of the films here include benshi narration, and also preserve many of the stylistic hallmarks of silent cinema, like iris shots and intertitles. Some are "record talkies," which used gramophones to provide synchronized sound.

The majority of the films are folk tales, or at least in the vein of folk tales, with plenty of samurai, villagers, brigands, talking animals and mythological creatures to go around, often with a nice dose of whimsy. There are also a few nods to modern events and popular culture that appear here and there. For instance, there are a handful of Olympic- and racing-themed shorts, just about all of which came out in 1932 and 1936, both years in which the Olympic Games were held. In some cases folk tales and modern settings are combined, as exemplified by two shorts featuring the mythical character Momotaro in adventures involving planes and submarines. One film from 1932, Oatari Sora no Entaku (The Plane Cabby's Lucky Day), has a science-fantasy bent, as it takes place in the far-off future of 1980, where everyone gets around in personal airplanes.
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