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AICN Anime - In Depth on the Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green
I'd like to think that the geek discourse has reached a point in its familiarity with Japanese pop media where Osamu Tezuka's (1928-1989) name is not only recognized, but bears more significance than simply the answer to the trivia question "who created Astro Boy?" With works like his black mooded sex-ed piece Apollo's Song and powerful religious dialogue Ode to Kirihito available in English, there's ample opportunity to see Tezuka as a creator whose ambitions extended beyond thoughtful children's works like Kimba the White lion. Personally, I've been a Tezuka fan since being deeply effected by his manga Adolf: A Tale of the Twentieth Century when I discovered it on a shelf at The Million Year Picnic a dozen years ago. After reading a large majority of the Tezuka manga available in English in the intervening years, I still found the Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu surprising. It's a stunning product of the forces that apparently drove Tezuka as a masterful artist and innovator. There's his experimentation; the drive to test a medium and stretch the limits of its ability to relate his stories. There's his social conscience; his willingness to address a matter like Vietnam in a work like Astro Boy, or dedicate a series like Black Jack to exploring his beliefs in medical ethics. And, because he was not the simple, idealized figure rendered in the caricatured artist in a beret, there's his competitiveness; his push to animate like Disney, to see that gekiga alterative, older audience work was drawing attention and jump onto the movement himself. Throughout the experimental animated shorts collected in the Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu, Tezuka is never at a loss for a social or artistic message. The artistic elements are as diverse as might be expected from almost three decades of test cases devised by a mind like Tezuka's. Each short is distinct from all others, and all are distinct from his manga. Other than a cameo by Astro Boy and rare appearances by his short-hand for breaking tension, the gassy, pig nosed gourd Hyoutan-Tsugi, the re-used templates found throughout his manga are absent from these animated works. Rarely do Tezuka's shorts look like an animated version of his manga the way that an Astro Boy or Kimba adaptation might. Instead, Tezuka displays a versatility that testifies to the fact that he was not stuck drawing the Disney/Fleischer-esqie cartoonishly stylized figures with which he is associated. North American manga discussion has often returned to the debate of whether that look is appropriate for Tezuka's more serious work. On one hand, it is criticized as being distractingly non-modern. From another perspective, the design is excused as being less important than the message, significance and other artistic merits of the work. Though the distinct look of Tezuka's short serve the purpose of that animation, I'd suggest that they argue for the success of his approach to manga. These experimental pieces demonstrate that Tezuka was neither dogmatically stuck on nor limited to the stylization he employed. As an artist who spent a career exploring and tailoring his work to media, his manga consistently worked with an approach to rendering people that he felt effectively conveyed their emotions and humanity. The experiments also possess a distilled quality that is unlike most Tezuka manga. While an image or page in a work of Tezuka manga rarely looked sloppy, stories often twist into overly complex convolutions due to what looks like a rush between the idea and the pen. In contrast, the effort to fit the experimental shorts into their intended structures give these works a sense of poetic order. Given the artistic demands and departure from comfortably familiar territory, the degree to which the shorts are narratively satisfying is a bit surprising. As is the vehemence of their social aspect. These works aren't simply Tezuka building and testing credibility as an animator. Nor, in most cases, are they Tezuka sharpening an odd corner into the edge of social critique as an afterthought. Tezuka's blunt assessment of the human species is pervasive and proves to be undulled over the decades span in which the shorts were produced. Watch them all across an afternoon, and they're liable to push a mood into "hide the sharp objects" territory. Tezuka's body of manga work often embraced both sides of a dichotomy. There was compassion for humanity and its perseverance, and at the same time, exasperation with crimes that the species committed against itself, and ways in which it hindered that push to survive. Where that manga tended towards a dialectic view of human nature, the shorts tend to be critical parables. In the lighter cases, he teases the point rather than jab it in, but, repeatedly, Tezuka highlights the disastrous leanings of humanity. This isn't so much an observation of inherent thanatos as it is pointing out the species' unthinking disregard for consequence. In The Astro Boy Essays, Frederik Schodt says "the first word usually associated with Tezuka and all of his work is hyumanizumu or 'humanism.' Most Japanese writers immediately seize upon this term and use it in either a positive sense (referring to Tezuka's love for humanity) or a derogatory sense (implying that he has an overly simple or naive view of human nature). Yet, in Japanese, as in English, humanism is an extremely vague term, and it is doubtful that most of those using it are aware of its sub-meanings." Tezuka was evidently keenly aware of the faults of humanity when producing his shorts. In their lighter moments, this results in bemused exasperation. In the darker ones, the observations are devastating. In their visual tinkering and in their philosophy, there is a wealth to consider and interpret throughout these experimental shorts.

