Ōten Shimokawa

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Ōten Shimokawa

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Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture


Ōten Shimokawa was one of the pioneers of Japanese animation, who is believed to have produced the very first “true” anime film.

Shimokawa was born in Maiyakojima Prefecture in 1892, though moved to Tokyo when we was 9. He began his working life as an apprentice with a cartoonist, Rakuten Kitazawa. After about a year and a half, he stopped his apprenticeship to become an apprentice engineer in the Army General Staff. He returned to work with Kitazawa, however, and stayed on to produce cartoons and manga series for the Tokyo Puck. In 1916, the movie production company Tenkatsu contacted Shimokawa to produce animation for them. Some sources say that he worked using the chalkboard method of animation: erasing and redrawing one frame at a time. He also worked by drawing and redrawing frames directly onto the film. Regardless, he experimented a lot with animations in similar ways to other animators across the globe, as the art form and practice began to emerge.

His earliest film was most likely Dekobo Singacho: Meian no Shippai (Kid Deko’s New Picture Book: Failure of a Great Plan) in 1917. He produced another film in the same year, Imokawa Mukuzo Genkanban no Maki (Mukuzo Imokawa the Doorman). Mukuzo Imokawa the Doorman was the first Japanese animated film to be shown in theaters. Shimokawa produced three more animated films for Tenkatsu over approximately six months, then it is believed that he returned to cartooning and illustration. Other sources say that he stopped producing films due to health problems, but remained a consultant and editor for companies producing animated films into the 1930s and 1940s. 

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