A young and very brave boy spends three years receiving special instructions from a hermit in the woods. After the three years are up, the little boy is possessed of magic powers that will help him subdue the source of unhappiness and evil in the forest, a wicked witch. As these exponents of white and black magic go at it, the animals in the forest line up on the side of Magic Boy and help him out whenever they can.
Source: Warner Bros.
Historically-wise, Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke is the first exported Japanese animated film and you immediately see how the west rushed to make changes in order to hide some oriental features. They changed the hero’s profession from a ninja to a samurai, because back then a ninja in the west was just a ruthless assassin and not fit for a children’s movie protagonist. Then they changed the title of the movie to just Magic Boy, because kids back then wouldn’t have a clue what ninjutsu is or who this Sarutobi Sasuke was. This was the pre-Naruto era, remember?Speaking of Naruto, the title would make many to think this is some sort of prequel to that anime when in reality they just share the same elements from Japanese ninja history. Other than that, they indeed both have ninjas and superpowers and can be grouped in the same category, albeit this is a movie and not an endless fighting shonen. Anyways, this is a very classical ninja story for the Japanese kid audience but still way too violent and scary for many in the west (back then). A ninja boy lives happily in a forest with his animal friends until an evil witch appears and eats one of them, so the boy starts to chase after her in order to avenge his death and rid the world from this evil. To make things more complicating, the hero must first talk to a sage and prepare his powers for the battle, the witch allies herself with a gang of thieves, and the animal companions of the hero also aid in his quest, along with a local swordsman. It is not exactly complicating but it sure builds up a lot from its beginning as both heroes and villains are amassing manpower and resources instead of just having them ready from the start. They style of animation is still pre-Osamu, so the characters indeed look Asian and not big round eyed Europeans as they will do later. Yet the various animals are drawn in a way that will make you thing you are watching Bambi for awhile. Heck, the animal that gets eaten is a baby deer (yes kids, you will now have nightmares for both the mother AND the baby deer). But forget that; the highlights for this movie are the action sequences that for their era are numerous and very well made. And they are brutal too! Despite how they tries to make the deaths feel comical, they are still lots of sword slashes that dissect people and throw them pummeling down in grottos. Also the hero and the witch both have superpowers that create all sorts of destruction and even affect the weather. I must say I have never expected them to be so detailed and violent and I was very pleased with how they didn’t hold back on making it rather brutal despite being for kids. The animation feels crude at times but it’s not something that will confuse you with what is going on; the choreography is still vivid enough to be understood even as such. What will be a bit hard to like is how the characters are not as expressive as one would expect but I guess it’s because it’s still a movie for kids and thus they couldn’t make everything TOO dramatic or crazy. The hero for example looks very apathetic most of the time, as if he lacks emotions. He was probably done as such to pass as fearless and heroic yet that makes him distant. And what’s with those red lips of his; it’s like he’s put on lipstick. In a similar fashion the thieves don’t show pain or fear when they are cornered or killed, which again is done as means to not scare the audience too much (as if being stabbed to death and thrown off cliffs is not enough). The hero is also not showing his pain, even when he is brutally kicked around; he isn’t even seem to be injured or bleeding after several strikes. In general the movie is not showing any blood or injuries and in a way feels heavily censored in an almost understood way since this is for kids. It is still rather disturbing at times, especially when the witch shows her real form, and thus not completely watered down.It is an interesting watch if seen as a dark children’s adventure but chances are you will only like the action and not its non-bleeding, non-expressive characters.
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