The Origins of Anime: Watch Free Online 64 Animations That Launched the Japanese Anime Tradition

Japanese animation has a way of seeming perpetually new and daring, but it now goes back at least a century. Having carved out its own aesthetic and intellectual space in world culture, anime (even foreigners who've never watched so much as a minute of it know the Japanese term) continues to generate a distinctive kind of excitement in its viewers. That goes for relatively recent features that have already attained classic status, like the lush, simultaneously realistic and fantastical works of Hayao Miyazaki, the darker, deeper visions like Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell, and the diversity of works in between. But how did those qualities manifest in the very earliest anime? We can now easily see for ourselves, thanks to the selection of 64 Japanese animated film classics made freely available online, as a celebration of the centenary of the form, by Japan's National Film Archive.

"The most exciting of these are the two earliest extant anime The Dull Sword (Namakura Gatana, 1917) and Urashima Tarō (1918)," writes Nishikata Film Review's Cathy Munroe Hotes, "films which were considered lost until copies were miraculously discovered in an antique shop in Osaka in 2008.  As the vast majority of pre-war films have been lost due to natural disaster, war, and general neglect, each of these 64 films is an important glimpse into early anime history and early 20th century Japanese culture."




You can also browse the National Film Archive's online collection of early animation by director. Watching the works of certain especially prolific ones like Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata (whose 1929 The Old Man's Lump Removed, not available in the collection, appears above), you might come away convinced that, even in its first decades, Japanese animation had developed its auteur culture.

The movement (which sometimes barely qualifies as such) and sound (if any) in some of these shorts could hardly impress today, at least on a technical level. Nevertheless, those of us who've felt the excitement of the best of anime will recognize in the presentation of the images themselves — in its dynamism, its humor, its creativity — the special animating spirit, as it were, that first sparked our interest. Whether the sometimes slapdash likes of Speed RacerRobotech, or Kimba the White Lion, which introduced generations of Westerners to anime in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, really marked that much of an improvement on crude production of, say, Murata's My Ski Trip from 1930 remains open to debate, but through them all we can trace the development of the style and sensibility that, to this day, no animation but the Japanese variety has truly mastered.

Enter the National Film Archive anime collection here.

(NOTE: the National Film Archive assures us that the English version of the site "will be available in a month or two," but you can find English-subtitled films there even now.)

via coudal.com

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Human Chess Match Gets Played in Leningrad, 1924

Let's time travel back to Leningrad (aka St. Petersburg) in 1924. That's when an unconventional chess match was played by Peter Romanovsky and Ilya Rabinovich, two chess masters of the day.

Apparently, they called in their moves over the telephone. And then real-life chess pieces--in the form of human beings and horses--were moved across a huge chessboard covering Palace Square. Members of the Soviet Union's Red Army served as the black pieces; members of the Soviet navy were the white pieces. They're all on display above, or shown in a larger format here.

According to this online forum for chess enthusiasts, the 5-hour match "was an annual event, designed to promote chess in the USSR." The first such match was held in Smolensk in 1921. We're not sure who won the St. Petersburg contest.

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via Reality Carnival

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The Philosophy, Storytelling & Visual Creativity of Ghost in the Shell, the Acclaimed Anime Film, Explained in Video Essays

"Ghost in the Shell is not in any sense an animated film for children," wrote Roger Ebert twenty years ago. "Filled with sex, violence and nudity (although all rather stylized), it's another example of anime, animation from Japan aimed at adults." Now, when no critic any longer needs to explain the term anime to Western readers, we look back on Ghost in the Shell (1995) as one of the true masterpieces among Japanese animated feature films, mature not just in its content but in its form. Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, takes a look at how it expresses its philosophical themes through its still-striking cyberpunk setting in his video essay "Identity in Space."

Puschak first highlights the presence (in the middle of this "sci-fi action thriller" about the hunt for a wanted hacker turned self-aware artificial intelligence) of an action-free interlude: a "three minute and twenty-ish second-long scene" consisting of nothing but "34 gorgeous, exquisitely detailed atmospheric shots of a future city in Japan that's modeled after Hong Kong."




