Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: May 2005, 28

Saturday, May 28, 2005

12:23:27 pm , 450 words, 760 views     Categories: Animation

Watari

The question was asked if there are any anime set to a live-action background à la... the obvious examples. The opening sequence of Cleopatra, during which I recall hearing even Eiichi Yamamoto groaning in the audio commentary, and Toshio Hirata's Twilight of the Cockroaches were evoked. My contribution is Dai Ninjutsu Eiga Watari, which as far as I know was the first film to use the blue background system to combine animation with live-action in Japan.

I'd heard about this film long ago when putting together the Yasuji Mori filmography. It's the only live-action film in his filmography, so naturally it got me curious, but there was no way to see it, and there was pretty much no detailed information about it, so I wasn't sure what it was for a long time. It's now out on DVD, and though I haven't seen it yet, I know basically what it is.

The film was released July 21, 1966. There was a big fad for SFX movies at the time, with monster movies of all sorts coming out. At the same time there was a ninja fad among the younger set, partly due to Sanpei Shirato's manga. So the natural thing for Toei to do was to combine the two. Toei subsidiary Toei Doga had already done a job on Shirato's Kaze no Ishimaru in 1964, including renaming it to Kaze no Fujimaru because the sponsor was Fujisawa Yakuhin (the end of the credits has a chorus going "Fujisawaaa, Fujisawaaa, Fujisawaaa Yakuhiiin). Shirato should have learned his lesson, but he let Toei (actually Toei Kyoto) adapt his manga Watari into a film this time. As he should have expected, the result did away with everything brutal, dark and meaningful about his manga, focusing more on creating good entertainment. Supposedly he left the theater furious, and that was the last time he let Toei touch his stuff.

What the film did was to focus on the "ninjutsu" or special ninja technique aspect of his manga, using fast cutting and trick photography, basically all the means available to the studio - including their recent acquisition, Toei Doga. To add extra spice to the film, one fight scene was filmed on a blue screen and a few of the better animators at Toei Doga, namely Yasuji Mori, Sadao Kikuchi and Shoetsu Hane, were called in to provide the animation with which the live action would be combined.

This probably doesn't count, but Shirakawa Daisaku (who's also the one who came up with the disastrous idea of splitting Toei Doga up to work on several movies at once) had the loopy idea of tacking on a live-action "ninja lesson" at the end of each ep of Kaze no Fujimaru.