The first anime short-films were made by three leading figures in the industry. Ōten Shimokawa was a political caricaturist and cartoonist who worked for the magazine Tokyo Puck. He was hired by Tenkatsu to do an animation for them. Due to medical reasons, he was only able to do five movies, including Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (1917), before he returned to his previous work as a cartoonist. Another prominent animator in this period was Jun'ichi Kōuchi. He was a caricaturist and painter, who also had studied watercolour painting. In 1912, he also entered the cartoonist sector and was hired for an animation by Kobayashi Shokai later in 1916. He is viewed as the most technically advanced Japanese animator of the 1910s. His works include around 15 movies. The third was Seitaro Kitayama, an early animator who made animations on his own and was not hired by larger corporations. He eventually founded his own animation studio, the Kitayama Eiga Seisakujo, which was later closed due to lack of commercial success. He utilized the chalkboard technique, and later paper animation, with and without pre-printed backgrounds. However, the works of these pioneers were destroyed after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The works of these two latter pioneers include Namakura Gatana ("An Obtuse Sword", 1917) and a 1918 film Urashima Tarō which were believed to have been discovered together at an antique market in 2007. However, this Urashima Tarō was later proved to most likely be a different film of the same story than the 1918 one by Kitayama, which, as of October 2017, remains undiscovered.
In the 1930s, the Japanese government began enforcing cultural nationalism. This also lead to strict censorship and control of published media. Many animators were urged to produce animations that enforced the Japanese spirit and national affiliation. Some movies were shown in newsreel theatres, especially after the Film Law of 1939 promoted documentary and other educational films. Such support helped boost the industry, as bigger companies formed through mergers and prompted major live-action studios such as Shochiku to begin producing animation. It was at Shochiku that such masterworks as Kenzō Masaoka's Kumo to Chūrippu were produced. Wartime reorganization of the industry, however, merged the feature film studios into three big companies.
During the 1970s, the Japanese film market shrank due to competition from television. This reduced Toei animation's staff and many animators went to studios such as A Pro and Telecom animation. Mushi Production went bankrupt (though the studio was revived 4 years later), its former employees founding studios such as Madhouse and Sunrise. Many young animators were thrust into the position of director, and the injection of young talent allowed for a wide variety of experimentation. One of the earliest successful television productions in the early 1970s was Tomorrow's Joe (1970), a boxing anime which has become iconic in Japan. 1971 saw the first installment of the Lupin III anime. Contrary to the franchise's current popularity, the first series ran for 23 episodes before being cancelled. The second series (starting in 1977) saw considerably more success, spanning 155 episodes over three years.
One of the most-influential anime of all time, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), was made during this period. The film gave extra prestige to anime allowing for many experimental and ambitious projects to be funded shortly after its release. It also allowed director Hayao Miyazaki and his longtime colleague Isao Takahata to create their own studio under the supervision of former Animage editor Toshio Suzuki. This studio would become known as Studio Ghibli and its first film was Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), one of Miyazaki's most-ambitious films.
This film's appeal may lie in its reputation as "a haunted house movie in space." Though not particularly original, "Alien" is distinguished by director Ridley Scott's innovative ability to wring every ounce of suspense out of the B-movie staples he employs within the film's hi-tech setting. Art designer H.R. Giger creates what has become one of cinema's scariest monsters: a nightmarish hybrid of humanoid-insect-machine that Scott makes even more effective by obscuring it from view for much of the film. The cast, including Tom Skerritt and John Hurt, brings an appealing quality to their characters, and one character in particular, Sigourney Weaver's warrant officer Ripley, became the model for the next generation of hardboiled heroines and solidified the prototype in subsequent sequels. Rounding out the cast and crew, cameraman Derek Vanlint and composer Jerry Goldsmith propel the emotions relentlessly from one visual horror to the next.
