Oldest Surviving Anime Short by Phoenix Film's Kon Ichikawa Found
posted on by Egan Loo
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in the United States discovered the oldest known surviving anime short by Kon Ichikawa, the late director who earned acclaim in animation and live action. "Yowamushi Chinsengumi" (Cowardly Samurai Squad) is a five-minute animated short dating back to 1935.
The short is the third Hana Yori Dango short about Dangonosuke the samurai boy. In the story, Dangonosuke rescues a woman captured by bandits. (The series is named after the same Japanese saying — literally meaning "choosing dumplings over flowers" — that inspired the title wordplay in Yoko Kamio's later Boys Over Flowers manga and television anime.)
The film is undergoing restoration at the University of California, Los Angeles. A 1936 Hana Yori Dango short was thought to be the oldest surviving animated work by Ichikawa until this 1935 short was discovered.
Ichikawa was born under the name Giichi Ichikawa in Iseshi, a city in the central Japanese province of Mie, on November 20, 1915. He wanted to become a painter during childhood, but changed his mind after seeing one of the first samurai films ever made, Mansaku Itami's Kokushi Muso (1932). The next year, he joined what later became Toho's Kyoto studio and began working as producer, scriptwriter, animator, and cinematographer.
He directed his first feature film, the puppet-animated Musume Dojoji (A Girl at Dojo Temple), in 1945. He would then move into live-action films in every genre from comedy to drama and documentaries. In fact, he won three Cannes recognitions for distinctly different films: the tense Kagi (Jury Prize) and Otōto (Special Mention) dramas and the Tokyo Olympiad documentary (Critics Award). He also tackled anti-war themes with the Oscar-nominated Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain.
Decades later, he would return to his animation roots and help mold two film adaptations of classic manga: 1978's The Phoenix: Chapter of Dawn and 1979's Galaxy Express 999 movie. For Phoenix, he directed and produced the first adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's magnum opus. He then supervised the first film adaptation of Leiji Matsumoto's Galaxy Express 999 manga and anime and co-wrote its script. He passed away in 2008.