Japan's oldest anime found

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TOKYO -- Copies of two of Japan’s oldest animated films, thought to have been lost forever, were found in Osaka and have been digitally restored at the National Film Center of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The two films, "Namakura Katana" (The Fine Sword) and "Urashima Taro," will be shown alongside 94 other old and rediscovered movies at a film festival at the center, “Hakutsu sareta Eiga tachi (Unearthed Films) -- 2008,” starting in April.

"Namakura Katana," the story of a samurai duped into a buying a blunt sword, was drawn by Junichi Kouchi and released in June 1917 by the Kobayashi Shokai production company.

"Urashima Taro," a version of a classic Japanese fairy tale about a fisherman rewarded for rescuing a turtle, was illustrated by Seitaro Kitayama, first seen in February 1918 and produced by Nikkatsu.

"The history of Japanese animation begins in 1917 and these illustrators were two of the three original pioneers, so it’s a momentous discovery," said Fumiaki Itakura, a researcher who worked on the restoration project at the Film Center.

The films were discovered in a second-hand shop in July last year by Natsuki Matsumoto, a lecturer at Musashino Art University. The animated Japanese film previously thought to be the oldest in existence was released in August 1918.

"These were silent-era nitrate films so unstable and quite flammable, we spent half a year carefully restoring them using digital technology before we made details of them public. They are in very good condition now and we’re looking forward to showing them at the festival," said Itakura.
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