A rare 1935 cartoon short by renowned film director Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008), thought to have long been lost, has been discovered in the United States.
The five-minute animated film titled "Yowamushi Chinsengumi" (Cowardly samurai squad) belongs to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif., and is currently stored at the University of California, Los Angeles and undergoing restoration. The discovery surprised experts, as it is rare for films from that era to be newly discovered.
"It's almost a miracle that a film from back then has actually survived to this day," said Yasushi Watanabe, 80, the author of "The History of Japanese Animation."
The 145-meter-long strip of flammable nitrate film is well preserved and is the oldest-known animation film to date made by Ichikawa.
The story of the short film is about a samurai boy who rescues a woman captured by bandits. The film appears to show influences from Walt Disney productions.
According to Watanabe, the short is the third of the "Hana Yori Dango" (Choosing dumplings over flowers) series featuring Dangonosuke the samurai boy as the protagonist. Until this most recent discovery, a 1936 film from the same series was thought to be the oldest existing animation film by Ichikawa.
Akira Tochigi, chief curator of the National Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, speculated, "The film must have been exported to entertain and educate the thousands of Japanese immigrants residing on the U.S. West Coast before the war."
The discovery comes just a year ahead of the 100-year anniversary of Ichikawa's birth in 2015.
Ichikawa rose to fame directing a great variety of movies, ranging from the anti-war film “Biruma no Tategoto" (The Burmese Harp) in 1956 and 1985, the experimental 1965 documentary film on the 1964 Olympics "Tokyo Olympiad" to the 1976 and 2006 dramatization of the popular mystery novel "Inugami-ke no Ichizoku" (The Inugamis).
Before his success as a film director, he spent his early days in the movie industry as an animator.
Ichikawa's son Tatsumi, 68, the director of Kon Pro, the firm that took over Ichikawa's production company, expressed happiness over the find.
"I am happy that my father's lost cartoon was found. I hope we can show it here some day," he said.
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