Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wan Wan Chuushingura

Wan Wan Chuushingura (The Doggie March) is a 1963 Toei Douga feature-length cartoon (they weren't called anime in those days). Starting in 1960 with Saiyuuki, Toei put out a feature-length color cartoon every year. These movies were aimed at children and have been characterized sometimes as faux Disney, with G-rated plots, lots of sidekicks and hijinks, and interpolated songs. In the hands of a master, like Takahata Isao, the formula worked brilliantly (1968's Horus no Daibouken); in less inspired hands, it produced mediocre results. Wan Wan Chuushingura is better than most. It is one of just two Toei productions from the 1960s that has not been translated into English. (The other is Andersen Monogatari.) It is best known for two things: first, it's based on a manga by Tezuka Osamu; and second, it was Miyazaki Hayao's first film as an animator (he did in-between animation).

Wan Wan Chuushingura tells the story of Rock, a country pup who lives in a mountain forest. His mother, Shiro, is a fierce defender of the local fauna from the depredations of Killer the tiger and his evil but clever sidekick, Akamimi the fox. (Never mind that tigers live in jungles, not on mountains, and are solitary except when mating.) When Akemimi lures Shiro into a fatal encounter with Killer, Rock vows revenge. However, he is too young and small to achieve much. He sets out for the city to recruit allies and falls in with a rough but lovable gang of street mutts. After many adventures, Rock eventually leads the city dogs into battle against Killer and Akamimi, with predictable results, if not exactly in a predictable way.

In the title, "wan wan" is Japanese onomatopoeta for a dog's bark, as "nyan nyan" is for a cat's meow. "Chuushingura"  (Treasury of Loyal Retainers) refers to a famous Japanese historical episode, the 47 Ronin, which is frequently dramatized in Japanese movies and plays. Except for the dogs seeking revenge against Killer, the anime doesn't draw on any part of the actual incident. (There aren't even 47 dogs.)

The animation in Wan Wan is fluid, and the action sequences are both exciting and good-looking. The movie is mercifully free of the soulful and romantic songs that periodically wrecked the pace of 1960's Saiyuuki. Aside from the opening and ending, the only other song is a lullaby that Shiro sings to Rock, and it's entirely appropriate in the context. On the other hand, there are a couple of "poetic" dream sequences that seem to be padding. Perhaps they were intended to give younger viewers time to calm down before the next thrill ride.

Because Wan Wan was made more than 60 years ago, the voice actors belong to a different era and are little known to modern audiences. Hori Junko, who played young Rock, had an amazing career, starting in the 1960s and appearing as recently as the last decade. The late Kamo Yoshihisa, who did a great comic turn as the clever but craven Akamichi, worked mostly in the 1960s. The fluid and engaging animation was directed by the late Daikuhara Akira, who worked on several Toei Douga features. He received a Lifetime Achievement Prize in 2006. The musical score is functional, but the catchy opening and closing song, The Doggie March, is a total earworm.

Iri translated the show, and M74 timed it. I edited and typeset (not much to do there), Nemesis and bananadoyouwanna did QC, and Skr encoded from a high-definition stream. The video is full of grain, which led to a large encode; of course, it might just be dirt on a non-remastered print rather than true film grain:

Maybe we'll get a real Blu-Ray someday.

So fall in line with the 47 (well, 31 or so) doggies and march, march, march to see this entertaining story. You can get it from the usual torrent sites and from IRC bot Orphan|Arutha in channels #nibl or #news on