29 December 2013

Kitty's Graffiti (こねこのらくがき, 1957)




This delightful early anime is the first animated short by Toei Dōga (now known as Toei Animation)  Most of the animators who worked on the film – Taiji Yabushita, Yasuji Mori, Akira Daikubara, et al. – had previously worked at the animation studio Nichidō (Nihon Dōga-sha/日本動画株式会社, 1948-56) which was acquired by Toei in 1956.  Although Yabushita, the co-founder of Nichidō, is the director of Kitty's Graffiti (こねこのらくがき/Koneko no Rakugaki, 1957), the character design and general look of the 13-minute animation often gets attributed to Yasuji Mori. 

Shot on black-and-white film stock, and the film has no dialogue – much in the style of a Tom and Jerry cartoon – and like Tom and Jerry, there is a cat chasing mouse gag, but it is executed in an entirely different manner.  A kitten is busy scribbling pictures on a bare external wall of a house.  His line drawings are images typically drawn by a child: a horse in the sun, fish and a crab blowing bubbles, a cat mother and kitten, a streetcar, traffic, a horse and carriage, and a train on a long railway track with a tunnel at the end.  At the sound of a whistle blowing, the drawing of a train comes to life and starts to rumble down the track.  The kitty stops the train then notices a terrible traffic jam of cars pushing and shoving each other on the portion of wall where he had randomly drawn an assortment of vehicles.  He quickly draws in a traffic police bear to direct the cars more safely.



Pleased with his results, the cat smiles as he observes the scene then turns upon hearing a smattering of applause behind him.  There he discovers a pair of mice who are equally pleased with the kitty’s drawings.  One of the mice is tall and slender and dressed slacks, the other is small and round dressed only in a long-sleeved shirt.  The shorter of the two mice stands on a tin of fish to get a better view.  For his audience, Kitty draws a parade of mouse figures on the wall.   The mice celebrate by jumping up and down causing the little one to lose his balance and clatter into hiding with the tin attached to his tale.  A large bear, presumably the owner of the house, peers around the corner and admonishes kitty for defacing the wall.  He is given a bucket and cloth to clean up the mess, but he gets distracted by the laughing mice who take Kitty’s pencil and board the train and take off with it.  Kitty chases after them and jumps aboard and they enter the tunnel and are transported into a wonderfully imaginative cat chasing mice sequence through a land of child-like drawings.  The chase continues with many delightful slapstick moments until the mice turn the tables around and start chasing the cat instead.  It is all just a bit of fun and ends with the cat doing what is right and cleaning up after himself.  .  .  leaving only the drawing of the police bear as a reminder of the day’s events.



This type of cartoon that enters the imaginative world of children, and actively encourages children to think creatively beyond the realms of the “real” is my favourite.  It transported me back the one of the cartoons of my childhood such as Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings (Ivor Wood, ITV, 1976), which aired on TVO when I was as kid.  I much prefer these kinds of absurdist jaunts through the realms of the imaginary to didactic / moralistic tales for children.  They seek not only to entertain children, but encourage them to pick up their pencils and entertain themselves after the film has concluded. The enjoyment of the film is elevated by Senji Itō’s playful score.  Itō is best known in film studies for his dramatic scores for the films of Yasujirō Ozu (The Only Son, The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family, Late Spring, A Hen in the Wind, Early Summer) and Hiroshi Shimizu (The Masseurs and a Woman, Four Seasons of Children, Children of the Beehive, Notes of an Itinerant Performer, A Star Athlete, etc.).  Here his music drives the tempo of the animation (lilting, marching) with interruptions timed to heighten the comedic moments.  The score is so expressive that one hardly notices the lack of actual dialogue.


The central characters in Kitty's Graffiti (the cat, the bear homeowner, the mice duo) are beautifully realized, with round, expressive faces – much like the animal characters of Disney’s Bambi.  The kitty has some design similarities to the kittens of Kenzō Masaoka’s Tora-chan films – on which Mori also worked.  However, that being said, these are only minor similarities and the kitty is certainly recognizable as a distinct character with its own cheeky personality.   This film gives us a glimpse of what wonderful cartoon shorts Taiji Yabushita, Yasuji Mori, Akira Daikuhara and co. could have made if they had had a Disney budget.  Kitty's Graffiti is a film treasure that serves as a testament to the great skill in particular of Yasuji Mori, who is remembered as a mentor to many animators who learned their craft in the 60s and 70s, from Hayao Miyazaki to Gisaburo Sugii.   Mori is revered by those he mentored not only for his skills as an animator but for his incomparable character design.  Books of his art can be ordered from Anido.

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2013

Director:
Taiji Yabushita 藪下泰司
Producers:
Kōichi Akagawa  赤川孝一, Zenjirō Yamashita  山本善次郎
Writer:
Akio Kinoshita  木下秋夫
Original Music:
Senji Itō  伊藤宣二
Cinematography:
Mitsuaki Ishikawa  石川光明

Animation:
Yasuji Mori  森やすじ
Akira Daikuhara  大工原章
Shōji Ichino  市野正二
Sumiko Naganuma  長沼寿美子
Takashi Uchiyama  内山孝
Chikao Katsui  寺千賀雄
Makoto Nakashima  田島実
Kiyoshi Nakajima 中島清
Mitsuko Shindō  進藤みつ子
Junji Yamada山田順治
and others

Production Company:

Toei Kyōiku Eiga-bu  東映教育映画部

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