Starting from February 13-16, the Japan Society of New York City, presents 38 black & white animated films circa 1920s, through pre-WWII- 1940s. Delving into the past, long before the anime we view today, are the rich cultural gems which gave rise to modern day Japanese animation. What is intriguing is the utilization of the katsuben style, in which a live narrator (benshi) speaks over the silent film. First the time, many of these films are now with English translation. This is a unique look into how animated films were seen in Japan during these times.

For the four days of the exclusive series, the films will all have a well organized theme:

Part 1 (Wed., February 13th) at 7pm: features 12 shorts and a live action film (Fighting in Ashura Town) dealing with- Chambara (swordplay films dealing with Japan’s Feudal era) Action & Adventure. Films such as- “The Bat” (1930), “Ninja Fireball in Edo” (1935), and Hyoe and Heibe’s tengu Hunt” (1935) are a delight to view, the music is engaging, creates dramatic tension and indicative of the era. The light-heartedness of the animation itself is indeed pleasant to view with enough action to satisfy.

Part 2: (Thurs., February 14th) at 7pm: will showcase the theme of “Horror & Comedy” which will feature six films dealing with monsters and other mythological creatures. Films such as, “Our Baseball Match (1931), “Sanko and the Octopus: A fight Over A Fortune” (1933), and “Danemon’s Monster Hunt at Shojoji” (1935), are filled with slapstick, jovial and comedic elements. On the horror side, music enhances the mood and conjures frightfully suspenseful tales. Following this will be a live action film from 1935 called, “Kid Commotion”, directed by Torajiro Saito.

Part 3: (Fri., February 15th) at 7pm: Shown between the period of the 1930’s to the 40s, this day (Friday, February 15th) is devoted to eleven films highlighting nationalism during war-time. Films such as, “Momotaro’s Sky Adventure” (1931), “Corporal Norakuro” (1934), and “Sankichi the Monkey: The Storm Troopers” (1934), call forth militaristic sentiments as war propaganda was the prevalent theme of the period. The music overlay for most of the shorts its drum-like and with a marching tempo to enhance the nationalistic mood. “Mother of the Nation” (1936), is the live action propaganda piece set in China.

Part 4: (Sat., February 16th) at 5pm: The final part of the series reflects “Music & Dance” works where ten music-laden short films are screened for the public. Films such as, “The Black Cat” (1929), “Harvest Festival” (1930), and “Spring Song” (1931), are lively and most enjoyable. They reflect the songs of the era and provide a wonderful catharis. You cannot help singing along to “The Black Cat”. Live action wise, there’s, “Singing Lovebirds”, directed by Masahiro Makino.

*As a finale to the event on Saturday, February 16th at 7:30pm, a special screening with a live benshi, will be the film, “Orochi”, a film of the chambara genre about an innocent samurai wrongly accused of a crime.

Tickets for daily screenings are $10/$7 for Japan Society members and seniors/$4.50 students. Photos by © Matsuda Film Production and Digital Meme.


About Author

Tobe R. Roberts

Leave A Reply