Woody Allen's romantic comedy of the Me Decade follows the up and down relationship of two mismatched New York neurotics. "Annie Hall" blended the slapstick and fantasy from such earlier Allen films as "Sleeper" and "Bananas" with the more autobiographical musings of his stand-up and written comedy, using an array of such movie techniques as talking heads, splitscreens, and subtitles. Within these gleeful formal experiments and sight gags, Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman skewered 1970s solipsism, reversing the happy marriage of opposites found in classic screwball comedies. Hailed as Allen's most mature and personal film, "Annie Hall" beat out "Star Wars" for Best Picture and also won Oscars for Allen as director and writer and for Keaton as Best Actress; audiences enthusiastically responded to Allen's take on contemporary love and turned Keaton's rumpled menswear into a fashion trend.Expanded essay by Jay Carr (PDF, 302KB)
B-films during the studio era often resonate decades later because they explore issues and themes not found in higher-budget pictures. Robert Florey, widely acclaimed as the best director working in major studio B-films during this period, crafted an intriguing, taut thriller. Anna May Wong overcame Hollywood's practice at the time of casting white actors to play Asian roles and became its first, and a leading, Asian-American movie star in the 1920s through the late 1930s. "Daughter of Shanghai" was more truly Wong's personal vehicle than any of her other films. In the story she uncovers the smuggling of illegal aliens through San Francisco's Chinatown, cooperating with costar Philip Ahn as the first Asian G-man of the American cinema.Expanded essay by Brian Taves (PDF, 1024KB)
With her trendsetting Dutch bob haircut and short skirts, Colleen Moore brought insouciance and innocence to the flapper image, character and aesthetic. By 1926, however, when she appeared in "Ella Cinders," Moore's interpretation of the flapper had been eclipsed by the more overtly sexual version popularized by Clara Bow or Joan Crawford. In "Ella Cinders," Ella (Colleen Moore) wins a beauty contest sponsored by a movie magazine and is awarded a studio contract. New York Times reviewer Mordaunt Hall observed that the film was "filled with those wild incidents which are seldom heard of in ordinary society," and noted "Miss Moore is energetic and vivacious." The film is an archetype of 1920s comedy, featuring a star whose air of emancipation inspired her generation.
From 1910 to 1918, Edwin Thanhouser's New Rochelle, New York-based company was a prolific film studio producing more than 1,000 shorts of various genres. Though few of his movies survive, one that has is this short mystery in which a delivery boy is falsely accused of stealing $20,000. All hope seems lost until the boy's sister, who works as a film editor, uncovers celluloid evidence to free him -- a plot device that anticipates security cameras and eyewitness home videos by decades. Thanhouser, who co-directed with Lawrence Marston, demonstrates a command of visual storytelling that rivals D.W. Griffith's.Expanded essay by Ned Thanhouser (PDF, 524KB)
One of the earliest "creepy clown" movies, "He Who Gets Slapped" was the first film produced completely by the MGM studio, though not the first released. The film features Lon Chaney in a memorable role as a scientist who is humiliated when a rival and his wife steal his ideas just as he is to present them to the Academy of Sciences. He then becomes a masochistic circus clown where the highlight of his act is being repeatedly slapped. One of many stand-out scenes occurs during a circus performance where Chaney spots those who betrayed him and tries to call them out, but his fellow clowns are doing their normal crowd-pleasing routine of slapping him in the face. Filled with nightmarish vignettes, this landmark film from the silent era was directed by Victor Sjöström (newly arrived from Sweden and using an anglicized last name of Seastrom) and also features Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, each on the cusp of stardom.
After two previous film versions of Dashiell Hammett's detective classic "The Maltese Falcon," Warner Bros. finally captured the true essence of Hammett's story in 1941 by wisely adhering to the original as faithfully as possible. John Huston, a screenwriter making his directorial debut, was the catalyst for its success, and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade provided the film's heart and soul, earning him stardom for his effort. A hard-boiled often unscrupulous San Francisco private eye, Spade gets drawn into a series of intrigues and double-crosses by client Mary Astor who, along with partners Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, are in search of a jewel-encrusted statuette shaped like a falcon. Among the most influential movies to emerge from the Hollywood studio system, "The Maltese Falcon" is as significant in some ways as its contemporary "Citizen Kane" for its contribution to establishing an entirely new style of storytelling that would become identified as "film noir." Expanded essay by Richard T. Jameson (PDF, 437KB) 2b1af7f3a8