Osamu Tezuka, Animation Pioneer
"The man most responsible for the rise of Manga to its dominant role in postwar Japanese culture is Osamu Tezuka."(Schilling 263) Osamu was born in Osaka in 1926. At a young age he was copying pictures of popular cartoon characters, and by the third grade he was an avid fan of animated films like Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, and Oswald Rabbit. He is said to have seen Bambi over eighty times. He also wrote and illustrated his own reference books about bugs, and got in trouble for doodling in class.
Osamu’s father was a doctor, and Osamu also studied to become a physician. While he was still a teenager studying medicine, he was producing original Manga. In 1946 he started his first strip, Ma-chan’s Diary, for the Shokokumin Shimbun. In 1947 he had his first hit Manga with New Treasure Island. Tezuka has said that his early influences were Walt Disney and the New York based cartoonist Max Fleischer. However, even in his very early published works, Tezuka had his own innovative style. He used "movie-style close-ups and varied the size and shape of the Manga frame to better dramatize his characters movements and mental states."(Schilling 265)
In 1951 Tezuka created and distributed Tetsuwan Atom(The Mighty Atom), the story of a robot powered by atomic energy. The robot, Atom, dreams of becoming human. Through this Manga, Tezuka promoted the idea of atomic energy as "a friendly device, working for the good of man, and NOT the deadly, violent atom that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki."(http://www.hyperguide.com/tezuka/) Through The Mighty Atom, Tezuka also made other social commentary. He dealt with Atom’s feelings of second class citizenship, and the insensitivity of man. Tetsuwan Atom was extremely popular in Japan, and became the longest running strip in the nations history. It ran from 1951-1968. The extreme popularity of Tetsuwan Atom revitalized the struggling art of comics, and made Tezuka a household name.
In 1957, Toei productions formed Toei Animation with the goal of producing animated feature films. Osamu Tezuka was the country’s most popular cartoonist, and was contracted for a five year period with the company. He was involved in their early feature length films such as Monkey King.
In 1958, Osamu received his doctorate in Human Anatomy. However, he remained an animator and never practiced medicine. Instead, he stayed with Toei until his contract ran out in 1962. He then joined the independent production group "Animation Party of Three", and produced Story of a Street Corner and Male with his own money. He also formed his own production company, Mushi Productions. Osamu’s vision was to utilize the rapidly expanding television market for his animations. His goal was to reach the largest market possible, so the first project his company distributed was a black and white TV version of his Tetsuwan Atom Manga. As both the creator and producer of the television series, Osamu had to convince Japanese network executives to fund his project. They said that his idea for a half hour show was too expensive and could not be done. So Osamu promised to cut costs drastically. He did this by lowering the number of cells for each half hour episode from the standard 6000 to only 2500. Osamu often left backgrounds static and used a type of animation in which only a part of the image, the characters eyes and mouth, move. He also started an "animation bank" with typical expressions and poses that could be used again and again, which gives the animations an almost cyclical appearance(Schilling 266). However, Tezuka was an innovator and his television animation also included in-depth plots, lighting and close-ups for dramatic effect. 193 half hour episodes were produced and aired on Fuji Television from 1965-1966. The series was later moved to Japan’s NHK Network. In 1966, NBC Enterprises bought the rights to 52 episodes of Tetsuwan, but later contracted an additional 52. In order to adapt the anime for consumption in the US, characters names were changed, and the episodes were re-edited and dubbed. Billie Lou Watt(a woman) played the voice of Astro Boy. Charles Owen was the voice of Dr. Packadermus J. Elefun(formerly Dr. Ochanomizu), and Gilbert Mack played Mr. Pompos. Also, in the American version, an additional character, Astro Girl, was created. Amazingly, few of the dark scenes of death and madness were taken out. Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom was released in the US as Astro Boy. It was given a daily slot in large markets like Los Angeles and New York, and aired once a week in smaller markets(http://www.routl.net/Gelfling/manga/tezuka.html).
Tetsuwan Atom achieved success as a television series in twenty countries including Australia, where it aired on the Nine Network from 1965-1971. Other distributors included Screen Gems and Video Promotions(http://www.absoluteanime.com/default.htm?). With the success of Tetsuwan, many Japanese studios began to refit themselves for television production.
Osamu Tezuka and Mushi Productions continued to create and distribute popular anime, and soon Tezuka had over 400 employees. Competitors began to camp outside of his home in order to get the first glimpse at a new Tezuka production. Osamu’s ideas often became industry standards.(Schilling 265) Tezuka was a perfectionist and he would often get only three or four hours of sleep a night because he was working on a project for Mushi, or independently producing his own works. He also closely monitored sales figures, and became deeply depressed when he thought that he was losing an audience.
