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Techniques used in early some animes.
The first stop-motion animation in Japan was Princess Tsumeko and the Devil (Tsumeko-hime to Amanojaku, 1955) produced by Tadahito Mochinaga, who had left cel-based anime behind after Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors. Mochinaga learned the techniques of stop-motion animation in China during his sojourn at the Shanghai Animation Studio and took them back to Japan in 1953. He oversaw several other stop-motion shorts in the 1950s, his collaborators including Yoshikazu Inamura and Kiichi Tanaka. Their highest profile work was the German sequence in Beer Through the Ages (Beer Mukashimukashi, 1956), a 12-minute commercial commissioned by the Asahi brewing company to celebrate its 50th anniversary-compare to Penguins Memory. The authors presume that it was commissioned as several separate TV commercials, and only later edited together into its full running time as listed in Japanese sources. Beginning with dancing, drunken Babylonians, it traces the story of intoxicants through to ancient Egypt and medieval Germany, before a brief Italian interlude that comprises cut-cellophane animation from Noburo Ofuji. The trail, of course, finally reaches Japan, a nation so taken with the commercial's achievement that Kinema Junpo magazine voted it the ninth best cultural work of the year.
Other works included Little Black Sambo (Chibikuro Sambo no Torataiji, 1956), exhibited at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and Five Little Monkeys (Gohiki no Kozarutachi, 1956), which won an education award in the year of its release. Often funded by Dentsu Eigasha, early stop-motion appeared to reach the limit of its development with Penguin Boys Lulu and Kiki (Penguin Boya Lulu to Kiki, 1958) and Removing the Lump (Kobutori, 1958), the latter of which reached the heady heights of a 21-minute running time. Stop-motion, however, has all the labor intensive difficulties of cel animation, but few of its advantages. Sets must still be constructed, gravity still limits special effects, and the chances of mistakes that ruin an entire scene are greatly increased. Furthermore, the success of the feature-length cel animation of Panda and the Magic Serpent in 1958 was a damaging blow to future investment in stop-motion.
The potential for production-line techniques allowed the output of cel animators to swiftly outstrip stop-motion animators, and cels soon took over. Stop-motion enjoyed limited success on Japanese television, with Tadahito Mochinaga's series Prince Ciscon (Ciscon Oji, 1963), based on a manga by Doraemon-creators Fujiko-Fujio. However, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Akabana no Tonakai Rudolph Monogatari, 1964), based on a script by Romeo Muller, was undertaken by Mochinaga's team as work-for-hire for Videocraft (later known as Rankin/Bass). Not broadcast in Japan until three years after its American premiere, this TV special remains a Yuletide regular in the English-speaking world, but was the last significant use of stop-motion on Japanese TV for some years. However, the efforts of Japan's stop-motion animators were utilized to a great extent on international coproductions, often unseen by the Japanese. Mochinaga's MOM Films company turned out a number of stop-motion works for Rankin/Bass, including The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1961), Willy McBean and His Magic Machine (1963), Andersen's Fairy Tales (1966), Ballad of Smokey the Bear (1967, broadcast in Japan as Smokey Bear no Uta, 1970), and Mad Monster Party (1967), all animated to match prerecorded soundtracks and scripts supplied from America.
It is notable that MOM Films limited itself to short TV specials, as serial stop-motion animation at 24 minutes a week was simply unworkable. A long-running stop-motion series was Ichiro Komuro's Little Battles of the Salaryman (Salaryman Minimini Sakusen, 1970), but even that only managed a 27-episode run by keeping the episodes at a manageable four minutes each. As Japanese children's television succumbed to the onslaught of live-action rubber monster shows, there was some experimentation with the use of animation for effects work (for the cel variant of this, see Born Free). Devil Hunter Mitsurugi (Majin Hunter Mitsurugi, 1971), featured three live-action children, wielding ceremonial swords themed on Wisdom, Humanity, and Love, which allow them to combine into the stop-motion giant Mitsurugi, who can fight giant monster invaders from Scorpio. Made by animator Takeo Nakamura and his wife Ayako Magiri, the show was innovative, but suffered from production processes that made it inevitably more time-consuming than cels. The TBS network tried something similar with Transform! Pompoko Jewels (Henshin! Pompoko Tama, 1973) a live-action series about two feuding Japanese families whose children were able to switch identities and genders-shades here of the gender-swapping comedy of Ranma 1/2. As with Marvelous Melmo, the engines of transformation were red and blue magic items (jewels here); as with Pompoko, tanuki were involved, although here they were regarded as interfering creatures from another world who happened to resemble Japanese raccoon dogs. As with Mitsurugi, the stop-motion elements were only employed very briefly, since the transformative powers of the magical jewels would only last for a maximum of ten minutes. Such an artificial time limit was common in special effects shows, whatever the medium, since it allowed the filmmakers to limit their effects budgets-similar excuses were tried in the live-action Ultraman and later pastiched in the perilously short battery life of Evangelion
Stop-motion seemed fated to slip into the world of film festival awards for worthy effort, the prerogative of hobbyists and artists but unlikely to attract much interest from the money-minded producers of the rest of commercial animation. Kazuhiko Watanabe's The Crane Returns a Favor (Tsuru no Ongaeshi, 1966) won an educational prize at that year's Mainichi Film Concours, and Katsuo Takahashi's Issun Boshi (1967) was voted one of the top ten movies of the year by Kinema Junpo. However, many of the early pioneers in stop-motion found alternative employment in puppetry, a creative medium that never escaped from children's television but remained a lucrative field, largely on the license-funded channel NHK-NHK derives its funding from a monthly fee charged to each household which possesses a television. The animator Tadanari Okamoto made TV's first marionette series, Tamamonomae (1953), a short-lived tale about a fox who is able to transform herself into a beautiful human girl.