Tezuka In Animation and Role of Experimental Shorts

Osamu Tezuka had been tenuously involved with anime such as Toei Doga's Alakazam the Great (1960), where his involvement was debatably overstated for publicity, but he began making his mark on the field in earnest when he introduced anime to Japanese TV with 1963's Astro Boy. In 1961, he founded Tezuka Osamu Production, soon renamed Mushi Productions, with the intended business model of producing commercial anime to fund experimental works. Work began with 1962's Tales of the Street Corner, a statement of capability with a style and expression distinct from the output by Disney or Toei. From that artistic declaration, he moved on with the plan to produce anime that would be inexpensive and profitable. He selected his most popular manga creation, Astro Boy, underbid in a deal with Fuji TV to establish a financial barrier of entry to potential competitors and began inventing a process for cheaply producing 25 minutes of animation weekly. From Frederik L. Schodt's Astro Boy essays, one of the best English language discussions of the subject: "Without realizing it, Tezuka and Mushi Productions created the template for modern Japanese animation. What they started as a system designed to make animation on the cheap eventually became a challenge and provided a new way of telling a story. Instead of movement and "realism," the emphasis was place on story, character development and emotional impact." Anime production, especially for Japanese TV, is still subject to the template that Tezuka laid out in his Fuji TV/Astro Boy deal. Roland Kelts in Japanamerica notes that the low-bit of roughly $3000 an episode for Astro Boy is referred to as "Tezuka's Curse." In that it created an industry, it can't be said Mushi Production model's failed. Yet, it did not succeed in providing a profit engine for Tezuka's work. The studio became overstaffed, debt leveraged and after a string of boundary pushing but commercially unsuccessful movies that includes 1001 Nights, Cleopatra, and Belladonna of Sadness, Mushi went bankrupt in 1973. It was revived in 1977, at which point no it was longer Tezuka's company. Beyond that, the template it produced was one in which sponsors often controlled purse strings and as such became the master of anime productions. Roland Kelts notes "The loss of financial and artistic control is an unavoidable part of Tezuka's legacy, complicating his reputation in Japan and frustrating (or infuriating) later generations of anime artists." Experimental shorts represented a third course in the scheme of animation; neither adhering to the rules of a televised project or a theatrical one. Often self funded, these were statements and not products. With the advent of animation festivals, an audience did develop for these works, but they remained non-commercial project. Anime, and especially Tezuka anime, was already an exported product long before the boom of the late 90's, but the idea of producing shorts for a festival audience also allowed the work to be conceived for an international set of receptive viewers.

The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu Released by KimStim and Kino International

