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Butterfly, a faithful Japanese wife, waits patiently in Nagasaki for the return of her American husband, Pinkerton. She sees the Stars and Stripes fluttering atop an approaching ship and rightly surmises that Pinkerton is onboard. However, the feckless foreigner is arriving in the company of his "real" Caucasian wife, causing the heartbroken Butterfly to commit suicide.
This masterpiece of Japanese silhouette animation makes the best of its source material. Giacomo Puccini's 1904 opera must have seemed like an obvious choice for adaptation for a Japanese audience, particularly in the rising tide of the Wartime Anime that favored any opportunity to cast aspersions at Americans. Puccini's opera famously ends with Butterfly's suicide in silhouette behind a screen, making the use of all-shadow animation particularly poignant-the animated version ends just like any "live" one. However, since Puccini had only died in 1924, his opera was still in copyright, a fact that had escaped the animators until they began preparing to lay down the audio track, 18,000 frames into production. Faced with a prohibitively high demand for royalties from Puccini's estate, the producers were forced to commission new music and lyrics, thereby rather defeating the point of this "adaptation." Compare to Dreamy Urashima, which got away with arguably cheekier copyright infringement, and Memories, which put Puccini's legacy to use after a safe time had elapsed.