April 12th is a very important date in history for us to celebrate.
No, it’s not because it’s the date of the first US colonists arriving on the Pacific coast of the US.
No, it’s not because it’s the date that Cuenca was founded in Ecuador.
April 12th is a very important date for us to remember because it was on this day in 1945 that the first feature length Japanese animated film was released to theaters.
Written and directed by Mitsuyo Seo, the movie in question was named Momotaro: Umi no Shinpei. Created as a propaganda film for World War II, the 74 minute movie tells the story of a group of animals who complete naval training and go off to support their country in their war efforts. After a time skip, Japanese forces are shown creating an air base on a Pacific island. After it is completed, a plane lands and the General Momotaro emerges along with the same animals we first met at the beginning of the film who are now high ranking officials.
In the latter part of the film, a British fort on the island of Celebes is invaded and taken over by the Japanese. England forfeits Celebes and the islands surrounding it in exchange for freedom. In the end, children are shown pretending to parachute on an outline of the United States on the ground.
After the war was concluded, Seo tried to continue his career as an animator and even created another movie titled Ousama no Shippo in 1949 which was a pro-democracy piece. Sadly the planned distributor found the movie to be too politically leftist and refused to distribute it. Seo then left the industry for good and became an illustrator for children’s books. As for Umi no Shinpei, it was believed that all copies of the film were destroyed by occupying American forces. However in 1983, a negative copy of the film was found in a warehouse in Ofuna and was re-released on home video in 1984.
It’s kind of amazing to think about how far anime has come in just 70 years (Tweet This). Once used as war propaganda and seen by only a few people in a single country, it’s now a cultural export that is seen by people of all ages in countries around the world for both entertainment and commercial purposes. So if you get a chance, raise a glass to Mitsuyo Seo on the 12th and say thanks for getting the ball rolling for the rest of us.