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‘The Adventures of Prince Achmed’ & ‘One Thousand and One Nights’

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Arabic folk tales compiled during the Islamic Golden Age that is often known in English as Arabian Nights.  The tales trace their roots back to ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian folklore and literature.  Some editions only contain a few hundred nights while others include 1,001 or more.  Some of the more famous stories include “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.”  For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at two of the animated films it inspired: the very early classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed and the Japanese-made One Thousand and One Nights.

Directed by Lotte Reiniger, 1926’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed centers on a prince who embarks on an adventure to far-away lands on a flying horse, and along he way he befriends a witch, meets Aladdin, battles demons, and falls in love with a princess.  Based on One Thousand and One Nights (specifically elements from The Story of Prince Ahmed and the Fairy Paribanou), this critically acclaimed cutout animated film is the earliest surviving animated feature film.  For this film, Reiniger invented a silhouette animation technique, which involved manipulating cutouts made from cardboard and thin sheets of lead under a camera.  Reiniger started production on the film in Berlin in 1923, with each frame needing to be painstakingly filmed (this resulted in a three-year production period).  250,000 frame-by-frame stills were made and 96,000 ended up being used in the film.  A lot of the animation effects that were experimented with and developed for the film have become commonplace in animation.  Wolfgang Zeller had written the film’s original score in 1926.  Jean Renoir and Rene Clair were among those who turned up for the Paris premiere of the film, and the meeting between Renoir and Reiniger led to a close friendship and professional relationship.

Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, 1969’s One Thousand and One Nights centers on a traveling water seller who falls in love with a slave girl, leading to personal A Thousand and One Nights-VHS.jpgsuffering as well as incredible adventures to unexpected places.  Featuring the voices of Yukio Aoshima, Kyoko Kishida, Hiroshi Akutagawa, Sachiko Ito, Haruko Kato, Asao Koike, Isao Hashizume, and Noboru Mitani, this critically acclaimed anime was part of Mushi Productions’ Animerama (a series of adult-themed anime films).  Essentially an X-rated animated film, the film’s graphic sexual content (which was present in One Thousand and One Nights, which was the basis for the film) predates Fritz the Cat by three years.

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