Hakuja Den (Kazuhiko Okabe and Taiji Yabushita, 1958)
[note: review originally published 23Feb2011]
Super-cute fifties anime (did the term “anime” even exist back in ’58? I don’t actually know the answer to that question), released in English-speaking countries as Panda and the Magic Serpent and based on a Chinese legend. Other reviewers have (quite reasonably) commented that Toei were definitely influenced by early Disney when creating this film, but I have seen far less speculation that Ghibli were influenced by this, which seems quite evident; there were at least five or six sequences in here where I thought to myself, “Miyazaki had this in mind when crafting a scene in Kiki’s Delivery Service!” or “look at that scene design, if Takahata didn’t grab that I’ll be a panda’s uncle” or the like. [ed. update: Ghibli’s own blog would seem to validate this speculation.]
I can only give you the barest overview of the plot: a seductive demon woos a musician, falls in love with him, and when her ministrations lead to his eventual demise, she is faced with a choice: give up her status as an immortal in order to bring him back, or remain as she is? There’s a great deal more to it than that, and I’m sure that being familiar with the legend upon which the film is based would have given me a lot more to go on, but as someone who was coming into it cold, I can tell you that not quite grasping all the nuances of how you get from point A to point B (for example, why did the thief-animals
suddenly switch sides and decide to ally with Panda? I still don’t get that) will not stop you from enjoying the heck out of this flick. Find the subtitled version; I have no idea whether the English-language version changed anything but the voices, but you don’t want to miss Chuji Kinoshita’s exquisite music, which is germane to the story (again, main character is a musician). It’s a great deal of fun, and if you’re a fan of classic Disney films, but never quite got into modern anime, you owe it to yourself to check this out to see how we got from point A to point B (and hopefully gain an appreciation for the amazing works of art being turned out by Ghibli). *** 1/2
Now THIS is what I call a long-form trailer–over five minutes! It’s actually a “making-of” featurette, but the idea of DVD extras didn’t exist in 1958.