Being cinema-obsessed can be a bit of a double edged sword sometimes. Watching as many films as we cinephiles tend to can have this (perhaps obvious) tendency to kinda burn you out. It really becomes a little unfair to the movies at some point as I'd probably be more lenient on them were I watching fewer in a given year. Sadly, that is not to be and many films fly by without striking much in the way or remarkable interest in me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater by any means. I actually pride myself on being as much of a true "movie lover" as I can be. I try to remain positive and generally exercise the practice of "if you have got anything nice to say....". What is conversely pretty fantastic is when a film, despite all that stuff, breaks through and distinguishes itself as something unique and meorable. As my readers are probably aware, I keep an ongoing list of "Film Discoveries" throughout each year which I then publish as part of my favorite series here at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. With my discoveries project in mind, I am always on the lookout for those movies that I really want to celebrate and put on the list. So when I come across something that begins strong and maintains it's robust cinematic greatness all the way through, it really makes me want to stand up and cheer by the end. When I find a movie like that, I find myself sort of subconsciously chanting "don't mess it up! don't mess it up!" in the back of my mind. Anyway, this is all a long winded way of saying that I really liked this movie quite a bit.
From Warner Archive's site:
"Magically gifted boy Sasuke lives in peace, deep in the forest with his animal pals and Oyu, his elder sister. After their forest sanctuary is violated by a demon witch who devours one of Sasuke’s animal companions, Sasuke vows vengeance. Leaving the forest, he sets out to master his magical gifts, making a pilgrimage to the home of the wizard Hakuunsai. While Sasuke learns the ways of magic, Yakusha, the demon witch, terrorizes the countryside, and Sasuke works to complete his training in time. Magic Boy, aka Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke, is a classic piece of anime history - the first full- length animated feature produced in japan to reach the shores of the United States. With much of the original storyline left untouched and centering on pop culture staple hero Sarutobi Sasuke (think of Bomba the jungle Boy crossed with a ninja), Magic Boy is an enchanting precursor to decades of imported Japanese ani-magic."
As indicated above, MAGIC BOY is one of the earliest examples of anime. I heard the good gentlemen of the Warner Archive Podcast say this when they were discussing it and I must admit that it conjured a certain impression in my head. I basically started imagining the movie as a rudimentary SPEED RACER or something along those lines. It isn't that though. The animation is much more fluid and dream-like. It is an intriguing mixture of techniques which all feel very organic, even when the animation is mixed with what look like real photographic plates. The story though is the the thing that hooked me. Boiled down it seems very simple, but as I watched it play out it felt very special to me. Special in a way that it felt not informed by American popular culture, but was coming from a fantastic place of another time and place and the myth's and legends born out of that. There is a lot of darkness in the movie. There is character death and some scary, trippy imagery. I showed it to my 5-year old and she was as mesmerized as I was. She has a tendency to lean towards darker material though so it may not be quite suitable for all 5-year olds. It was such a pleasurable viewing experience all told as we were both transported by the story and the style of its telling. As I mentioned, it's ultimately a very simple tale, but something about it was just a little off from center (in the best possible way). The witch was quite a villain to behold. She was either made of bats or always had them buzzing about her like tsetse flies. There was even a sequence with her that briefly reminded me of the pink elephants in DUMBO. By comparison, Disney released one of its more bland (albeit gorgeous) animated features in 1959 - SLEEPING BEAUTY. MAGIC BOY seemed to harken back to the earlier Disney films like DUMBO and SNOW WHITE, but filtered through a foreign lens of surrealism and gothic fantasy. Who's to say if those movies were even an influence on MAGIC BOY, as it pretty much exists in a universe all its own. I kept thinking it seemed like the kind of film a young Tim Burton would have been fascinated by and obsessed with. This one is definitely one of my favorite Warner Archive releases of 2014 so far. Well worth discovering for yourself.