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Melos is a simple Sicilian farmer traveling to see his sister's wedding when he is sentenced to death by Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse. He asks for a few days' grace to go to the wedding and promises to return immediately. The king agrees, but only if Melos can provide a hostage to guarantee his return-to be executed in his place if he fails. His old friend Selinuntius volunteers, and Melos sets off for the wedding. Despite many misadventures and temptations along the way, Melos keeps his word and returns in the nick of time. Dionysius is so impressed by Melos' honesty and Selinuntius' trust in him that he frees them both.
Osamu Dazai's 1940 short story was based on Greek legend filtered through a poem by Schiller, but it has become a classic of Japanese literature. The simple story, hinging on the nature of friendship and the ability to keep faith, has a happy resolution that is bitterly ironic when one remembers that Dazai committed suicide.
Toei's TV special was followed in 1992 by a longer theatrical release directed and written by Masaaki Osumi. Despite the overall simplicity of the story, he manages to infuse the film with real tension and urgency, and he has excellent art direction and design to support his work, from the future directors of Perfect Blue and Jin-Roh, Satoshi Kon and Hiroyuki Okiura. Melos runs through ravishing backgrounds by Hiroshi Ono, whose talents also enhance such stellar titles as Kiki's Delivery Service and have recently been put to use by Hollywood on The Tigger Movie. This movie version was former pop idol Kazumasa Oda's first anime score and also a voice-acting debut for the singer Akina Nakamori, who played Melos' sister. The story was animated twice more for video-for the Classic Children's Tales series (1992), as a 30-minute stop-motion short, and again for the Famous Japanese Fables series (1997), as a 10-minute short directed by Keisuke Morishita.