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Yoroku: Japanese animation recognized internationally, from paper cats to demon slayers

The anime film "Demon Slayer -- Kimetsu no Yaiba -- The Movie: Mugen Train," which broke box-office records in Japan, is becoming a bona fide hit in the United States as well. As with works created by Studio Ghibli Inc., Japanese animation is highly respected internationally. The big splash that "Demon Slayer" has made is likely a reflection of Japanese anime's true strength.

    Anime's history, which developed alongside that of television in the post-World War II era, was portrayed in Japanese public broadcaster NHK's morning drama serial, "Natsuzora." In the art form's pioneer days in the prewar era, there were more than a few forerunners creating unique Japan-made animation, using Western technology as a reference.

    Noburo Ofuji, of the Ofuji Prize of the Mainichi Film Awards' animation category, is one of those forerunners. In the prewar era, he made animation using Edo chiyogami washi paper cutouts, and in the postwar period, he was recognized internationally for his works using silhouettes and cels.

    "Kuronyago," a short animated film made in 1929, in which a black cat and children dance together, was screened alongside a 78 rpm record. The singer of the song, "Kuronyago," Hideko Hirai, was hailed as a prodigy. Her songs were not only used in Ofuji's works, but in various other short animated films, such as "Muramatsuri" (Village festival), "Shoshoji no tanuki bayashi" (Japanese raccoon festival music of Shoshoji temple), and "Chameko no ichinichi" (A day in the life of Chameko) -- featuring a girl from a middle-class family in Tokyo.

    Hirai passed away at the age of 104. She retired from singing in her 20s after she got married, and left the spotlight. But a CD of the songs she had put out during her career was released in 2014. Hirai's songs can be heard and the animated films in which her songs were used can be seen on video-streaming sites today.

    Apparently, the animations that harnessed the power of Hirai's cute voice -- at a time when technology was limited -- have diehard fans even now. Let us express gratitude for the blessings we are able to receive in this digital age.

    ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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