While today Japan is at the forefront of the world’s multibillion-dollar anime industry, with directors such as Hayao Miyazaki winning Academy Awards, in the pre-computer age of the early 20th century, Japanese animators were devising their own techniques by studying methods used in imported European or American animated films of the time. The first Japanese animations were created in 1917 and were important in inspiring future generations of homegrown anime makers.

On Aug. 31, the International House of Japan in Roppongi, Tokyo, will present screenings of five silent black-and-white Japanese animated short films from the early Showa Era (1926-89). All the films will be screened with English subtitles.

Titled “Identifying the Roots of Japanese Animation,” this 2-hour event features silent shorts (with narration or background music) by two highly rated animators, Yasuji Murata and Noburo Ofuji, as well as talks on the films conducted in English and Japanese.

Known and acclaimed for their sophisticated cutout animation techniques (in which shapes made out of materials such as paper are moved and filmed at each stage), Murata and Ofuji’s films are smooth in their movements and display an aesthetic that can still be traced in contemporary Japanese anime.

Among the films featured is Murata’s 1933 work “Norakuro Nitohei (Second Lieutenant Norakuro).” Based on a popular manga series by Suiho Tagawa, the animation humorously depicts Norakuro, an accident-prone stray dog reluctantly serving in the Imperial Army.

The manga, which gained a wide audience among young people, was one of the first to capitalize on its popularity by putting Norakuro merchandise on the market.

The shortest animation to be screened is Ofuji’s 2 1/2-minute short titled “Muramatsuri (Village Festival)” (1930). Ofuji established a distinctive and original cutout animation style by using chiyogami (traditional Japanese paper with colored patterns) that appeals as much to Western audiences as locals.

At the time of its release, screenings were synchronized to music played on a record player, hence the film became known as a “record talkie.”

“Identifying the Roots of Japanese Animation” takes place on Aug. 31 from 7-9 p.m. at Iwasaki Koyata Memorial Hall, International House of Japan, Roppongi 6-11-16, Minato-ku, Tokyo.

Reservations should be made in advance by calling (03) 3470-3211 or e-mailing via the IHJ’s Web site, i-house.or.jp. Admission to the event is ¥1,500.

The IHJ is a short walk from Exit 3 of Roppongi Subway Station on the Hibiya and Toei Oedo lines.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.