Fukusuke (ふくすけ, 1957) was the first Ryūichi Yokoyama animation shot on 35mm, and also the first film he made for Otogi Pro’s distribution deal with Toho. At the time his studio was in a small building in his garden and he had a very minimal staff. Suzuki Shin’ichi (currently director of the Suginami Animation Museum), Hajime Maeda and Mitsuhiro Machiyama were the only animators given onscreen credit, but apparently others, including non-professional family and friends were drafted in to help out (source: Clements, Anime: A History, pp. 88-9).
Yokoyama became famous with his comic strip Fuku-chan in the 1930s, and clearly liked the concept of “fuku” (luck) so much that he used the name Fukusuke for the central character in this adaptation of his original children’s storybook.
“In the frog home, a strange baby was born. For some mysterious reason, the baby had a hard head that was heavy like a stone.”
Fukusuke, the frog is born with a head as heavy as stone. So heavy, in fact, that his cradle breaks and he lands headfirst. He grows up having to walk on his hands because his head is too heavy for him to stand on his hind legs. He jumps on a pogo stick upside-down and he flies a kite by holding the string with his toes.
His father tries to come up with ways of turning Fukusuke right-side-up. He ties helium balloons to Fukusuke’s waist. This works for a while until some nasty birds ruin the balloons. He then takes him to a scientist who tries some experimental remedy in his laboratory. The experiment explodes and Furusuke floats up to the ceiling, defying the laws of gravity. His father has to bring him home holding him down with strings. They get some heavy shoes made for Furusuke.
This new solution isn’t perfect – Furusuke has to sleep on the ceiling, and instead of flying his kite, he flies while his rock-covered kite keeps him from floating away. By tying himself to his heavy shoes with strings, he can go wading in the pond to go fishing and butterfly catching.
As he tries to catch butterflies, his dancing shoes catch the attention of a dog who runs to play with them. Before he knows what’s happening, Fukusuke is flying away with his butterfly net. Up in the clouds, Fukusuke disturbs some kind of sky god who is amused by him. Tied to the cloud, he uses a broom to create lightening. Night falls, and he sleeps peacefully while tied to the cloud. Meanwhile, Fukusuke’s parents look up at the night sky and cry because they miss him.
The sun rises the next day, and Fukusuke cries. His father uses a helicopter to try to find him. After a thorough search, he spots him and uses a weighted canvas to bring Furusuke and the sky god down to earth.
He calls for assistance and an army of frogs come to fight the horned sky god. The god uses the clouds and fire as his weapon. This results in a unique and amusing fight sequence which goes on for some time. The sky god calls on the elements to help him. When he leaves, the sky god drops something. The frog soldiers open the canvas and Furusuke starts to float away again. His father throws his shoes at him and Furusuke manages to catch one of them. They collect the object that the sky god dropped and Furusuke uses it as a drum. The sky god hears Furusuke playing the drum and returns to ask for it back, which Furusuke does. The sky god then sends his son to give Furusuke a present. He opens the box to a puff of smoke – it is a spell to return Furusuke’s head to normal. He removes his heavy shoes and hops home into the arms of his happy mother.
According to Shin’ichi Suzuki, Yokoyama directed the animators by showing them the illustrations in his book and had very little experience as an animator himself. Animation techniques were improvised and often experimental in nature (Source: アニメが世界をつなぐ, 2008). The limitations in budget are pretty obvious from the use of cutouts, undoubtedly to save on time and 35mm colour film stock, and limited animation techniques such as repeated cycles.
It is an amusing, though odd, little story with many clever visual gags. A Japanese audience would likely say that the film has a Western style, but there are clues to the fact that it is done by Japanese artists, such as the shape of the kite and the sky god’s resemblance to a blue oni (demon).
The character design is excellent and typical of Yokoyama. I like the fact that the animation tells its story mostly visually with no dialogue. From today’s perspective the pace of the film is very slow, with sequences lasting much longer than they would today. Although the film does repeat cycles a lot, there is sophistication in the variety of perspectives depicted and the ingenuity in trying out new techniques to achieve certain effects. For example, a cutout dial being used to show the passing of time as Fukusuke ages from baby to child. My favourite technique was the pulling away of foreground cutouts instead of doing a simple zoom for a moving inwards. A layer of trees rolls away, showing its red back, followed by the next layer of trees with a blue back in the opposite direction, then the fence and clothes line with a yellow back, revealing the Fuku house in full with the mother and father opening the windows to draw attention to the action inside of the house.
The strongest element of this animation is the soundtrack, which was written for the film by pop and jazz composer Ryōichi Hattori. Hattori, who is credited with the revival of Japanese jazz music after the Second World War, created a wonderful soundscape for the animated short worthy of a Disney or Warner Bros. film. At those moments when I found the animation was lagging, my attention was diverted to the soundtrack which always had something intriguing going on.
Hajime MAEDA 前田一
Suzuki SHIN’ICHI 鈴木伸一
Mitsuhiro MACHIYAMA 町山充弘
Otogi Colour おとぎカラー
2016 Cathy Munroe Hotes