#181 : Animal Treasure Island

Oi! There be treasure on that there island me boys and girls. Yah interested in finding it? Yah need a map in order to find it’s whereabouts… are you up for some treasure hunting?  Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island is beloved by many. Adventure, pirates, the high seas and lost valuable treasure await you. Except… we are going to throw in a catch of sorts. Let’s make most of the characters anthropomorphized animals and tell this tale in terms of an animated feature film. Classic anime studio Toei would do this in 1971 with the aptly titled Animal Treasure Island. Ahoy we go!

ATI_1Jim Hawkins sits alone with his baby brother (I assume this is his brother?) in their family’s inn dreaming of adventures in the high seas. With a model ship in hand on a lonely night a visitor would arrive that would change his destiny. The hero has been called to action. From this visitor, Jim would be gifted a treasure map by chance that holds the possibility of a great fortune. Time to hire a ship, yet our young man has only a couple pieces of gold for payment. Never fear because kids are often times more resourceful than many of us who call ourselves adults. Jerry rig a barrel with a few contraptions including an engine, sail and a cannon and you get the ideal way to travel on water. Conquest awaits, but also setbacks, untrustworthy folks, and even new friends to aid oneself on this journey.

ATI_2This is a fun movie, at times very silly and slapstick, but far from perfect. Perhaps I am not the target market as this is a film made primarily for young children, but then again, I love many children/family films and stories. Reason… I am a child disguised as a ‘mature’ adult. Shh!, it’s a secret. No that’s not it, perhaps the film is a little long in the tooth? Now this makes sense. At least for me this movie really drags in the middle and while there is a lot of fun action and comedy, it felt like filler. This is an approximately 80 minute film that could have fit more into a 40–45 minute space. My opinion now, you may see different. It starts really great and then I fell into a little boredom that eventually breaks at the end to a surprise ending… be careful when pulling that chain in the cave and make sure to read all the directions.

ATI_3A little trivia for everyone… ever hear of Hayao Miyazaki? He worked on this film, but not in the executive role that he is most famous for; director as an example. These were his salad days where he was making his way through the animation industry and by the early 1970s being put into middle management type roles; key animator as an example. The designs of Jim and Cathy, the two main characters, have part of the Miyazaki flavor in terms of design and many of the action sequences have the fluidity and at times comedy he is known for. That being said, Miyazaki had some say in the making of this film, but was in many ways, ‘working for the boss’.

ATI_4Toei was known for many decades of the company’s history for the creation of big budget animated films for children and families; Japan’s answer for Disney. (what about Warner Brothers?) Animal Treasure Island fits properly into this tradition along with other titles including: The Wonderful World of Puss n’ Boots, The Little Mermaid, Swan Lake and Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. Animation no matter what, takes us on trips into worlds that can only be understood by the imagination. While not ‘reality’, and also in my opinion a more average experience of a film, Animal Treasure Island is still a vital part of anime’s history and an important stepping stone for many who worked on this project.

1978… Two Words… Leiji Matsumoto

According to research on the web, the year of 1978 had just under 40 entries for new productions of animation in Japan. Minuscule by today (2019) as 40 a week (that may be pushing it, but 40 is a nice number) is more within the climate of the current constant stream of media barrage. 1978 was a simpler era, a quieter era, an era that may have emphasized quality over quantity? That of course is subject to opinion. Media was big business back in the late 1970s, but nothing compared to the BIG business of today. Still many gems survive from this calendar year, but in opinion… 1978 will forever be remembered for the quadruple legacy of one man’s work.

Let’s start with a couple heavy weights… I can’t discount the name of Hayao Miyazaki, how can you? To some of us, he is like a Greek pantheon god, high on the mountain top watching from afar. Yet in 1978 he was still an up and coming name to be reckoned with and good fortune would shine upon him with a television series directorial position. The show, an adaptation of Alexander Key’s Incredible Tide became known as Future Boy Conan. If you ever wanted to watch a Miyazaki movie with all the humor, drama and class that defined his later work all wrapped up into a television series, here is your chance! Beyond Helly Kitty fame, Sanrio at one time also created great animated films. Of the ones I have seen they are all high in quality and artistry, but one of their best was released in 1978. The tragic Ringing Bell is a story about revenge and corruption of one’s feelings and emotions. Though heartbreaking, it also serves as an allegory of understanding one’s deepest desire for resolution over pain and the consequences of taking certain actions.

1978 was also a year of reinvention and second chances. Gatchaman would return to the scene with both a movie adaptation of the original 1972 TV series and a brand new sequel creatively titled Gatchaman II… very original (wink). More shojo tennis excitement abound in Shin Ace o Nerae! (New Aim for the Ace!); put that on my to find list! Lupin III would come out of the shadows years after the original TV series to take the big screen with the The Mystery of Mamo. … Now let’s give focus towards Space Battleship Yamato. 1977 brought the battleship back to life yet again with a film adaptation of the previous TV series and with new found glory and a boost of popularity, a sequel would follow. 1978 brought Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, a moving tragic tale that was supposed to be the climatic end to the sci-fi epic. The fans and even some of the creators felt this was not fair and later in the year a second TV series would debut and retell the film’s story with an alternate ending that was more hopeful.

Now for the name of the hour, the man who in my opinion owned 1978 and is one of my favorite creators of all time, Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto was a key player for the entire Yamato franchise providing both the design aspects and the humanistic emotionalism that made Yamato appealing. Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg for the quartet of projects Matsumoto had his name on in 1978. The new Yamato projects mentioned previously are the first. The second was a TV series that re-envisioned Journey to the West, in SPACE!, known as Sci-Fi West Saga Starzinger. Third is that great TV version of a journey to the stars aboard a classy train where a young boy learns about the hardships and beauty of life accompanied by the best dressed woman in all of anime (Maetel!); Galaxy Express 999, a bonafide classic. And four, need I say more than the original Space Pirate Captain Harlock; the man, the myth, the legend… how I adore this show!

Other television series of interest include: The Adventures of the Little Prince, Treasure Island and The Perrine Story (World Masterpiece Theater, love! and wanna see it!) for historical literary interests; Daimos and Daitarn 3 for your mecha interests and Captain Future, which sounds really fancy, let’s say it again children with some bravado this time, CAPTAINFUTURE! Very nice. And for magical girl interest, there is Majokko Tickle, never heard of that one! And don’t forget there was a movie adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story Thumbelina and a TV special on the life of Anne Frank, Anne Frank Monogatari: Anne no Nikki to Douwa Yori.

In truth, 1978 was much more than just Leiji Matsumoto, but how can I view the totality of 1978 as a whole without him? Without question, this was the height of his creative potentials as well as a boon period of science fiction… Star Wars came out the previous year. Matsumoto’s highly emotional and melodramatic space operas filtered though a lens of classic romanticism and adventure spoke beyond that present moment. He may have had the market share of the times, but he was only one piece in a grand puzzle of great anime. 1978… such a great year!