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Press Blow Oldest Anime Claims Out of Proportion

Date: 2005 August 23 17:34

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Following on from our report of the oldest anime in Japan, it appears that it is more press hype than solid fact.

Anime expert Jonathan Clements sent us an e-mail with his take on the situation and highlights that most of the reports are merely speculative. Apparently the press have over exaggerated Matsumoto's guess into facts, currently their is very little evidence to support the claim that the film dates to 1907

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Jonathan Clements sents us the following details:

While Naoki Matsumoto's discovery may eventually turn out to be just that, I feel I should point out that there is currently no evidence to date it *at all*. All we have is an old scrap of film, and circumstantial evidence that associates it with the materials among which it was purportedly found. By an amazing coincidence, Matsumoto's original estimate (reported in the Mainichi as a "belief", not even a guess), a rather over-eager and wholly arbitrary "up to ten years older than the oldest so far", makes it just possible that this piece of film may date from 1907 (i.e. ten years before 1917, the current oldest date of any verifiable anime. This would, by another remarkable coincidence, make it just possible, if one ignored the lack of evidence, allow you to play a Japanese Uniqueness card, that animation originated in Japan, or at least began there independent of the foreign cartoons turning up in 1907.

Matsumoto's original "up to ten years" estimate soon transformed in the hands of some unscrupulous journalists into a fixed date of 1907, and now I see that the Mainichi Daily is going even further, and claiming "shortly after 1900." Until such time as Matsumoto provides strong evidence, none of this is anything but conjecture. It *could* come from 1907. But it is probably from somewhere considerably later.

It would be fantastic for me, as an anime historian, to be able to retitle the Anime Encyclopedia as a "Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1907." It would be great for the Yokohama 2007 Worldcon to also be a celebration of the centenary of animation in Japan. But I haven't seen any evidence to support these claims. I look forward to seeing some.

Source: Jonathan Clements
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