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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Monday, August 9, 2004

04:42:16 pm , 518 words, 7006 views     Categories: Animation, Movie

The Killing Stone

Here's an anime I'm willing to bet money nobody reading this will ever have heard of, much less seen: The Killing Stone (殺生石, Sesshoseki), an 81-minute film produced in 1968. There's not a single mention of it on the internet in English or Japanese. Okay, maybe it's mentioned in one of the English-language anime encyclopedia type books, so all bets are off. In any case, here's a film that never gets talked about, that failed at the box office and was promptly tossed in the dustbin of anime history. You would have to make serious efforts to uncover this one. There are a number of early anime curiosities like this that don't quite fit into the usual anime history narrative. Neither Toei nor Tezuka, they tend to be overlooked. For the most part they probably deserve to be forgotten. But still, one is curious. This one is rather intriguing.

The film was adapted from a novel by Kido Okamoto based on a legend surrounding a sterile patch of land at the foot of Mt. Chausu, an active volcano located in Tochigi Prefecture. Since the Heian period the spot has been known to exude poisonous gas (hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, arsenic) that has killed animals and people who happened to wander near the area. A legend arose at one time that long ago in China a kitsune transformed itself into a beautiful maiden, seduced the emperor and caused numerous misfortunes to befall the kingdom, then found her way to Japan, transformed herself into a beautiful maiden called Tamamo, and seduced the emperor etc., before finally being unmasked and killed. Upon her death she cursed her killers and transformed herself on this spot into a poisonous stone called Sesshoseki.

The film was produced by a studio called Nihon Doga, headed by one Gentaro NAKAJIMA, who also happened to be the president of Fuji Heavy Industries(?!). It was originally proposed to film studio Daiei as a live-action film starring Fujiko YAMAMOTO. Adaptated by two famous live-action screenwriters, Hideo Suzuki and Yasuzo Masumura, the film apparently benefited enormously from the considerable efforts put into the screenplay, which went through no less than seven versions before being finalized. The drawings were hand-traced with extreme care, and the film featured highly stylized visuals inspired by old Japanese emaki picture-scrolls.

The animation director and character designer was Taku SUGIYAMA. Makoto NAGASAWA, one of the more important Toei animators from Hakujaden to Gulliver, was also involved as the animation supervisor. (The credit is unusual, one I've never run across: 作画主任, which means "person in charge of drawings".) Latter-day World Masterpiece Theater character designer Shuichi SEKI was here as one of the animators, probably one of his first credits, as was Norio HIKONE, who was in the Toei films from Magic Boy to Doggie March.

The whole reason I even wrote all this was because I discovered that Masami HATA was one of the animators, a fact that had totally slipped by me until now, and which got me to want to look into this production. It'd be nice to see this one day, though I won't hold my breath.



Fred Patten
Fred Patten [Visitor]

“The Killing Stone” is included in at least two 1980s Japanese-language anime reference books.

“The Art of Japanese Animation II: 70 Years of Theatrical Films", by the staff of “Animage” magazine. Tokuma Shoten, 1989, page 48. This lists the title, “Sessho Seki", followed by a subtitle in parentheses: “Kyubi no Kitsune to Tobimaru". I do not read Japanese; is that “The Flying Nine-Tailed Fox"? About all that I can read of this entry is the running time of 1 hour 21 minutes, which agrees with the 81 minutes that you cite; and the release date of October 19, 1968.

“Keibunsha’s Complete Animation Encyclopedia". This was a thick pocket book for anime fans that was updated annually during most of the 1980s. In the 57 Showa (1982) edition, the entry is on page 338. It is much shorter and lists the film under only the “Kyubi no Kitsune to Tobimaru” title.

08/11/04 @ 02:25
Ben [Visitor]

Indeed, if you’ve seen “The Art of Japanese Animation II: 70 Years of Theatrical Films", then you’ll realize that’s where most of my info on this film came from, since that’s where I got the pic. That’s why I specified “English-language". My wording was a little obtuse there, sorry.

A number of books have come out in Japan recently covering the history of anime. It’d be nice to have a look at those eventually. One of the more famous older ones is “Nihon Animation Eigashi” (the same title as the MOMAT screening series), written by Katsunori Yamaguchi and Yasushi Watanabe, published by Yubunsha in 1977, which apparently still hasn’t been surpassed as a comprehensive text in Japanese (for the period up until 1977, obviously).

One of the new books is “Nihon no Anime Zenshi: Sekai wo Seishita Nihon Anime no Kiseki” (published in May, 223pp), by Yasuo Yamaguchi, who apparently worked side-by-side with Takahata on Wolf Boy Ken and provides a number of behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the period.

A book that came out at the beginning of the year that I’d really like to read is “Nihon no Animeshon wo Kizuita Hitobito", by Seiji Kanou, which is a book mainly devoted to interviews and information about the Toei figures: Yoshifumi Kondo, Yoichi Kotabe, Reiko Okuyama, Yasuo Otsuka, Yasuji Mori, Akira Daikubara. (only Kondo is post-Toei)

08/11/04 @ 08:29