Its plot-suspending visual exploration of the film's Blade Runner-esque urban space of "a chaotic multicultural future city dominated by the intersections of old and new structures, connected by roads, canals, and technology," emphasizes that "spaces, like identities, are constructed. Though space often feels neutral or given, like we could move anywhere within it, our movements, our activities, our life, is always limited by the way space is produced."

Just as all of Ghost in the Shell's characters exist in space, the main ones also exist in cybernetic bodies, regarding their identities as stored in their effectively transplantable brains all connected over a vast information network. The half-hour-long analysis from AnimeEveryday just above gets into the philosophical dilemma this presents to the film's protagonist, the cyborg police officer Motoko Kusanagi, examining in depth several of the scenes that — through dialogue, imagery, symbolism, or subtle combinations of the three that viewers might not catch the first time around — illuminate the story's central questions about the nature of man, the nature of machine, and the nature of what emerges when the two intersect.

Film Herald's briefer explanation of Ghost in the Shell (which contains potentially NSFW images) points to three main themes: identity, Cartesian dualism, and evolution, all concepts that come into question — or at least demand a thorough revision — when the boundary between the natural and the synthetic blurs to the film's imagined extent. "My intuition told me that this story about a futuristic world carried an immediate message for our present world," said director Mamoru Oshii, and now, more than two decades later, Hollywood has even got around to remaking it in a live-action version starring Scarlett Johansson in the Kusanagi role. That does provides a chance to update some of the now-dated-looking technology seen in the animated original, but there's no improving on its artistry.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Discover Ray Bradbury & Kurt Vonnegut’s 1990s TV Shows: The Ray Bradbury Theater and Welcome to the Monkey House

There has always been good television. Even Kurt Vonnegut, wittiest of curmudgeons, had to agree in 1991 when he was interviewed in The Cable Guide for his own contribution to the medium, an adaptation of his book of stories, Welcome to the Monkey House on Showtime. Vonnegut did not like television, and compared it to thalidomide. “We don’t know what the side effects are until it’s too late.” He could only go up from there, and did, praising, Cheers, M*A*S*H, and Hill Street Blues, and then saying, “I’d rather have written Cheers than anything I’ve written.”

I never know exactly when to take Vonnegut seriously. He also calls TV everybody’s “rotten teacher” and says “I’m sorry television exists,” but he had long been a TV writer in its “so-called golden days,” as John Goudas put it in a Los Angeles Times interview with Vonnegut in 1993, when his seven-episode run of Kurt Vonnegut’s Monkey House, hosted by himself, would soon come to a close. Vonnegut found himself very pleased by the results, remarking of his stories that “TV can do them very well,” and especially praising “More Stately Mansions,” above, starring an irrepressible Madeline Kahn, whom he called “a superb actress.”

Another very direct, witty speculative writer in the same year’s issue of The Cable Guide, Ray Bradbury, appeared with Vonnegut as part of two “dueling, short features," notes Nick Greene at Mental Floss,
"under the auspices of promoting the authors’ upcoming cable specials,” Monkey House and The Ray Bradbury Theater. Bradbury was also an old media hand, having written for radio in the 50s, and seeing adaptations of his stories made since that decade, including one on Alfred Hitchcock’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Like Hitchcock, when it came time for his own show, The Ray Bradbury Theater in 1985, Bradbury introduced the episodes and became a public face for thousands of viewers.

He also wrote each episode, all 65 of them, from 1985-86 on HBO and 1988-92 on USA. In his Cable Guide interview, Bradbury calls television, “mostly trash,” then adds, “I’m full of trash… I’ve watched thousands of hours of TV. I’ve seen every movie ever made… everything’s the same.” What did he like to watch? Nova, unsurprisingly, and CNN, which he called “the most revolutionary thing in years.” In his interview (which you can read in a high resolution scan at Mental Floss), Bradbury credits television for “a lot of what happened in Europe”—referring to the fall of Communism, as well as Tiananmen Square, and the Gulf War. “Finally, the message got through,” he says, “and people revolted… CNN,” he concluded, “is very powerful television.” If he could see us now. See Bradbury’s very first episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater, “Marionettes” from 1985, just above. And purchase the complete TV series online.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

School of Visual Arts Presents 99 Hours of Free Photography Lectures

FYI: Last week, photographer Dan Culberson flagged on Reddit a trove of free photography lectures available on School of Visual Arts' rich YouTube channel. Elaborating, the photography blog Petapixel writes:

Tons of hour-long lectures can be found on the channel’s Images, Ideas, Inspiration playlist, most of them photography related and all of them fascinating.