1. Tales of the Street Corner / 1962 / 16:9 / 39:04 / English Subtitles

Context: At this point in the history of the medium, anime was being produced in the form of movies, largely by Toei. Involved in that studio process, Tezuka contributed designs, concepts, storyboards and scripts, and in 1962, Tezuka had a writing credit on Sinbad No Boken. The launch of an Astro Boy tv series was still a year off.
Tales of the Street Corner is the work of a creator setting out to invent their own process and in doing so, leave an artistic mark that is distinctively their own. From the inception of his short work, Tezuka tried new techniques and made statements through those experiments. But, he also adopted the role of fabulist. Specifically, Tales of the Street Corner functions as a parable in which Tezuka goes on record concerning the consequences of political ideologies. It's an almost animistic story that opens with the introduction that "people live at this corner." These "people" include a "friendly girl and a teddy bear," "a naughty mouse 'Kanku-boya'" who in a cartoonish note, is the only named person, "a plant with seeds," "an old street light" a "a street punk 'Moth'" ("Moth" being the other proper name?) and a series of wall posters depicting people. Over the course of the short, the girl drops her bear onto a drainpipe, where the mouse finds and befriends it. Meanwhile, the people depicted on the posters celebrate their existence, flirt, dance and fall in love. Setting the stage for the conscience of future shorts, the posters become subject to a sweeping social shift. Finally, the street corner itself is rocked by the consequences of that change.
Beyond Tezuka's politics, Tales of the Street Corner also represents a declaration of independence. It does not look like the works of Disney, which Tezuka admired. Frederik Schodt's Astro Boy essays quotes Tezuka's Boky wa mangaka in saying that he saw Bambi over eighty times and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs over fifty. Nor does it look like the Toei movies to which he contributed. The aesthetic of the short looks like shaded shapes, almost as if it were comprised of cut paper highlighted with pastels. As implied by that statement, the production of the short looks more to the era of color anime movies than the black and white TV era that would dawn in the coming year. The prominence of posters allows for recursive design within the short's look, with each poster featuring own, distinctive stylization. The animation advances this approach of reaching out and testing. In his manga work, Tezuka was cleverly inventive in conceiving ways to frame a panel. In Tales of the Street Corner, he engages in a similar exercise for animation. There's a scene in which the mouse runs down a drain pipe, then, as he becomes surprised, the view cuts to a horizontal perspective, looking across the bowl of the pipe. As the mouse proceeds to engage in a comedy routine of challenging the bear, the view cuts again and again. Considering the tools and newness of the medium, these shifts are decidedly impressive.

2. Male / 1962 / 4:3 / 03:09 / English Subtitles

Context: Male was exhibited with the first episode of Astro Boy. Based on Natsume Soseki's satire of the integration of Western ideas into Japanese society during the Meiji period, "Wagahai wa Neko de Aru ("I am a cat"), Male captures the action in oval apertures as an amorous cat comments on the woes of the man on the bed above him. The guy tries to smooth his cowlick. The cat cuddles with his lady love. The guy twiddles his thumbs, and smokes. The cat rolls his eyes. Ultimately the event for which the man had been waiting occurs and the short revealed something mature had happened - the kind of tragedy not to be found in a commercial animated movie of the age. Possibly, this could be considered the prototype of "anime - not for kids."

3. Memory / 1964 / 4:3 / 05:40 / English Subtitles

Context: Between the production of the last experimental short and this one, Tezuka had become a force in anime with the televised Astro Boy anime and the re-edited, colored Astro Boy: The Brave In Space movie.
Of the shorts, Memory is notable for being one of the few featuring design that looks like the stylization of Tezuka's manga. It also features semi-animated photographs and all manners of abstraction. Tezuka plays with the notion of the human mind latching onto essential qualities, merging associations and inserting symbolic markers. A compassionate friend becomes Buddha. A formal businessman becomes a tie wearing a suit. A yacker becomes a mouth resting on shoulders. And women...Much of the short is devoted to how men perceive women... which is not flattering in the perception or in what it says about the men doing the thinking. Where Male was limited to a micro-tragedy, Memory is back to the macro. As it explains "memory translates the misery of war... after a few decades it becomes like the war of toys" with images of traditional dolls replacing photographs of casualties. A mushroom cloud morphs into a tree, then an ethereal heart. Then, the heart becomes a set of hips and we're back to thinking about women.

4. Mermaid / 1964 / 4:3 / 08:17 / No Dialog

Tezuka's fascination with the subjective continues. This time the stylization is static and minimalistic. The plot and context of Mermaid were compared by Tezuka's official site to Terry Gilliam's Brazil. In place of Memory's parades of the subjective, Mermaid features an imagination base instance of the mind externalized. A boy sees fish as mermaids. Though the short is animated with simple lines and small wave like motions, this mental rebellion constitutes a grave social break, for which there are equally grave consequences.

