daniel thomas Categories: hakujaden, toei doga, video
For my next essay to conclude this week's Japan Cinema Blogathon, I'd like to take a look at that movie trailer to Toei Animation's inagural 1958 feature film, Hakujaden, or The Legend of the White Serpent. If you're a regular reader of The Ghibli Blog, you're likely already familiar with this and many other Toei classics. For everyone else, here's a short history lesson for you.
Toei Doga was founded in 1956 when Toei bought the animation studio, Nippon Dogasha, or Nichido. In 1957, the new studio created its first cartoon (in black-and-white), Kitty's Grafitti. The next year, Toei embarked on its first full-length animated feature, in full color. The first waves of hirings began, as prospective artists and animators were trained in the craft by the studio's two masters, Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikubara.
This movie trailer is impressive for me because we are given a behind-the-scenes look at the Toei Doga studio, its many artists and animators, and we sense the importance of the project. Toei president Hiroshi Okawa aimed to make his studio the Disney Of The East, and with Hakujaden he succeeded brilliantly. With a successful launch, the studio created one full-length film per year, each one growing in scale, bursting with ideas.
I really love this movie. It's a testament to Toei's skill and ambition that Hakujaden looks as impressive today as it did in 1958. All of the key animation was drawn by Yasuji Mori (animals) and Akira Daikubara (humans). That's right - two people! It's an astonishing thing when you see the variety and breadth of the movie, the vivid imagination and creativity on display. These people were proud of their skills and eager to show off to the world. This movie demonstrates an influence by Walt Disney, but it learns the important lessons from Disney, the importance of craft and attention to detail. Toei intends to follow their own path. And Toei's young generation of animators will slowly forge their own identity, create their own language of icons. And this will one day result in the great, revolutionary break: Horus, Prince of the Sun. But that story is to come later.
Hakujaden is a Chinese folk fable, and it's in the spirit of reconciliation with Japan's neighbors, after the long and brutal war, that Okawa sought to engage the world. Hakujaden strikes a blow not only for Japan, but for all of Asia. This spirit of kindness and generosity is present in this film from start to finish, and it resonates with us today, 60 years later. The history of anime, for all intents and purposes, begins here, at Toei.
Hakujaden was exported to the United States under the title Panda and the Magic Serpent, and many of Toei's animated features were imported by MGM and given the star treatment - new song arrangements, new voice dubbing, the whole lot, and they were very impressive for their day. This film has never been released on DVD in North America, which is unfortunate, as I feel that all the classic Toei animated films deserve to be seen. Fortunately, there is now a Hakujaden fansub available - head over to the Ghibli Blog Downloads to find the link.