You’ll find something for everyone on this channel—from a lecture by gallery rep Margit Erb talking about her close personal and professional relationship with the great Saul Leiter, to a talk by Dancers Among Us photographer Jordan Matter, to Jack Hollingsworth’s fascinating talk titled “Small Camera Big Results.”

There are a total of 99 videos in that playlist alone—approximately 99 hours of education, inspiration, and ideas.

Above you can watch Jack Hollingsworth's lecture, "Small Camera Big Results." He has "traveled to over 20 countries and shot over 400,000 images with his iPhone," and here he discusses his iPhone photography technique, and all the apps he uses. Find more lectures on this Images, Ideas, Inspiration playlist. Also find courses on digital photography in our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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via Petapixel

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Stephen Hawking Auditions Celebrities to Provide His New Voice: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Liam Neeson, Anna Kendrick & Michael Caine

Stephen Hawking's computer-synthesized voice is distinctive. You know it when you hear it. But, after so many years, it's time for a change. That's the premise of this short comic bit, created for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. Above, watch A-list celebrities--everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Liam Neeson, to Anna Kendrick and Bill Gates--audition to become the new voice of Prof. Hawking. You can see how it plays out.

Red Nose Day (just held on March 24th this year) is a fundraiser to help struggling people in countries around the world. You can donate to the cause here.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Great Filmmakers Offer Advice to Young Directors: Tarantino, Herzog, Coppola, Scorsese, Anderson, Fellini & More

One-to-one relationships do not exist between the medieval European Guild system and contemporary labor unions or protectionist rackets…. Nevertheless, guilds were very much like both those things in some ways. They were also vocational schools, where young aspiring artisans could, with the right skills and connections, apprentice themselves to master craftsmen, hope to receive decent training, and look forward to becoming guild masters themselves should they persist.

Few organizations like that exist today. But there is perhaps one industry in which—with the right connections, skill, and persistence---a lucky and talented few rise through the ranks to mastery: the film industry, where a video store clerk, Quentin Tarantino, can achieve lasting fame and fortune, as can former part-time projectionist, Wes Anderson. Many directors who came of age in the sixties and seventies went the traditional route of film school, but one, Werner Herzog, took a bandit’s way into the craft, stealing a camera from the Munich Film School, feeling that he “had some sort of natural right for a camera, a tool to work with.”




Herzog has created his own guild system, of a sort, with the Rogue Film School, a rough, informal course, among other things, in “guerrilla filmmaking.” Stealing cameras is not ruled out. But you’ll have to learn the technical stuff on your own. What matters, most, Herzog says, is that filmmakers "read, read, read, read, read." These are directors who have borrowed from other directors and films, and also from books, music, painting, etc., driven by an obsessive and persistent desire to learn. And you’ll find them all in the supercut above, in which Tarantino, Anderson, Herzog, and other “master filmmakers” like Scorsese, Coppola, Fellini, Welles, and more offer short, yet profound pieces of advice to aspirants.

We begin with Tarantino, who argues that passion is all you need to make a great film. “You don’t need to go to school” or know any of the technical stuff, but you do need to apprentice yourself, with pure devotion and tenacity, to cinema. You won’t hear this from many of the others, but Terry Gilliam also recommends a secondary trade, maybe as a plumber, another profession that involves apprentices and journeymen working their way up. It’s certainly a trade that involves great skill, but to hear these directorial guild masters tell it, no other profession asks for as much drive and passion as the movies, and apparently you don’t even need to know what you’re doing at first. See the complete list of interviewees below.

QUENTIN TARANTINO: 00:00
JERRY LEWIS: 00:40
TERRY GILLIAM: 01:15
JOHN CARPENTER: 01:40
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: 02:30
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: 03:54
FEDERICO FELLINI: 04:52
WERNER HERZOG: 05:56
WES ANDERSON: 07:22
SIDNEY LUMET: 07:50
JOHN LANDIS: 08:58
MARTIN SCORSESE: 10:15
GUILLERMO DEL TORO 11:38
ORSON WELLES 14:55

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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