6 min; Japan; silent film; dir. Sanae Yamamoto
This is the earliest animated version of Aesop’s most famous fable: Disney would go on to create his Oscar-winning short of the same name ten years after Yamamoto, in 1934, and Bugs Bunny would appear in the Merrie Melodies series short “Tortoise Beats Hare” in 1941, to name just two later iterations of this animated classic.
Yamamoto’s silent film is one of the earliest extant examples of Japanese animation. It was produced as “edutainment” for children, likely on behalf of a governmental organization (they were frequent sponsors of animation during this time). Its version of the fable was inspired by a Japanese children’s song (by Wasaburo Ishihara) that recounts the story and that became popular in the mid 1920s (and that is still sung today!). In the film, “the lyrics of the song ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’ are represented as musical notes coming out of the characters’ mouths” (Japanese Animated Film Classics). It is animated in simple line-drawn and paper cut-out style, and has a playful air, both in the dance-inspired movements of the characters and in its whimsical, natural backgrounds.