Posters - Nagagutsu Sanjuushi (Puss in Boots 2)
After long searching online, I finally managed to find this elusive poster for the second Puss in Boots movie, 1972's Nagagutsu Sanjuushi. It's a terrific poster, very colorful and bold and detailed, as you'd expect from the Toei Animation classics. I'm sure if you visit the Japanese auction sites, you would find one of these sooner or later, and one of these days, I'll have to start collecting these great posters.
Why was Puss in Boots 2 made into a Western? That's one of the stranger ideas I've seen for a sequel, and it's completely unheard of in this day of corporate conglomerates and endless franchises. No doubt Toei saw Pero the Cat as a mascot to be used, like Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse, in countless cartoons and movies. So perhaps variety was what was needed. It surely does free up the writers, which otherwise would have been seriously stuck with repeating the original. Besides, there's no way they could beat the 1969 Puss in Boots. There just ain't no way.
I don't think this second movie, titled Nagagutsu Sanjuushi ("The Three Musketeers," presumably named after the three black cats who chase after Pero), is as good as the first; it is also very clear that the studio's best days as an animation powerhouse were gone by 1972. The production values are far lower than previous movies, much closer to television animation. It's a much more limited animation style, and it shows. For Toei, lavish, original full animation was out; cheap and easy was in. No wonder all the key players left.
That said, I do think this is a very good movie, and when I turned it on to watch a second time I found myself strangely attracted to it. It's painfully short (just under one hour), but it grows on you, especially in the second half, when the momentum picks up and we get some action. There's a terrific chase with stagecoach and mule, with Pero and the Three Musketeers in pursuit, that's probably worth the price of admission. This cross-cuts another chase that quickly turns into a skillful shootout which ends the picture.
You can only imagine how good the action scenes would have been with Yasuo Otsuka and Hayao Miyazaki at the helm. They were the ones responsible for that spectacular castle chase, and all those groundbreaking action scenes from Horus, Prince of the Sun. And Miyazaki gave us the pirate ship battle in Animal Treasure Island, and the anarchic Dr. Seuss Genie chase in Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. There's a large, gaping whole in Nagagutsu Sanjuushi where they are missing. Heaven only knows what could be done with the script, which runs through every Western movie cliche in the book. Even the fadeouts remind me of Blazing Saddles.
The key remaining players - animation director Yasuji Mori, Akira Daikuhara, Akemi Ota, and Reiko Okuyama - do an excellent job with what they have. They're working without half the old team, and apparantly half the old budgets and production schedule. It's a testament to their skills as great artists that this movie is as good as it is, that it still retains a great deal of the charm that makes the Toei classics so good.
By this point, however, it's clear the game is up. The rest of the crew finally drifted their way down to A Pro and then Nippon Animation, where Takahata and Miyazaki and the rest of the gang migrated. The Toei Doga era was over. Ah, well, all things must pass. It is the way of life and art and cartoon cats.