Benkei tai Ushiwaka is a short animated Japanese film made in 1939 by Kenzō Masaoka. It is based on the legendary encounter between Saitō Musashibō Benkei, who was collecting swords for the Buddha, and Minamoto no Yoshitsune, who was called Ushiwaka in his youth.
It's taken as gospel here on MAL that Ashita no Joe or "Tomorrow's Joe" was the first good anime ever made. I've decided to be even more of a hipster and go even farther back. This is Benkei and Ushiwaka from 1939! While Osamu Tezuka is rightfully remembered as the father of manga, there is far less appreciation for Kenzo Masaoka. Back in the 1930s, Masaoka was inspired by the work of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer to create cartoons depicting traditional Japanese folklore. Masaoka not only introduced sound to anime for the first time, but also introduced the concept of cel animation. Masaoka's apprentice
was Mitsuyo Seo, who created the first full length anime film: Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors. It was this film that inspired young Osamu Tezuka to learn art and start telling stories of his own!
The plot of the film is simple, since this is only around 10 minutes. It starts with the famous 12th century samurai, Minamoto no Yoshitsune, training under the tengu at the foot of Mt. Kurama. Minamoto then fights an epic duel against the warrior monk Benkei. This is the first action anime ever made and it looks pretty good for 1939! It's actually better than Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors from 1945, but this had the advantage of being shorter and not being made in the death throes of WW2.
In this film, we can see Masaoka is still being heavily influenced by American animation. It isn't really until his 1946 anime Sakura that Masaoka becomes confortable with his own style. The animation is relatively smooth for a 1939 cartoon. It's not Snow White, but this was made on a budget.
It can easily be argued that without Masaoka there would be no Seo. Without Seo there wouldn't be Tezuka and without Tezuka, anime as we know it wouldn't exist. Masaoka is the grandfather of all anime and this is one of his better early works that still exists. Sadly, many of his early works were lost due to the bombing campaigns of WW2. If you're interested in early anime history, this short film is essential!
This is something that I think everyone should watch. It not only gives you a good representation of who we can thank for where we are today, but also how far we've come. With that said, here is a bit of a review.
Story: 6 Without spoiling it, it's another historical animation, with a bit of good action and a story that you will at least find a bit interesting.
Art: 7 It might seem weird giving this a 7, but for 1939, you've got to consider the limitations, and how what you are watching isn't so much about the shine or the sparkles, but
about making something fun and interesting within the limitations allotted.
Sound: 6 There was some skipping, but so what, have you seen some of the Anime today? There are some messed up voice acting in those as well, and what is their excuse?
Character: 7 A rather likable "hero-ish" character that was someone you could understand more if you'd watched it back then and from the country where the source material was made. Otherwise, he is a character that you can at least root for.
Enjoyment: 5 Although it is fun to see how far we've come, it isn't going to blow you away. It felt like a history lesson, fun for those who love history and wish to learn more about how we got here, but also a bit dull after realizing how far we can still go haha.
Overall: 6 Again, worth the watch, if anything to be more grateful for the anime we have today. But if you go in expecting to learn something and still have a decent story, you won't be disappointed!