Yoroku: internationally acclaimed Japanese animation, from paper cats to demon slayers

The animated film “Demon Slayer – Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train”, which broke box office records in Japan, is also becoming a real hit in the United States. As with works created by Studio Ghibli Inc., Japanese animation is highly respected internationally. The big splash that “Demon Slayer” made is probably a reflection of the true strength of Japanese anime.

The story of the anime, which developed alongside that of television after WWII, was described in the Japanese public broadcaster NHK’s morning drama series “Natsuzora”. During the pioneering days of the art form in the pre-war era, there were more than a few forerunners who created unique animation made in Japan, using Western technology as a benchmark.

Noburo Ofuji, of the Ofuji prize in the animation category of the Mainichi Film Awards, is one of these precursors. In the pre-war era, he made animation using cutouts from Edo chiyogami washi paper, and in the post-war period, he was internationally recognized for his works using silhouettes and cels.

“Kuronyago”, an animated short made in 1929, in which a black cat and children dance together, was screened alongside a 78 rpm record. The singer of the song “Kuronyago”, Hideko Hirai, has been hailed as a prodigy. His songs have been used not only in Ofuji’s works, but in various other animated short films, such as “Muramatsuri” (village festival), “Shoshoji no tanuki bayashi” (music from the Japanese raccoon festival of the Shoshoji temple) and “Chameko no ichinichi” (A Day in the Life of Chameko) – featuring a girl from a middle-class family in Tokyo.

Hirai died at the age of 104. She retired from singing in her twenties after her marriage and left the limelight. But a CD of the songs she had broadcast during her career was released in 2014. Hirai’s songs can be heard and the animated films in which her songs were used can be seen on video streaming sites today. ‘hui.

Apparently, animations that harnessed the power of Hirai’s pretty voice – in a time when technology was limited – have die-hard fans even now. Let us express our gratitude for the blessings we can receive in this digital age.

(“Yoroku”, a front page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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