Historically-wise, Tale of a Street Corner is one of Osamu Tezuka’s best experimental films, while he was still loking for his own style of expression. That style came a year later with his Tetsuwan Atom anime, which pretty much established the basic anime characteristics for everybody else to follow. Thus this short film is nothing alike his trademark animation style. At the same time it is not even looking like it’s Japanese or Chinese like the previous animated films of his country; in fact it looks more like a European production. The characters and the music and the setting, all these take place in a European environment and as such it is easy to trick you it ain’t even made by Asians. Not that this is a problem or anything because it is an amazing piece of art no matter who made it.
The characters of the film are numerous and weird in the least. We have mice, and moths, and a teddy bear, and a little girl, yet the focus is mostly given on poster characters… literally. We have a wall full of posters on it and the characters on it do all sorts of funny things, usually relative to the product or event they are advertising. So a big part of it is comical skits of posters, along with mice and a moth doing silly stuff. There is even some musical of sorts involved along with a man and a woman in different posters being in love with each other.
There is far more than just that though. There is also an allegory in the form of a little girl trying to reach her dropped teddy bear as well as a red balloon in the sky; all symbolizing the search for a return to innocence as well as the need for progress and ascension. And in case you are wondering where the heck is that fitting with everything else, it also has to do with a third part of the film, which is the tragedy of war. All of a sudden the humorous feeling of the street is replaced by war propaganda posters, as well as many others being modified to advertise war and ideals of pride and superiority.
Soon afterwards bombing takes place and everything turns to ruins or set on fire, practically destroying the once idyllic street. This is practically an anti-war message, showing the devastation strife brings to the daily lives of normal people and the contrast is presented bold enough to actually get emotional about it. It also ends with a sort of hope for a better future as life goes on through the ruins.
The film is of course short and some may not be moved by all that yet I personally found it very direct and brilliant for its duration. I don’t think that prolonging it would have a better effect; in fact it would probably be less emotional. Adding to how artistic and allegorical everything is done without the use of dialogue (yes everybody is mute) and allowing music and motions to depict the whole plot in an understandable way and you have yourself a very powerful piece.
The film is in practice artistic slice-of-life comedy before turning to an anti-war message in the end, thus it offers a lot of development and things to look at or think of. The animation is very lively for its time, the music is effective at inflicting you with emotions, the characters are clear enough to understand them even without talking, and it ends before you start to get bored with it. That is something most 50+ episode series are unable to do in general.
There is of course very little story in it, the characters are just passively living the events, and it may even be criticized as naive anti-war propaganda for kids. All that still doesn’t detract from its compact emotional impact on you which excuses it for its short duration yet large amount of thoughts and emotions surging through your mind. It is very successful for what it aimed to be and still stands today as a good example of what animated features can be all about. Highly recommended.