Gegege no Kitarou
Spooky Kitaro’s Sixth Generation: A Much-Loved Anime Spook has a Stylish Retro Look on Japanese TV
You can’t keep a good idea down, as Toei’s version of a classic ghost story shows. Hakaba Kitaro (Graveyard Kitaro) remakes Shigeru Mizuki’s classic manga and anime GeGeGe no Kitaro (Spooky Kitaro,) and takes the story back to its earliest roots, revealing the previously untold secret of Kitaro’s birth. Its retro style and dark humour have made it a hit in its late-night slot and worldwide on YouTube.
Anime Revives Ancient Legends
Reporter Mizuki meets Kitaro’s parents when they move into an abandoned temple near his home. The Ghost Tribe want to live in peace and be left alone, but the expansion of human society and the greed of postwar Japan is destroying them. Born in his mother’s grave, Kitaro is raised by a reluctant Mizuki before being reunited with his father’s spirit and carving out a life between the human and spirit worlds, trying to keep peace between them.
Kitaro’s friends include the sly, smelly, sneaky Rat-man (Nezumi Otoko), wise old Sand Hag (Sunakake-baba) and the cute and fearsome Cat Girl (Neko Musume) who has a crush on him. The ghosts are rooted in authentic Japanese legends and the background depicts the hard times of postwar Japan.
The Artist and Folklore Scholar
Mizuki was born in 1922. He dreamed of being an artist as a child, but was conscripted into the Japanese army aged 20. A left-hander, he had to teach himself to write and draw again when he lost his left arm in Papua New Guinea. On his return he worked as a kamishibai (paper theater) artist, drawing images for the itinerant storytellers who sold candy and told illustrated tales on street corners all over Japan.
During his childhood, an elderly local woman had told him stories of Japan’s traditional ghosts and goblins, or youkai. In New Guinea he’d become fascinated by local legends. Still working in his late 80s, he is now an internationally respected folklore scholar, artist and biographer.
How Kitaro’s Story Developed
The story had originated as a kamishibai play in the 1930s. Rooted in Japan’s folklore, it had just the right mix of spookiness and humanity to appeal to both adults and children. Other kamishibai artists had no interest in taking it into the expanding postwar manga market, so Mizuki reworked it in his own unique style and launched it as Hakaba no Kitaro in 1959.
The manga was considered too dark and scary for a young TV audience, so when it was animated by Toei for Fuji TV in 1968, it was renamed GeGeGe no Kitaro. The stories were more contemporary and lighthearted. The first two series were directed by Isao Takahata, later to found Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. The manga was republished in “Shonen Magazine” with the same title as the anime, to tie into its success.
Multimedia, Multilingual Success
Four more TV series followed, all by Toei for Fuji TV. There are also nine animated movies, two live action films and numerous computer games for Game Boy, PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Wii. The original manga was translated into English for Kodansha, and into French for Cornelius.