7 Oldest Anime Ever Created

Japanese anime traces its roots back to the start of the 20th century as the Japanese attempted to modernize the entire country. Although historians can’t pinpoint an exact date, 1917 is often cited as a key year in the development of Japanese animation. In fact, the oldest existing anime film was proved to have been produced in 1917.

Unfortunately, due to the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923, most of the first anime was destroyed or lost. However, a few old films have turned up in recent years and were digitally restored. All of the anime on this list date back to the early 20th century and can be viewed (along with several other old anime) on this website celebrating the 100th anniversary of Japanese animated film.

7. Sarukanigassen

English Title:  Yasuji Murata’s Monkey and the Crabs
Year founded: 1927
Director:  Yasuji Murata

Sarukanigassenphoto source: animation.filmarchives.jp

Sarukanigassen was Yasuji Murata’s first animated film and the forms he used for the characters are thought to have influenced the images used in Dainippon Yubenkai Kodansha’s Monkey and the Crabs (1937), a picture book by Sengai Igawa.

Murata’s anime depicts the Japanese folktale known as The Quarrel of the Monkey and the Crab, in which a sneaky monkey kills a crab, and is later killed in revenge by the crab’s children. The existing film is five minutes long and is believed to be a shortened version that cut out the scene where the monkey tricks the crab into exchanging its rice ball for the monkey’s persimmon seeds.


6. Kemurigusa monogatari

English Title:  A Story of Tobacco
Year founded: 1926
Director:  Noburo Ofuji

Kemurigusa monogatari photo source: animation.filmarchives.jp

The surviving version of A Story of Tobacco is only three minutes in length as opposed to the original six and features only the first half of the film. The film tells the story of a small man beginning to the tell the story of tobacco to a young girl wearing a traditional Japanese hairstyle. The girl depicted in the anime is believed to be based on Ofuji’s younger sister, Ichii, as she resembles to a character in Ofuji’s later film Chiyogami Eiga.

Although the anime’s official production date is listed as 1926, some people believe that the film may have been created earlier in 1924.


5. Senga Tsubo

English Title:  The Pot
Year founded: 1925
Director:  Sanae Yamamoto

Senga Tsubophoto source: animation.filmarchives.jp

Senga Tsubo was the first film that the Ministry of Education commissioned from Sanae Yamamoto after he began working for them. The film combines the story of “The Fisherman and the Genie” from The Arabian Nights with the tale about the lion and the fox from Machiavelli’s The Prince.

The Pot is a 17 minute, black and white, silent film that uses speech bubbles with cut-out lettering to depict the conversations between the story’s characters.


4. Kyoikusenga Ubasuteyama

English Title:  Ubasuteyama
Year founded: 1925
Director:  Sanae Yamamoto

Kyoikusenga Ubasuteyamaphoto source: animation.filmarchives.jp

Ubasauteyama took over a year and a half to produce and was one of Sanae Yamamoto’s earliest works to be well received by the Japanese public. It is an 18 minute long film that tells the story of a lord who lived in Shinano Province who hated old people and banished them to live on an exiled island when they turned 60 years old and the young man who convinced the lord to stop exiling old people and to treat them with respect.

At the time of its release, Yamamoto sold nearly 100 prints of the film and it was even purchased by the Social Education Division of Japan’s Ministry of Education. After the film’s purchase by the Ministry, Yamamoto became a temporary employee of the Ministry of Education and produced several more films for them.


3. Kyoikuotogimanga Usagi to kame

English Title:  The Hare and the Tortoise
Year founded: 1924
Director:  Sanae Yamamoto

Kyoikuotogimanga Usagi to kamephoto source: animation.filmarchives.jp

The Hare and the Tortoise is a six minute short animated film based on the classic story that is named after. Dating back to 1924, it is one of the first animations to feature the story of the Hare and Tortoise showing the “slow and steady” tortoise beating the boastful hare in a race.

The art of the film features a simple technique using only lines and features unique backgrounds that look like they’re from another country rather than the traditional landscapes used in old Japanese folk tales. The film is one of Sanae Yamamoto’s earliest works and was produced by Seitaro Kitayama, Yamamoto’s teacher and the creator of another early anime, Urashima Tarō.


2. Urashima Tarō

English Title:  Urashima Tarō
Year founded: 1918
Director:  Seitaro Kitayama

Urashima Tarō photo source: Youtube

Urashima Tarō is one of two films that was discovred in antique shop in Osaka, Japan in 2008; the other film was Nakamura Gatana (listed above).

It is one of the earliest examples of anime in existence and a short silent film. The film is based on the Japanese folktale about a fisherman traveling to an underwater world on the back of a turtle.


1. Namakura Gatana

English Title:  The Dull Sword
Year founded: 1917
Director:  Junichi Kouchi

Namakura Gatana photo source: Wikipedia

Namakura Gatana is the oldest existing anime short film dating back to 1917. The film was thought to be lost until it was discovered in 2008. The Dull Sword is one of three works credited as forerunner of Japanese animation films and is the only one that still exists.

It was digitally restored in 2008 with the help of Natsuki Matsumoto, a visual culture historian, who owns the nitrite positive of the film. Matsumoto’s restoration was thought to be the same as the original film, but a newer nitrate was uncovered in 2014 and shows that it is the first half of the film while Matsumoto’s is the second half.


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