In 1965, Tezuka hit the jackpot again with his creation Jungle Tatei(Jungle Emperor). For this project he enlisted director Eiichi Yamamoto. Jungle Tatei is the story of a young lion cub, Leo, whose mother and father die fighting for the equality of all animals. Leo’s evil uncle takes his place as king, and it is many years before Leo can fight for his kingdom. During this time, Leo sees a vision of his mother in the night stars. She encourages him continue his father’s fight for equality. One of Leo’s ideas is that all the animals should become vegetarians and eat a meat substitute(http://www.absoluteanime.com/default.htm?).
Jungle Tatei was also contracted by NBC Enterprises. This time, however, the strong social message was lost by American re-editing and dubbing of the episodes. American producer Fred Ladd was hired to restyle the show for American audiences. Network executives thought that the name Leo the Lion was too trite, and Ladd was told to come up with something more original. His team of writers and dubbers was again led by Cliff Owens and Billie Lou Watt. Ladd and this team researched and came up with the Swahili word for lion-- simba. By changing the first letter, they came up with their hero’s name, Kimba. In the US, the show was aired as Kimba The White Lion. This time Billie Lou Watt played the voice of Kimba.
Tezuka created the shows to be aired serially, so that viewers could watch Leo’s life progress, but Ladd and his team decided to air the shows non-sequentially. Because of this decision, story lines did not always make sense from episode to episode. Despite these and other glitches, Kimba was a hit in the American market, and NBC executives urged Osamu to write a follow up series. He did this in 1966, but the story-line was considered too "dark", and NBC rejected it.
In 1970, Tezuka made history again with the first X-rated animated film, Cleopatra, Queen of Sex.
By 1971, Tezuka was feeling boxed in by his success, and he wanted more freedom in production. He resigned from his position as President of Mushi Productions, and worked independently for several years. During this time he released Triton of the Sea and Mekro S, among others. Unfortunately, Mushi Productions was left without the rights to any of Tezuka’s works, and the company went bankrupt in 1973.
In the late 1970’s, Osamu formed Tezuka Production Company, where he produced a color TV version of Tetsuwan Atom. He also worked on and released the feature film Space Firebird 2772. This film was loosely based on his Manga work, Phoenix, about reincarnation and immortality.
In 1982 Osamu left commercial animation altogether and went to work full time on his own films. Over the next seven years his independent works won the Grand Prize at both the Zagreb Animation Festival and the Hiroshima Festival. He appeared at many animation competitions around the world in his distinctive thick framed glasses and black beret. He remained active right up to his death in 1989.
Osamu Tezuka virtually redefined Japanese animation. He made it widely available to the world through the use of technologies such as television. He used techniques normally reserved for feature films, and created a whole new industry with other studios scrambling to copy his style. Tezuka created over 150,000 pages of Manga and 60 animations. Among them were Astro Boy, the first Manga hero to appear in syndication in the US market, and Kimba, the lion with a social conscious. Tezuka paved the way for the current onslaught of Japanese cartoons into the US market.
In the early 1980s a color version of Astro Boy was released and aired on Australia’s Seven Network. It ran until 1984(http://www.alphalink.com.au/~roglen/kimba.htm).
In Australia, Astro Boy is still a "strong and resonant image in popular culture, appearing on pepper shakers, key rings, T-shirts, bags and other fashion accessories."(http://www.zip.com/au/~astroboy/history.html)
Recently, the home video market has had a huge impact on the distribution and availability of Tezuka’s works. In 1997 Siren Entertainment launched a campaign to bring Astro Boy to the worldwide home video market. They are the current video distributor of Astro Boy outside of the US. Kimba was released on home video by a Canadian group in 1993. The episodes were digitally remastered and released under the title Kimba the Lion Prince. Also, The New Adventures of Kimba, the show that was rejected by NBC in the 1960s, was released in the 1980s on home video in the States.
The most well known tribute to Tezuka is Disney’s The Lion King. Of course Disney does not give him any credit, but many people believe that Jungle Tatei was the inspiration for the movie. In fact, over 150 Manga artists and other prominent Japanese citizens signed a letter to the Disney Company, chiding them for not recognizing Tezuka. The lawyers for Disney responded that their animators had not been influenced by Tezuka or his work. That is debatable, given the many similarities between Tezuka’s Manga and Disney’s movie.
In Japan today, Tezuka is honored with the Osamu Tezuka Museum, the Tezuka World theme park(slated to open in 2003), postage stamps with his picture, and the newly established Osamu Tezuka Manga Awards(http://www.kyoto-su.ac.jp/information/famous/tezukao/html).
Hayashi, Chikio and Yasumasa Kuroda. Japanese Culture in Comparative Perspective. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 1997.
Levi, Antonia. Samurai From Outer Space. Chicago: Court Publishing, 1996.
Poitras, Gilles. The Anime Companion: What’s Japanese in Japanese Animation? Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1999.
Schilling, Mark. The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. New York: Weatherhill Inc., 1997.