Osamu Tezuka’s relationship with animation was a complex one.
At one end of the spectrum, he is, at least in regards to his career in anime, arguably most famous his work on his many animated television programs. On the other, Tezuka was equally enchanted with the idea of pushing the artistic boundaries of animation through his experimental animation short films. However between those two ends of the spectrum, sit Tezuka’s animated feature films.
For Osamu Tezuka the “holy grail” of animation was always to be able to produce full-length animated films for theatrical release. Animation on the BIG screen, like the animation crafted by his idol, Walt Disney… THAT was always his dream.
Of course as a pragmatic, Tezuka knew that his fledgling Mushi Productions and its shoestring budget would not be able to create that sort of animation right out of the gate. The capital investment required to produce theatre-quality, feature length animation was (and still is) huge, and frankly far beyond his means. So, at first, Tezuka had to content himself with only the most limited of limited animation production – a mere 10 frames per second instead of the standard 24-29. Yet bit by bit, by keeping his eye on the prize and building off one success at a time, he was eventually able to scale those lofty heights… albeit rather briefly.
At first his forays into the world of animated films were largely at the discretion of others – such as his role as a story consultant for Toei Animation during their adaptation of his manga series, Son-Goku the Monkey (1952-59) into the animated feature film known in English as Alakazam the Great (1960). Yet, despite his limited direct involvement, his experience at Toei would prove invaluable when he had the opportunity to open his own animation studio.
Once that studio, Mushi Productions, had generated enough content for his animated television programs, he was able to repackage some of it for theatrical release. As such, his first real animated film, Astro Boy: The Hero of Space (1964), is essentially three episodes of the original Black & White Astro Boy (1963-66) series stitched together and produced partially in colour.
However, by the late 1960’s, Tezuka was ready to tackle a true animated feature film aimed at an adult audience – an “animerama” (a term Tezuka coined as an abreviation of “animated drama”), which explored the possibilities of animation technology and cinematography. In early 1969 Tezuka put all the forces of both Mushi and Tezuka Productions to bear on the production of A Thousand and One Nights (1969), which hit theatres in June 1969 – incidentally premiering on the same day Tezuka’s second daughter, Chiiko, was born. The moderate success of A Thousand and One Nights (1969) led Mushi Productions to work on another, even more sexually charged, adult film and Cleopatra (1970) was released in September 1970. However, without the novelty factor inherent in A Thousand and One Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1970) was largely given a pass by audiences of the time.
The financial failure of Cleopatra (1970) proved to simply be a “bridge too far” for Mushi Productions – a studio already stretched to the limit by its production of television animation on the thinnest of margins. The lethal combination lead to the professional bankruptcy of Mushi Productions and his own personal financial ruin.
To his credit though, Tezuka remained undeterred by his failure and began the slow climb once again. He followed largely the same path, first biding his time while working on projects for other studios and then repackaging his own television content, Tezuka was once again able to create memorable animated feature films, suc
following largely the same pattern, eventually rose to point where he was able to produce moderately successful animated feature films, such as Phoenix 2772: Space Firebird (1989) and a pair of much-loved Unico films.
|Alkazam the Great||1960/08/14||Toei Theatres||Colour/Toei Scope||88 min.||Toei Animation|
|Arabian Nights: The Adventures of Sinbad||1962/07/21||Toei Theatres||Colour/Toei Scope||81 min.||Toei Animation|
|Doggie March||1963/12/21||Toei Theatres||Colour/Toei Scope||81 min.||Toei Animation|
|Astro Boy: The Hero of Space||1964/07/26||Nikkatsu Theatres||Part Colour||87 min.||Mushi Productions|
|Jungle Emperor – The Movie||1966/07/31||Toho Theatres||Colour||75 min.||Mushi Productions|
|A Thousand and One Nights||1969/06/14||Nippon Herald Films||Colour||111 min.||Mushi Productions|
|The Gentle Lion||1970/03/21||Toho Theatres||Colour||24 min. 41 sec.||Mushi Productions|
|Cleopatra||1970/09/15||Nippon Herald Films||Colour||112 min.||Mushi Productions|
|World’s Famous Stories for Children: Thumbelina||1978/03/18||Toei Theatres||Colour||64 min.||Toei Animation|
||1978/08/19||Toho Theatres||Colour||138 min.||Toho/Hinotori Pro|
|Triton of the Sea – The Movie||1979/07/14||Toho Theatres||Colour||74 min.||Office Academy|
|Phoenix 2772: Space Firebird||1980/03/15||Toho Foreign Films Theatres||Colour||122 min.||Toho/Tezuka Prodcutions|
|The Fantastic Adventures of Unico-1||1981/03/14||Sanrio Films||Colour Vista||90 min.||Sanrio|
|The Fantastic Adventures of Unico-2: To The Magic Island||1983/07/16||Sanrio Films||Colour Vista||91 min.||Sanrio|
|Phoenix: Hō-ō (Karma)||1986/12/20||Toho Foreign Films Theatres||Colour Vista||60 min.||Kadokawa Haruki Office/Tohoku Shinsa|
|The Film is Alive||1990/07/20||Osamu Tezuka Exhibit||Colour||42 min.||Tezuka Productions|
|Adachi ga Hara||1991/11/16||Theatre Ikebukuro||Colour||25 min.||Tezuka Productions|