As a young boy, Xu-Xian is forced to free his pet, a small snake. Unbeknownst to him, the snake is actually a young snake goddess named Bai-Niang and she is in love with him. Many years later, when they are both adults, the princess is magically transformed into a human and sets out to find her love. But the local wizard believes her to be a vampire, and banishes Xu-Xian from the village in order to save him. Xu-Xian's pet pandas Panda and Mimi set out to save him and bring him, in the process becoming leaders of an animal gang.
Based on the Chinese folktale "Legend of the White Snake". It's the first animated feature film in color. Only two voice actors were used, providing the voices for all the different parts. It is also one of the first three anime films to be released in America and the first anime in any shape or form to be released there.
The story is a classic one, I believe it is based on a folk tale. Love between a human boy and a spirit girl, sadly to be disrupted from mankind's general intolerance of spirits. But ultimately, one where love triumphs supreme.
One can also interpret the story as a criticism of institutions (such as religion and society) and the sweeping, preconceived judgments they pronounce without any actual knowledge of the situation; but ultimately again, while a powerful and often disruptive force, one that is overcome by true love.
The subplot with the animals searching for Hsu Hsien is very funny and cute too! Especially when Panda
challenges all the bandit animals.
For a 1958 show, the art was beautiful. Many of the backgrounds especially looked like paintings...thoroughly enjoyable! The festival scene was beautiful as well.
My only complaint would be that some of the animations for the fighting and spells were crudely done.
Sometimes the Japanese was hard to understand (maybe it's a dialect of some kind in places?). My subbed version also had poor subs, so regretfully I missed out in places.
But overall, the narrative voice was well done, especially in the parts where its half-sung, which was flowing and sonorous. Some of the voices quavered a lot, and generally the voice acting style is not my favorite; but it was suited for a children's folk tale I think. The music was generally high quality with traditional instruments.
A gem from the 50s. Classic folk tale story. Beautiful art and music. Nothing that makes the adrenaline rush, but peaceful and enjoyable. Highly recommended.
白蛇伝 - Hakujaden is based on one of the great folktales of ancient China called "白蛇傳- Bái Shé Zhuàn". The "Legend of the White Snake" is quite old and very popular, with countless versions in folklore, literature and drama. The version chosen for the adaptation in the anime is beautiful romanticized and provided with some additional characters. A fairy tale about a snake spirit who falls in love with a human.
The original version of the legend has literary significance, is considered as one of the four great Chinese folktales and is a lot older than the available written text from the Ming Dynasty. It was
first performed orally as an opera. It was about a man-eating demon fought by Buddhist and Taoist priests. However, this legend has changed dramatically since its beginnings. In the course of time, the demon became more representative and sympathetic, transforming itself into a snake goddess and her quest for love in the spirit of the times. Political interpretations are also common but that is another story. Furthermore, the legend is a historical sentence for the Chinese with reference to the idyllic West Lake (西湖) and the beautiful, well known Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔) at Hangzhou (杭州). Despite its considerable age, it is a beautiful fairy tale (in this version) about a monk Fǎ Hǎi (法海) in ancient China trying to prevent the love between the man Xǔ Xiān (许仙) and the beautiful immortal snake goddess. The superficial moral of the fairy tale can be interpreted in such a way that everything can grow and change and love can overcome everything. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but the way the story is told and the content is immediately reminiscent of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and that is not as far-fetched as it seems at first glance. Xǔ Xiān and the Snake Ghost Princess fall in love like Romeo and Juliet and have to face the challenge of having the courage to face the displeasure of their different worlds. It is up to them to master the greatest challenge and prove that their love is nevertheless faithful and enduring. A closer look at the fairy tale unfolds that the story reflects the major philosophical influences rooted in many different aspects of Chinese culture, the Daoist theme of immortality on the one hand and Confucian and Buddhist influences on the other.
The main characters are a bit simple but it is quite possible that Uehara, Shin and Yabushita, Taiji have tried to prevent a further alteration of the main characters of the original legend by adding more characters. Although the main characters are very lovable, their development is determined only by the basic feeling of love. Unfortunately, they are therefore destined to remain somewhat obscure and abstract. The side characters, especially the cute animals, literally steal the show from the main characters. Let's look at the characters in detail.
*The description of the characters may include spoilers, so check out the anime first.*
The White Snake (Goddess) transformed herself into a very beautiful girl named Bái Shé Zhuàn to visit the West lake of Hang Zhou and is attracted by the beauty of the scene. Lady White immediately fell in love with a human being (Story briefly). Her character is very interesting because she is portrayed as emotionally strong, with a deep willingness to fight for her love. Even if it is a variation of the original legend, the depiction of her character development on this basis would have been very nice to see, and also a little sensation, because it would have been about the depiction of a very emancipated young woman (remember: 1958). That's why I find it a pity that so much potential for character development has been given to the characters of the animals, who are all busy maintaining the relationship between their owners. But on the other hand, that's the reason why the side characters are especially cute.
His character is also interesting, but not because he is very strong. On the contrary, he is portrayed as good-nature but rather weakly, and not just since the anime. In the story, the "evil" monk encourages him to give his wife something to drink. The monk has the ulterior motive of revealing the true nature of the goddess as a snake. The man is described as easy to persuade and unstable, a man in the broadest sense, but not very masculine.
