Feb 12, 2021
While other Ikuo Oishi works have drawn direct inspiration from the Disney movies from the time, "Swim! Monkey, Swim!" draws more inspiration from the live action films of Hollywood transitioning to the 40s. Talkies were beginning to gain traction, but the stalwarts like Charlie Chaplin were steadfast in their belief that silent films were here to stay and that talkies were a fashionable, but temporary trend in the cinematic experience. At that time, the debate against talkies did have some credible points when it came to on sight filming, with audio recording equipment having a low capture range and being extremely bulky and ill fit
to use. Much of the artistic experimentation was taking place within the silent movie scene and the intrusion of the giant audio recording boxes limited much of what dynamic camera movements and occupied camera space in the shot reducing the utility of wide angled lenses.
The end of the 30s were a tumultuous time in the cinematic medium, a time of transition. Thus you could see a lot of talking, but also artifacts of the silent film era like interspersed text slides explaining the logistics of scenes just passed or scenes yet to come. Filmmakers were still getting used to the dramatic technological changes the medium was going through and struggling to find a voice that fit the medium. While animation eschewed a lot of these problems since the visual aspect was completely descriptive and drawn by hand instead of enacted, it made itself amenable to a quick transition to the sound filled medium.
However, this particular short film struggles to find a definitive voice like many other works of the time period. Artifacts of the silent film era are peppered all over the piece, giving it the aesthetics of a silent film, yet the constant vocalization and exposition of what's on screen seems at odds with the visual elements and borders on grating. The voice acting isn't particularly great and it struggles even more with the quantity of the dialogues peppered in.
Swim! Monkey, Swim! very much feels unfinished or perhaps constrained by budgets. The backgrounds are empty in almost every frame and the entire work feels like a rough draft. The animation skips a lot of frames, and feels inferior to Photo Chemical Laboratory, Animation Division's own works from several years past. The story is lackluster and there isn't much exploration in terms of animator techniques. The animated short is an anachronism that doesn't age well beyond the time period, but a good watch for those interested in the historical and contextual aspects of Japanese animated art.
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