5. The Drop / 1965 / 4:3 / 04:18 / No Dialog

Context: Around 1965, Tezuka produced the manga and anime of Amazing Three, which featured Bokko, Nokko and Pukko, aliens sent to Earth who take the shapes of a rabbit a horse and a duck while judging humanities fitness to exist in the universe. Mushi reworked their anime production method to have animators working in parallel, with each drawing a different character. Amazing Three's (or Wonder Three) concept was later reused with Bremen 4: Angels in Hell (1981). Early in the decade (2000), Studio Pierrot and Digital Manga discussed staging an Amazing Three revival. 1965 also saw the premiere of Jungle Emperor Leo (aka Kimba the White Lion) - the first color TV anime series in Japan.
Drop opens with a man adrift, alone at sea. The premise might be the grist for a naturalist tragedy and Tezuka migh be expected to produce such, but after staring at the beam holding up a hopeless makeshift sail as it rocks up and down, Tezuka introduces our drifting survivor... basically just a sailor capped abstract lump with a protruding nose, feet, and three fingered hands. Hair grows out of the lump. It tries to drink the sea water and goes hopping mad. The man cries, catches his tears in a cup and tries to drink, until he can now longer cry. Rain water is caught on his sail. Chasing away delusional promises of women and wealth, he begins a torturous dance of convolutions to get the drop of water. His efforts are rewarded by a physical battering as planks slam into him. Though this is a legitimately desperate situation, the cast away remains an object of ridicule. Tezuka does not even allow him to attempt suicide without the act becoming broad, physical comedy. As a final, comically ironic twist is sprung, the poor lump is still being heaped with derision. The Drop has the simple forms and jerking animations of a rapidly produced gag short. Tezuka appears to have been going for the effect of something quick and cheap. For all of its production optimizations, the humor of the 1963 Astro Boy featured engineered surprises. The gags weren't always sophisticated, but they did feature some imagination. Look to the circus parade of robots in "The Birth of Astro Boy." The motions are archaically simple and repetitive but cleverly conceived. A knight stands next to a princess in a belled dress. The knight robot picks up the princess robot and holds her horizontally, at which point her shape becomes that of a trumpet, with which the knight blows a fanfare. A procession of legged balls jump onto each other to form a totem pole, then fall forward into a centipede. As if to match its protagonist's need of the most basic necessities, the Drop apparently limits its reach to blunt, basic humor. As such, it is almost entirely comprised of broad slap stick.

6. Pictures at an Exhibition / 1966 / 16:9 / 32:56 / No dialog

Context: In 1966, Tezuka's commercial work featured his return to the perennially popular Journey to the West epic with a new pilot film of Adventures of the Monkey King. Saiyuki/Journey to the West featured chaotic mythical primate Son Goku, who threw the Heavenly Kingdom into disarray before being subdued by Buddha and sent on the titular pilgrimage with the monk Xuanzang. Adventures of the Monkey King was criticized for presenting a bland Goku. When Tezuka reworked the pilot to produce the Goku's Great Adventures animated TV series (39 episodes, January 7, 1967 - September 30, 1967), the renewedly brasher, rebellious Goku provoked complains from the PTA. 1966 also saw the production of a pilot of proto-shoujo Princess Knight, the manga of which ran 1953-56 and 1963-66. A year later, the Princess Knight TV series would arguably become the first Japanese anime program aimed at girls. The series followed a girl, raised as a boy to protect her kingdoms throne, who adopts the third identity of the "Princess Knight" to fight for justice. Gender themes evoked here would later become a touch stone as women began becoming prominent writers of shoujo with the ascendance of figures like Riyoko Ikeda ( Rose of Versailles), Moto Hagio (They Were 11, To Terra) and the Year 24 Group
Pictures at an Exhibition has been compared to Fantasia in that it finds inspiration in the piano movements of Modest Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" Suite. I don't remember Fantasia being this acerbic. It opens with film of the iron and granite gates surrounding a classical building. Captions promise "this picture is constituted.. the conventionalities... of various heroes of today." Like Tales of the Street Corner, Pictures at an Exhibition starts with recursive design. This time, it's framed portraits, each in its own style. And, this time, the short jumps into the images for a view of the portrayed in the style of the portrayal. The effect showcases Tezuka bending its expression to fit each subject. Moving past Cleopatra, Caesar and Lincoln, the view jerks then halts on a sallow, unkempt fellow for the first of 10 examinations with "Journalist" (also translated as "Critic"). This stubby nosferatu figure walks on elongated arms, blindly marking "X" and "O" on texts held before him, crossing out stacks of books as he lounges, dazzling silhouette people with incomprehensible figures and otherwise amassing acclaim for faking it. He, dismisses threats of war, rages at images of love, and embraces a photo of beauty pageant contestants. The short moves with an insectine creep as the journalist buzzes and stings. The shapes, the motion and the content all contribute to a sequence that makes itself unpleasant to watch.
Pictures at an Exhibition fakes the promise of a look at Beethoven, then Louis Armstrong before swooping down on a proud looking figure with the Douglas Adams absurd title of "Gardener of the artificial landscape." The episode revisits Drop's desperate crawl for a drip of water. From a distain for a bug-like man to the humane regard for a bug... This time, the subject of the life and death search is an anthropomorphized hobo grasshopper, complete with belongings tied in a bindle. A grasshopper, cartooned in something between Tezuka design and Disney work from the likes of Wilfred Jackson makes his beleaguered crawl through a concretely rendered canyon of buildings. Landing in a park, he's tortured by the false promises of artificial flowers, artificial grass, and not a drop of dew. Even the fountains are false. As the grasshopper is discarded onto the periphery of the space, Tezuka hits a touching moment that emphasizes the power of mixing cartooning and less abstracted realism. From an unhealthy looking, chewed up, browning on the edge weed, comes drops of water. From the gardener of the artificial landscape, the exhibition moves in to subjects such as the "cosmetic surgeon" rendered in ugly pencil scrawls and "factory owner," captured with regular, mass produced shapes, to the "beatnik" (also translated as "punk") as a fluffy chick in a West Side Story dance number. A final portrait of a solider sets the staged for a cracked triumphal arch labeled "allegorical conclusion." As its frieze of a mythical age quakes, the "heroes of today" join an apocalyptic procession to the gates of heaven. It's built to a breathtaking spectacle, but not one engineered to provoke pride in humanity.

