A still frame of Katsudō Shashin
Katsudō Shashin (活動写真?, Moving Picture), or the Matsumoto fragment, refers to a Japanese animated film speculated to be the oldest work of animation in Japan. Its creator is unknown; evidence suggests it was made sometime between 1907 and 1911, possibly predating the earliest displays of Western animation in Japan. It was discovered in a home projector in Kyoto in 2005.
The three-second film depicts a boy who writes "活動写真", removes his hat, and waves. The frames were stencilled in red and black using a device for making magic lantern slides, and the filmstrip was fastened in a loop for continuous play.
The film consists of a series of cartoon images on fifty frames of a celluloid strip and lasts three seconds at sixteen frames per second. It depicts a young boy in a sailor suit who writes the kanji characters "活動写真" (katsudō shashin, or "moving picture"), then turns towards the viewer, removes his hat, and offers a salute.
Unlike in traditional animation, the frames were not produced by photographing the images, but rather were impressed directly onto film using a stencil. This was done with a kappa-ban,[a] a device designed for stencilling magic lantern slides. The images were in red and black on a strip of 35 mm film[b] whose ends were fastened in a loop for continuous viewing.
Projected film technology first arrived in Japan from the West in 1896–97. The earliest foreign animation known to have been shown in Japan is Frenchman Émile Cohl's The Nipper's Transformations[c] of 1911, which premiered in Tokyo on 15 April 1912. Works by Ōten Shimokawa, Seitaro Kitayama, and Junichi Kouchi in 1917 were the first Japanese animated films to reach theatre screens. Now lost, a few have been discovered in "toy movie"[d] versions for viewing at home on hand-cranked projectors; the oldest to survive is Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki of 1917, known as Namakura-gatana in its home version.
Early printed animation films for optical toys such as the zoetrope predated projected film animation. German toy manufacturer Gebrüder Bing presented a cinematograph at a toy festival in Nuremberg in 1898; soon other toy manufacturers were selling similar devices. Live-action films for these devices were expensive to make; possibly as early as 1898 animated films for these devices were on sale, and could be fastened in loops for continuous viewing. Imports of these German devices appeared in Japan at least as early as 1904, as well as films for them—likely including animation loops.
In December 2004, a secondhand dealer in Kyoto contacted Natsuki Matsumoto,[e] an expert in iconography at the Osaka University of Arts. The dealer had obtained a number of films and projectors from an old Kyoto family, and Matsumoto arrived the following January to fetch them. The collection included three projectors, eleven 35 mm films, and thirteen glass magic lantern slides.
On 31 July 2005, Matsumoto found the filmstrip of Katsudō Shashin; it was in poor condition. Based on evidence such as the manufacture dates of the projectors in the collection, Matsumoto and animation historian Nobuyuki Tsugata (ja)[f] determined the film was most likely made between 1907 and 1911. At the time, movie theatres were rare in Japan;  evidence suggests it was mass-produced to be sold to wealthy owners of home projectors. To Matsumoto, the relatively poor quality and low-tech printing technique indicate it was likely from a smaller film company. The creator of the film remains unknown.
The discovery was widely covered in Japanese media. Given its speculated date of creation, the film would have been contemporary to, or even have predated, early animated works by Cohl and Americans J. Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay. While maintaining the importance of the discovery of Meiji period animation, Asahi Shimbun expressed reservations about placing the film in the genealogy of Japanese animation, calling it "controversial that [Katsudō Shashin] should even be called animation in the contemporary sense".
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