Review of “Sanko and the Octopus: A Fight Over a Fortune” (1933)

Moving picture, 15 minutes

Seen in 2016.

Seen with recorded benshi narration by Sawato Midori.

An alcoholic fishmonger goes looking for lost treasure from a sunken ship.

Yet another impressive piece of work by Murata Yasuji. Here, he chickens out on animating octopuses walking on land: He bunches up their legs in pairs or trios to be able to use a standard bipedal walking cycle. As in “Olympic Games on Dankichi Island” (1932), carefree tropical natives, here apparently topless women, are drawn in blackface.

The most impressive thing about this short is not the character animation but the opening shots of dawn, the sun slowly rising over a watercolour copse amid the paddies of the Japanese countryside. It’s beautifully realistic, and it’s followed by similarly realistic scenes, including the drunkard’s wife having to do his work for him, all the way up to the protagonist’s dive into the ocean. At that point the realistic framework completely collapses and is replaced by Murata’s typical anthropomorphic animal comedy shtick. Predictably, as in McCay’s Rarebit Fiend comics and animation, we return briefly to the realistic framework when Sankō truly wakes up, but the beauty and social pathos is lost.

moving picture Japanese production animation fiction