Xiǎo Qīng (小青)
She used a trick so that Xǔ Xiān and Bái Shé Zhuàn could meet and fall in love. Her character is best described as beautiful, smart and loyal. In addition, her character is a historically anchored figure and was already present before the anime version. The character was added to the original legend a long time ago, but is already an integral part of it. A version of the legend says that Lady White bought a snake from captivity and thus saved it from being eaten. The rescued snake also turned into a woman, Xiǎo Qīng. Thankful for her rescue she decided to serve Lady White in the future. Their relationship is aptly described in the anime as very trustily, like sisters.
Fǎ Hǎi the Buddhist monk, has also undergone a fundamental change, like the demon of the original legend. In the original version he was in the fight between good and evil, meanwhile he has to take on the role of the bad guy. But he plays his part pretty well, I think. His motivation varies depending on the version. In the more rare version he wants to protect the man from what the snake goddess conceals. In the more common version he is just jealous of Lady White's abilities and wants to harm her.
The most challenging plot points are highlighted positively and understandable by the animal side characters. The little Panda (Ailurus fulgens) and the bigger Panda are very cute and with more screen time and adventure their characters are more detailed than the main characters. As mentioned above, this is a bit sad.
*Spoiler alert end*
The animation is well done, although at the beginning it looks like a silhouette animation (about the first four minutes). Later on you will see that a lot of effort has been put into creating lively characters that move smoothly. The Toei animation film looks really good for its age and the colours are beautiful and rich. Please remember that this is the first Japanese full color animation film to be released in America, and despite the turbulence of that time, it was created as a classic children's story. The characters actually have an Asian appearance. Even Miyazaki, Hayao, wrote in an essay in 1979 that he was inspired by Hakujaden and decided to become a manga-ka. The style is quickly reminiscent of Disney, especially Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, but at that time the animation industry in Japan was mainly influenced by Disney. It took until the early 1960s, when Tezuka Osamu entered the animation industry by founding the production company Mushi Productions as a rival to Toei Animation. He was already famous, invented the "Large Eyes"style and is known for his imaginative stories and characteristic adaptations of the unmistakable Western European "look" of Japanese animation. To cut a long story short, the animation is probably not what you would expect at first when you think of anime, but nevertheless the movie is very well done for this time.
The BGM was composed by Kinoshita, Chuji and underlines the scenario very well. It almost feels like the show is accompanied by a good musical. Although there are not so many dialogues and the Japanese dubbing is only mono, and therefore difficult to understand from time to time, it is remarkable but not really surprising that there were only two speakers: Miyagi, Mariko and Morishige, Hisaya, so that all the characters are literally spoken by one woman and one man.
Hakujaden is legendary and deserves respect because, on the one hand, it is an important part of animation history and, accordingly, should be seen in the historical context of its time. The decision to use a legendary Chinese folk tale as a concept for an anime can certainly be seen as a valuable contribution to the reconciliation between the two countries. On the other hand it has inspired many others. For me, the show is funny, touching and beautiful and it does not hurt to be interested in the beginning of Japanese animation history. Take a look - it's worth it.
If you are looking for a very old anime to watch for, let's say, a challenge or simply because you are curious, this is a very fine specimen. I t works too if you are looking for a movie to watch with a kid. It's a fairytale with an oriental setting instead of a European one.
First of all, I'd like to say don't panic. The movie starts with a song in shadow theatre style. It's only the opening of the movie giving the background of the story then comes the lovable old animation style. The
story is that of a forbidden love between a human and a youkai. The world does not care about them and left them alone except for one annoying monk. The art is very beautiful. The animation is smooth. The colors are from dull. The music is a mix of traditional Chinese music and scores from black and white movies. The characters are lovable. The supporting characters are mainly animals and their action is found adorable, although ,personally, I liked watching the humans more.
This is based on a Chinese fairytale that I have never heard of before, so I have no idea how faithful this adaption is. As a romance, I found it well done. It's easy to root for the main characters to get together in the end. I don't know if these animals were in the original tale, but they do a good job as filler material. Slightly annoying however was the narrator, who kept describing what we see. Do we really need this?
To put this in historical context, this was made one year prior to Disneys
Sleeping Beauty. If we look at Disney as the nonplusultra in animation at that time, Hakujaden does not look much worse. Sure, there are some things one might find odd nowadays, like the character design, which is closer to traditional Japanese art than to what we recognize as anime art today, but for a country without a high profile history of animation, this movie looks amazing (for 1958).
The sound quality is not very good, which is not that surprising considering its age. Some of the voice actors sounded quite...let's call it odd. The traditional Chinese music was great for setting the mood and the woman who did the singing in the beginning (I guess she's the same who voiced Pai Niang) was really good. Fair for its day, but nothing to write home about.
As I said, the main couple were both likeable people. Their sidekicks were not that bad and did something noteworthy a couple of times. The bad guy (if you will) was interesting, as he saw his actions as righteous and justified. All in all, quite the interesting cast.
I was a little worried that I might end up having to force myself through this, but to my suprise, this movie ended up being pretty entertaining. There were barely any drawn out scenes, or rather, they didn't feel like it. If you're interested in the history of anime or animation in general, The Legend of the White Serpent should be an easy pick.
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