The original puppet version of Chirorin Village (1956, see alsoDE) lasted for over a thousand episodes on television, its stars becoming familiar voices to an entire generation, including Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (see Chocchan's Story). Other TV experiments in puppetry included the space-voyaging vessel Silica, created by science fiction author Shinichi Hoshi, and Osamu Tezuka's Space Patrol, which was chiefly a puppet show, but also used cel animation for certain special effects and its opening sequence. Madcap Island (see alsoDE) ran for more than a thousand episodes and received that ultimate of TV accolades-complaints about violence and bad language! As a mark of its fame to Japanese viewers of a certain age, it even appeared in a cameo role playing on a TV screen in Only Yesterday.
Further discussion of the development of puppetry is beyond the scope of this book, except to note Aerial City 008 (1969, see alsoDE), 11 People of Nekojara City (Nekojara-shi no Juichinin, 1970), and the samurai epic Hakkenden, widely acknowledged by the makers of the anime Hakkenden to have been a greater influence on them than the 19th-century original. Other puppet shows of the 1970s include the original of Sanada's Ten Brave Warriors, an adaptation of the radio drama The Flutist, and 1978's Kujaku-o (a Japanese retelling of the same myth that later became Peacock King). The early 1980s saw the flourishing of both Prin Prin and a puppet version of Great Conquest, for which the accomplished Kihachiro Kawamoto made over 400 puppets.
Regarded as a highly disposable medium, with many thousands of episodes lost or wiped soon after their original broadcast, TV puppetry foundered in the 1980s, particularly after the ill-fated attempt of the commercial channel Fuji TV to make its own puppet show, the sci-fi spectacular X-Bomber (1980). Despite creative input from Devilman-creator Go Nagai and a truly gripping plot, X-Bomber was canceled partway through its run amid whispers of low ratings and enjoyed better success abroad under the title Star Fleet. Fuji TV's attitude also seemed to influence NHK, the home of TV puppetry, whose Farewell Higeyo (Higeyo Saraba, 1984) was the last puppet series to be shown on the channel for some years. The channel revived puppetry with Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari, 1993), which also featured puppets designed by Kihachiro Kawamoto, and Drum Canna, a significantly shorter puppet series broadcast in seven-minute segments as part of another program.
The traditions of puppetry found new relevance in the late 1990s in digital animation, as an example to the manipulators of virtual 3D models in 3D environments. Early digital anime often borrowed from puppetry, particularly in attempts to depict realistic human movement. As with puppets in the physical world, virtual models often have difficulty interacting with the environment around them-figures are best filmed from the waist up to avoid notably unrealistic leg movements and foot placements, and characters in early digital animation such as A.Li.Ce and Blue Remains spend prolonged periods sitting in vehicles or floating in space, water, or cyberspace. Malice Doll took the links between puppetry and stop-motion to extremes, with a cast of puppets that comes to life.
Stop-motion continues to flourish outside the commercial world of cel or digital animation, particularly at film festivals. In particular, Kihachiro Kawamoto has continued to keep Japanese stop-motion in the eyes of festival crowds. While the majority of the Japanese animation in this book reflects Western preconceptions of what "anime" should be, it is worth noting that it is Kawamoto who is the president of the Japan Animation Association, and that Koji Yamamura's Mount Head was nominated for a Best Short Animation Academy Award in the same year as Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. For the average Western viewer, however, the most likely encounter with stop-motion animation is probably the special effects in Shinya Tsukamoto's surreal live-action movie Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1991) or the claymation credit sequences of Ninja Nonsense and many Crayon Shin-chan movies.