Spring Comes to Ponsuke (1934, Ikuo Oishi). Photo: Planet Film Archive via National Film Center, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Spring Comes to Ponsuke (1934, Ikuo Oishi). Photo: Planet Film Archive via National Film Center, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

For fans of Japanese anime, it is a dream come true. To help commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese anime, the country’s National Film Center (NFC) has launched the website “Japanese Animated Film Classics” via which 64 animated films and approximately 140 assorted other material are open to the public.

The English version came online just last week.

The films were made between 1917 to 1941, and include the longest, digitally restored version of The Dull Sword, the oldest anime film in existence.

The NFC’s collection unveils a wide variety of animation created during this period, from musicals, to jidai-geki (Japanese period pieces), sports films, moral tales, war propaganda to anime based on both Japanese and Western legends and fables.

As with any other kind of filmmaking, the thematic concerns and technical styles of individual directors are showcased in the collection.

A still from The Dull Sword, the longest, digitally restored version of the 1917 work by Junichi Kouchi. Photo: Natsuki Matsumoto via National Film Center, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.

Noburo Ofuji, whose 11 animated productions are streamed on the website, was particularly interested in the cutout technique in which characters and backgrounds were physically cut out from paper.

Then there’s the highly entertaining Spring Comes to Ponsuke, directed by Ikuo Oishi who was known as the “Japanese Disney.”

Shigeji Ogino stepped into radically experimental territory with films that are either extremely abstract or philosophical – and there are seven examples of his work online.

The project was realized as part of the NFC’s “National Research Project for the Sustainability of Born-Digital Cinema” (BDC Project), in collaboration with Japan’s National Institute of Informatics.

Kazuki Miura, a researcher at the NFC, explains how the project was started: “We initiated a project to digitalize moving pictures and release them online in 2014. Since we considered films whose copyright has already expired, inevitably possible candidates were mostly films made before or during the war.

“The NFC owns various films from this period, from narrative film to newsreel, but it was discovered that January 2017 was the 100th anniversary of animated film. Therefore, we regarded this anniversary as a goal to launch the site and programmed only animations.”

Some of the film-related material in the NFC’s collection, such as posters and still images, have already been publicly available online at the NFC Digital Gallery, but “Japanese Animated Film Classics” is the first video streaming service to be provided by the NFC.

“As a way to provide the same experience when films were released, the NFC currently screens its own collections mainly in theaters, but it is only advantageous for a limited number of people due to geographical restrictions,” says Miura.

“We regard this online streaming service as a beneficial device, so that many people can know and utilize what the NFC is doing. We have also released [the films] with English subtitles without any restriction so that people overseas can also enjoy them.”

Just how long the service will be made available to the world is still under discussion, says Miura. “There should be a kind of end to the website as the concept was to commemorate the anniversary,” says Miura.

“On the other hand, there have already been many requests in our [online] questionnaire that we continue. Taking these voices into account, we will now discuss our future plans for the site.”