7. The Genesis / 1968 / 4:3 / 04:02 / English Subtitles / B&W

Context: 1968 was a busy year from the prime of Tezuka's career. There was a manga and pilot of Gum Gum Punch: a young children's work featuring a brother and sister given a gift from the god of gum that could be used to produce anything they need, along with the help of disciple Gum Gum. Likewise a manga and a pilot were produced for Prince Norman - a sci-fi concerning a conflict between aliens and super powered humans. According to Tezuka's site, the story was a reaction to how the Japanese student protest movement of the time had been reverberating through society, spawning children's manga that Tezuka judged to be too violent. A pilot was produced for Dororo, his story of a swordsman with an artificial body questing after the yokai who came to possess his natural organs. This pilot adhered closely to the manga, and unlike the low budget, monochrome TV series that would air the following year, it was produced in color. On the manga side of his work, Tezuka began Yamato, third part of his life's work, the Phoenix cycle, which chronicled a tragedy of authoritarian rule in 5th century Japan. This was also the year in which Tezuka addressed changing social tides in Swallowing the Earth (featured in detail here).
Genesis offers a parody of John Houston's The Creation, down to a false directorial credit. Tezuka sketches through the Judeo-Christian creation story in a muddy, decidedly non-glorious fashion. Its animation takes the labor shaving short cuts of the original Astro Boy, goes beyond The Drop and accentuates them to the point where the short is simply a sequence of pans and swapped images, with a few effects. In addition to populating the world with unearthly fauna, Tezuka alters the story of Genesis in a manner that might as well have been designed to tweak critics of his handling of gender issues. If you have a dim view of what sometimes seems like Tezuka's dim view of women, then Genesis is liable to fuel that perspective. Then again, Tezuka's dire apprehension of the reordered world of Genesis does not look much different from the apprehension he expresses for our own world.

