3 Important Anime Movies From the 1950s

The Perfect Collection of Anime Films for the Anime Hipster

01
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Panda and the Magic Serpent / The Tale of the White Serpent

1950s Anime Film, The Tale of the White Serpent / Panda and the Magic Serpent
The First Color Anime Film, The Tale of the White Serpent. Toei

The Tale of the White Serpent is known for being the first full color anime feature film. It premiered in Japanese theaters on October 22, 1958 and was adapted into English and released in North America as Panda and the Magic Serpent on March 15, 1961, just one month after the North American release of Magic Boy (see below), Japan's second full color anime, which beat it to Western movie screens.

The film is an adaption of the famous Chinese folk tale, Legend of the White Snake. Many other films and TV shows have interpreted this tale differently over the years with one recent example being the 2011 martial arts movie, The Sorcerer and the Snake starring Jet Li.

The idea to use a Chinese tale instead of a Japanese one came from Toei Animation's president, Hiroshi Okawa, who wished to mend ties between Japan and the rest of Asia.

Panda and the Magic Serpent garnered several honors at the 1959 Venice Children's Film Festival in Italy, though unfortunately, it wasn't a financial success outside of its homeland.

Where to Buy Panda and the Magic Serpent / The Tale of the White Serpent

Panda and the Magic Serpent has had two DVD releases in North America; one from Digiview and one from East/West. The Digiview version is often criticized for its poor image quality and missing scenes while the East/West version contains the complete version of the English language release of Panda and the Magic Serpent with slightly better image and sound quality.

Both DVD releases of Panda and the Magic Serpent are fairly hard to come by but can be found second hand from several online retailers such as Amazon.

The original Japanese version, The Tale of the White Serpent, was re-released on DVD in Japan in 2013, and while it is still not the high definition digital remastering of the classic film that fans have been wanting, it does have the best image quality out of all of the releases. The Japanese DVD only contains the Japanese audio version of the film however, and there are no English subtitles.

02
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Kitty's Graffiti / Koneko no Rakugaki

1950's Anime Film, Kitty's Graffiti / Koneko no Rakugaki
Kitty's Graffiti. Toei

Kitty's Graffiti (or Koneko no Rakugaki in Japanese) was Toei Animation's first animation short of substance. It was directed by the studio's first leading animator, Yasuji Mori, and was released in May, 1957. It was heavily inspired by Disney's own black and white animation shorts which used rather surreal artwork and animals to tell a story.

Where to Buy Kitty's Graffiti / Koneko no Rakugaki

Due to its age, niche market, and 13 minute runtime, there has been no official home video release of Kitty's Graffiti in either North America nor Japan. Like many other vintage cartoons though, it can be found on YouTube and other similar video services for those interested in this important animation.

03
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Magic Boy / Sasuke the Ninja Boy

1950's Anime Film, Magic Boy / Sasuke the Ninja Boy
Magic Boy / Sasuke the Ninja Boy. Toei

Magic Boy (or Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke [Sasuke the Ninja Boy] in Japanese) was Toei Animation's second theatrical animated feature film and premiered in Japan on Christmas Day in 1959.

Despite debuting in Japan a year after Panda and the Magic Serpent, Magic Boy was the first anime film to release in North America, beating Panda and the Magic Serpent to movie theaters by one month in 1961.

Like Panda and the Magic Serpent, Magic Boy also attempted to imitate Disney's success by basing an animated film around traditional folklore and incorporating numerous songs and cute animal side characters.

In this case, the Japanese folk tale was the tale of Sasuke Sarutobi, a popular story from the early 1900s about a young ninja boy who had been orphaned in the wilderness and raised by monkeys, not unlike the tale of Tarzan in the West. He was well-known for his monkey-like athletic skills and his name, Sarutobi, literally means "monkey jump".

Like Tarzan, the tale of Sasuke Sarutobi has been portrayed in numerous TV shows, movies, and comics and the name of the character is often given to other ninja characters. This is especially true in the popular Naruto manga (Japanese comic book) and anime (Japanese cartoon) series which not only features a character named Sasuke Sarutobi but also characters with his last name such as Asuma Sarutobi, Hiruzen Sarutobi, and Konohamaru Sarutobi, and a main character, Sasuke Uchiha, who not only shares the same name but also bears a striking resemblance to the portrayal of the character in Magic Boy / Sasuke the Ninja Boy with a similar hairstyle and wardrobe.

Where to Buy Magic Boy / Sasuke the Ninja Boy

The English language version, Magic Boy, was given an official North American DVD release in 2014 by Warner Home Video as part of the company's Archive Collection. The Magic Boy DVD is currently available from Amazon and other stores that sell DVDs.

The original Japanese version, Sasuke the Ninja Boy, was re-released on DVD in Japan in 2002 and, while this version only contains the Japanese audio version with no English subtitles, it does present the film in a full widescreen presentation.