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ANJU TO ZUSHIO-MARU (1961)

aka The Littlest Warrior, The Orphan Brother
Article 3278 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2010
Posting Date: 8-5-2010
Directed by Taiji Yabushita
Featuring the voices of Yoshiko Sakuma and Kinya Kitaoji
Country: Japan
What it is: Animated folk tale with fantasy elements

In feudal times, a father is exiled.  When the rest of his family attempts to rejoin with him, they encounter kidnappers who separate them and sell them into slavery.  Will they ever reunite?

I was only able to find this movie in unsubtitled Japanese, and maybe I was the better off for it.  I've seen two other animated movies by this director (PANDA AND THE MAGIC SERPENT and ALAKAZAM THE GREAT), both of which had been dubbed into English and both of which came across as having been heavily compromised by the English dubbing.  The language barrier proved to be only a minor inconvenience; though I couldn't find a good plot description of this movie, I did discover that it was basically a version of the same story of SANSHO THE BAILIFF, and a few plot descriptions of that one gave me the framework I needed to follow this one.  Since I don't see the latter movie listed in any of my guides to fantastic movies, I assume that much of the fantastic content here is unique to this telling.  We have talking animals, for one thing, and since this is a children's version of the story, I'm not surprised at the addition.  There's also a battle with a giant spider.  Still, the final fantastic aspect is truly striking; when certain characters die, they undergo a transformation to another form which seems to give them power over that form's particular element.  One transforms into a mermaid, and the other into a flying swan, and both the forces of air and water play into the story to bring justice on the villains.  The story has no doubt been cleaned up a little; I believe in the other movie, one character was forced into prostitution, but that detail understandably doesn't appear here as far as I can tell.  Still, it doesn't soft-pedal the tragedy; though it more or less has a happy ending, there are some great losses, and quite a few tears are jerked in the final parts of the movie.  Somehow, I suspect the English version of this would have weakened the movie considerably, so I'm glad I saw it as I did.

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