8. Jumping / 1984 / 4:3 / 06:22 / No Dialog

Context: In 1984, Tezuka conceived and directed TV anime movie Bagi: the Monster of Mighty Nature in order to address what he felt to be the issue of the moment - government approval of research into the use of recombinant DNA. Its concept of a rebellious young man and a pink puma woman produced by modified DNA might seem at home among modern anime, but its approach and its opinion are distinctively, and in some aspects, disturbingly Tezuka. 1984 was also the half way point in the serialization of Tezuka's painful historical Adolf. Released by Viz and out of print, Tezuka invents the story of Adolf Kaufmann a half German, half Japanese boy and Adolf Kamil, a Jewish boy living in a Japanese exile Jewish community starts before World War II and progresses through the 20th century.
Jumping is the short to show off as a fun demonstration of Tezuka's clever mind animation. It combines an entertaining premise with a pleasurable spectacle and might have inspired a GE commercial... The short offers a first person perspective as something begins hopping. There are some sounds at the bookends of the short to suggest that this is a boy and not a frog. The leaps get higher. The point of view is taken from a neighborhood to a farmland to an industrial zone. Crows attack the springing subject, but soon the spaces of the jumps are taking the view past the windows of airplanes and over oceans. The short offers a sense of exhilaration but also a mischievous edge to the fun. The viewer spies things it was not meant to see... a woman lounging naked, an office in the midst of suicidal chaos, an aboriginal tribe about to execute/sacrifice an explorer (critics of Tezuka's depictions of non-East-Asian and non-Euro-American cultures will find grounds for complaint). Accentuating this is a series of Easter Eggs in the animation from the bear from Tales of the Street Corner to a certain noteworthy sci-fi duo.
Jump's appearance has often been compared to the work of Bill Plympton, prompted by its use of line drawing form and texture. Watching the single cut view bouncing through different perspectives on the shapes is mind bending. Seeing it opening and closing distance, catching the illustrations at different angles, it hurts to think about someone laboring to animate this. The impression is only amplified by the fact that this is pre-computer work. Given that digital animation would later aid work like this, it is either incredibly prescient or ironic that Tezuka speaks on the subject in the DVD's bonus interview. On the topic, he decries work with "computer graphics" as joylessness and given to producing work that is cold and banal. Eventually, the hopping takes the subject into a war zone; acknowledging that armed conflict is part of a global scheme of humanity. And, an atomic bomb is dropped, opening a hole which diverts the tour down into hell. There is a metaphor here. On the DVD's interview Tezuka talks to how momentum can inexorably take movement into an undesired location. That Jumping happens into a lesson is part of that message, but at the same time, of all the shorts, this is the one whose social conscious feels most bolted on. Though Tezuka is earnest, after addressing the subject so often, returning to it could easily be mistaken for habit as much as than genuine concern.

9. Broken Down Film / 1985 / 4:3 / 05:42 / No Dialog / B&W

Largely a concept goof, Broken Down Film appears to be philosophically lightest short in the collection. While there is an aspect of meta commentary concerning the effect of time's passage on art, the presence of a social message is difficult to detect. The tied to the tracks film is backdated to 1885. Set to the tune of Snake Rag, a Max Fleischer-esque rendering of a fearless white hat ranges into the scrub to rescue his lady fair from a grizzled brute. The film stock looks terrible. It's scratched. Hardly a speck is free of artifacts. Then, all of a sudden, hero and horse become entangled in a mass of the crud that had been screwing up the film. Soon, the fourth wall is as broken down as the film. Artifacts are being wiped away by the hero in order for him to see more clearly... speech balloons are being grabbed and tossed... patches in the film are being used to bushwhack foes. I wonder if Broken Down Film was prompted by responses to Tezuka's work the likes of which have been seen from North American manga readers. It's the "looks old" knock, in which noting the age of a work becomes the primary observation - Black Jack or Phoenix don't look like modern manga, therefore they can't be taken seriously. Here, Tezuka reappropriates the criticism and turns it into a joke. He then does a double twist, looking into something more current before being yanked back, then finally, getting caught up and stumbling in the age degradation.

