Osamu Tezuka (, the “Godfather of Anime”, and the“Master of Manga”, is widely known as the creator of the worldwide favorites Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba the White Lion. Often compared to Walt Disney, Tezuka was also a master at his craft; creating a universe of engaging wide-eyed cartoons. The man also made a fair share of lesser known experimental and avant-garde shorts as well; eschewing the “anime” style in favor of a more traditional or freeform style. Here’s a look at a few of them.
Tales of a Street Corner (1962). A seemingly innocent avenue’s wall are adorned with street posters/advertisements. A broken street lamp stands on the corner. A little girl accidentally drops her teddy bear onto the rain gutter beneath her window. An untamed and adventurous mouse can not seem to sit idly by in the nest his parents are trying to complete, he must scamper for bits of cheese and find out just what that furry bear in the rain gutter is doing there. An equally playful moth just can’t seem to stay away from the broken street lamp. Like something out of a bizzaro world Merrie Melodies, the characters on the posters come alive. An advert for an orchestra springs to life with a lively violin player and a glamorous piano player, playing along to the upbeat and whimsical score. Suddenly, a poster featuring a military (general? dictator? doesn’t matter, it is broad authority at its core) figure ceases the fun and games. Red hues fill the frames and the militarization of the once vibrant street begins. Bombs fall. The street corner descends into chaos and innocence is forever corrupted. A deeply personal piece for Tezuka, this 40 minute short is loud and clear - war is not good for children and other living things. The moving Tales of a Street Corner took home awards from three different film festivals in 1963.
Male (1962). A male cat asks aloud questions about his male owner. Why are you like this? Why are you like that? Eyes peer out of the darkness, underneath the bed where the owner is having loud and primal sex with a woman. The cat’s eyes dart back and forth after a loud scream and while the owner places a call. The lights turn on and the woman is dead; a knife in her back. The cat simply wonders why. Predating the Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation’s wondrous horrid shorts by at least 25 years, Male continues to be shockingly laugh out loud and funny even now in our post-Adult Swim world.
Memory/Mermaid (1964). Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam may have been cribbing some notes during Tezuka’s Memory; the liberal use of collage, lightning-fast edits and the cerebral subject itself definitely supports that notion. It is a 5 minute look at what constitutes a memory, with all its uncertainty and ambiguity. It’s similar to comic book scribe/chaos magick aficionado Grant Morrison’s questions about the past, and whether it ever existed or not. Memory ends with extraterrestrials visiting our earth and guessing our toilets must have been throne like vehicles. I’ve included the like-minded and same year’s Mermaid, a tale about a young man who falls in love with a fish he catches who turns out to be a mermaid, or is it? Those around him seem to only see an ordinary fish, not a beautiful seductive siren. Has he made it up? Was it a dream or has his memory deceived him?
Pictures at an Exhibition (1966). That’s right; Tezuka and famed electronic music pioneer Isao Tomita take on Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s suite of the same name. And it is a half-hour of some of the most thrilling marriage of animation and music this side of Fantasia. If Alejandro Jodorowsky helmed Fantasia I think it may have looked quite a bit like this. Consisting of 10 chapters; this dialogue-free episode takes into the world of random paintings hung up at a museum. Different styles of animation are used for every one. There’s The Journalist hung up on sensationalism, the Cosmetic Surgeon (fittingly crudely animated with crayons) distorting his clients, a TV Starlet using her beauty and fame to her every whim, a Zen Priest who sits motionless in the Lotus Position while chaos reigns behind him - until he yawns, Soldiers displaying the “duality of man” and many other figures of modern culture and commerce. The finale is a breathtaking march to what may be paradise, all of the subjects in the paintings hoping to reach enlightenment, as Jim Morrison says; “Before the whole shithouse goes up in flames”. This short also garnered several awards in 1967.
Jumping (1984). A widely popular POV style short in which what I assume is a young girl literally jumps all the way to hell and back. This 6 minute piece never lets up in it’s one continuous shot. A little girl innocently enough jumps down her street, and jump by jump her stride gets longer and higher until she is leaping over bridges, skyscrapers, airplanes, atomic bombs and into the chutes of hell. Along the way there are blink-and-you-miss-’em nods to Tezuka’s early work and other delightful nods to the sci-fi/fantasy genre. A direct influence on animation heavies Bill Plympton and Matt Groening for sure. And yes, this also grabbed a ton of awards.