NIPPONIA No.27 December 15, 2003
Discovering the Origins of Animé in Ancient Japanese Art
Animé have achieved fame worldwide as a uniquely Japanese pop culture.
Some of the origins of this culture can be seen in manga, old woodblock prints called ukiyo-e, and narrative picture scrolls drawn in the 12th century. Like animé, these art forms all tell a story through pictures.
Written by Shimizu Isao, expert in manga and satirical drawings, and professor at Teikyo Heisei University Illustration collaboration: Shigisan Chogosonshi-ji Temple, Archives of Japanese Cartoon History
Manga have entertained the Japanese for centuries. One narrative picture scroll from the 12th century, the first volume of Choju Jinbutsu Giga, depicts animals acting like people. The artist's lines are simple and the imagery is exaggerated, like the artistic expression of today's manga. These ancient manga-like pictures were drawn by hand, but in the Edo period (1603-1867) artists developed woodblock techniques for the mass production of illustrated books and prints. Almost midway through the Edo period, in 1720, a book of woodblock prints was published in Osaka. It was the first manga book published for commercial purposes. The Japanese were the first in Asia to enjoy cartoon-like pictures.
Simple lines and exaggerated expression are essential elements of manga, and adding the impression of movement creates an even more expressive medium. The manga artists of long ago combined these three elements to lay the foundation for today's animated films (animé). These pages show how they depicted movement.
Narrative picture scrolls (emaki-mono)
The picture scroll Shigisan Engi Emaki, dating from the mid-12th century, depicts dynamic movement. In one scene, the Buddhist priest Myoren makes a magic pot fly into the air and carry a rich man's rice storehouse to the top of a mountain. In another scene, bags of rice fly out of the storehouse. Bandainagon Ekotoba (late 1100s) shows the main gate of a famous shrine on fire. The expressions on the faces of a crowd of about 100 people, shocked by the fire or running away, bring the scene to life and makes us feel we are among them. The flow of the pictures, from right to left, adds to the feeling of movement.
Shadow pictures (kage-e)
Starting in the 1750s (mid-Edo period), people told stories using pictures cut from paper. The pictures, depicting people, animals, furniture or whatever, were attached to the ends of the storyteller's fingers, or to thin bamboo sticks, then held up to a light to cast a shadow. The movement added to the fun of looking at the pictures.