10. Push / 1987 / 4:3 / 04:16 / English Subtitles

Context: This is late in Tezuka's career, and the point at which his death of stomach cancer on February 9, 1989 seems to have lamentablely cut short a still evolving body of work. 1987 was the mid point of his work on the last complete chapter of the Phoenix cycle, Sun. This one featured a faith based conflict between aboriginal gods and Buddhism. 1987 also marked the beginning of his incomplete follow-up to his manga biography of Buddha, Ludwig B.
Push is a sketch comedy zinger with a sick sense of humor. Exhibited at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, it comments on atomic devastation, but also registers Tezuka's thoughts on a culture of retrieving necessities with a push of a button via vending machines. Somewhere between Mad Magazine and Heavy Metal, the sketched figure of a grizzled man drives a beat-up, armed jeep through a desolate wasteland. He pulls into a way station and, with push of a button, uses an automated machine to trade his empty canteen for a glistening, full new one. The machine replies "thank you very much." Next, a push of the button allows him to trade his fatigues for a nice suit. His jeep for a hovering convertible. His trunk full of dead animals for a menagerie of robotic ones. Each time, the "thank you very much" from the machine becomes louder and clearer. Finally, he sets his sights on something more global.

11. Muramasa / 1987 / 16:9 / 08:42 / No Dialog

Context: From 1987 to 1989 Tezuka worked on the Gringo, the unfinished, posthumously published look at politics and commerece, related in the story of an exiled corporate officer entangled in the agenda of a group of guerillas.
Muramasa is a perfect demonstration of the dual social and artistic intensions of the shorts. Its presentation combines the percussion and trilling flute of Noh with paper cutout art. Emphasizing the qualities of those media Muramasa is often still or minimally animated. Its story commences when a traveler happens upon a wara-ningyo, literal straw man, wearing a kimono with a sword through its chest. The traveler takes the blade and ignoring the warnings of a Buddhist Bonze monk, begins training with it. As he cuts down more and more straw men, he becomes transfixed by imagined glories and enemies.
The substitution of wara-ningyo for enemies and victims calls back to the subjective topics of Memory and Mermaid, but the opening line "A man with arms which can kill people like puppets is not aware that he himself has already become a puppet" points to something more political. Given the distance from its historical moment, I'm not sure I would have picked up on the specificity of the metaphor if I hadn't read that Muramasa was meant to speak to the dangers of peace through nuclear deterrence. Placing it in the same year as "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!", the notion of obsession with a weapon provoking action has some poignancy.

12. Legend of the Forest / 1987 / 16:9 / 29:25 / No Dialog

Inspired by Tschaikovsky's fourth symphony Op. 36, the first and fourth of a planned four part movement were finished. Visually, the Fantasia like piece aimed to capture the history of animation, and its evolution from a theatrically focused medium to one targeted to TV. If Tezuka's work had continued past the Cold War, ecology might have replaced war as the primary bête noire of his productions. Manga such as Black Jack addressed it as an unappreciated threat, and in Legend of the Forest, it becomes the narrative theme.
The first movement constructs a sort of mythical age out of the forest's plight. A flying squirrel lives a difficult existence, but rises to heroism in the battle against his grizzled, axe wielding nemesis. The fourth movement replaces the solo lumber jack with mechanized logging, under the generalship of a Hitler doppelganger. This time, Legend of the Forest features a fantasy/sci-fi war between a bickering parliament of forest spirits and the steel proxies of the loggers.
The first movement starts with wood block prints. Though fine detail gives illustrations of the forest and its fauna the impression of realism, cartooned expression and pantomime convey character and story. Eventually, a zoetrope wheel animates what was still. This gives way to ink lines slowly changing in flip book fashion. Simplistic characters and movement in a primal style become more complex and Fleischer-esque. The movements and the background become far grander, even integrating film into the image. After hiding the piece's hero in a knothole, the movie emerges from the blackness into color. The evolution turns to the grand theatrical quality of Disney film. However, it does not stop at this zenith. It dulls and simplifies. Though still attractive, by the time the movement completes, it's more in line with the quality of televised anime than movies. The fourth movement is more consistent in its look, taking inspiration from the older-audience genre animation taking hold on TV and direction OVAs. It's Tezuka on anime's fixation with elves and machines, as it was expressed in the 80's In both the first and fourth movements, there is very little that is explicitly judgmental about the direction of animation. In contrast to the swells of triumph and tragedy in the story of the forest, the progression of animation is matter of fact.

13. Self Portrait / 1988 / 0.13 / No Dialog

Context: In response to an animated project falling through, Tezuka wrote the manga Neo-Faust, his third direct retelling of the legendary deal with the devil.
Self Portrait is the last and shortest of Tezuka's experimental works. This one places him into a global continuity of animation. A slot machine spins trisected portraits from an international collection of animators - it lands on Tezuka, who spits out the winnings. This is penultimate completed work on a chronology of works, before Tezuka Osamu Story: I am Son-Goku, ( August 27, 1989) for which he is credited plans and designs. As the title suggests, that was another self focused retrospective that moves from autobiography to an imagined sci-fi Journey To The West.

For The Sake Of Completeness...

The Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu not include Cigarettes and Ashes (1965). The three minute short features a chicken launch a war against its human oppressors. The experimental short Party was not completed, but the short gag was to have looked an animator alone with his creations, Mosquito, as envisioned late in his career, and the uncompleted short was to have looked to reconcile differences between film and animation. The tribute Essays On Insects (13 minutes, August 3, 1995) presented five shorts adapted from Tezuka's "Essay in Idleness of Insects" in the spirit of his experimental work.

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  • Aug. 7, 2009, 10:47 a.m. CST

    Hmmmm...

    by Zahaladeen

    ...nice.

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 11:06 a.m. CST

    I thought Tezuka's Curse....

    by Cletus Van Damme

    ...was what you got from drinking the water in Japan...no?

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 11:10 a.m. CST

    Interesting stuff!

    by Johnno

    My animation history teacher would love this!

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 11:17 a.m. CST

    AMAZING!!!!

    by fassbinder79

    Will buy this!

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 1:22 p.m. CST

    A good start

    by Harry Weinstein

    Hopefully this leads to more, particularly the psychedelic CLEOPATRA, A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS, and BELLADONNA OF SADNESS.

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 6:49 p.m. CST

    Another point of view

    by andrew_osmond

    I've seen 8 or 9 of those shorts and enjoyed them - Jumping's my favourite. However, for a rather more abrasive viewpoint, read Miyazaki's essay on Tezuka in the just-translated 'Starting Point 1979-1989.' The essay is on pages 193-197, and was written in response to Tezuka's death in 1989. To call it a hatchet-job would be an understatement... ouch, ouch, ouch!

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 7:17 p.m. CST

    I'll second Mr Osmond's recommendation

    by ScottGreen

    Miyazaki's "I Parted Ways with Osamu Tezuka When I Saw the 'Hand of God' in Him" essay in Starting Points is definitely a significant piece in the discourse of anime and manga's luminaries. One of many reasons to check out the the newly released English translation.

  • Aug. 7, 2009, 9:30 p.m. CST

    Legend

    by Semen Stains

  • Aug. 8, 2009, 12:45 a.m. CST

    Very

    by StrokerX

    cool.

  • Aug. 8, 2009, 7:05 a.m. CST

    Quotation on DVD Cover

    by Prof_Ender

    Heh. The website I write for, Anime Academy.com, was quoted for the blurb on the cover. We've been around since 2001, but this is the first time anything like this has happened for us. Hooray. For the 2003 article where the quote comes from, http://tinyurl.com/ljjkxe

  • Aug. 8, 2009, 7:52 a.m. CST

    Miyazaki on Tezuka

    by Prof_Ender

    There was something like what Osmond and Scott mentioned in Fred Schodt's book "The Astro Boy Essays." The short of it: Miyazaki was pissed at Tezuka's "influence" on the animation industry; basically blaming him for a model that has hindered the anime industry to this day (long hours, cheap labor, cutting corners, etc. etc.).

  • Aug. 9, 2009, 5:47 p.m. CST

    I've got a copy of the Astro Boy Essays

    by FeralAngel

    It's an excellent read. Loaded with goodies about Tezuka's early life, Japanese culture, early influences on his art (not only Disney, but George McManus, creator of the comic Bringing Up Father) and the huge success that crude ol' black-and-white Astro Boy enjoyed during the early sixties. I watched the show when it was rerun recently on Adult Swim. Can't get enough of that theme song. AND I'm looking forward to the new AB film coming out later this year. Thanks for furthering my knowledge about an incredibly gifted and prolific artist. This site truly rocks.

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