Two of the loveliest films I’ve seen in a long time are THE MERMAID (1965, Hong Kong) and THE LITTLE MERMAID (1975, Japan), which I watched a day apart. It was my very first viewing of THE MERMAID, a Shaw Bros. Huangmei Opera, while I’d previously seen THE LITTLE MERMAID, a Japanese animated film, only in a poor-quality, severely cropped English dub on VHS. Seeing the widescreen version on DVD, in Japanese with English subtitles, was like seeing it for the first time. The two films have some elements in common, although I’m not sure if the Hong Kong film was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen tale or by a much older Chinese folk tale. I’m guessing that the screenwriter drew on elements of both. The title mermaid in the Hong Kong film is not, technically, a mermaid as we’ve come to know this creature. Instead, she’s the spirit of a golden carp, a fish living in the pond adjacent to a garden in a Prime Minister’s villa in Old China. The carp takes on full human form, while retaining her magical powers, in order to console a poor scholar who’s been shunned by the family of the maiden to whom he was betrothed. The animated Japanese film is a direct adaptation of Andersen’s tale about a mermaid who trades in her fish tail for a pair of legs in order to live on land and try to win the favor of a prince and was made in 1975 to commemorate the centennial of Andersen’s death. Unlike the later Disney adaptation of the same title (1989), the anime version retains the tragic ending of the original story.
An Olympic Fable: Run for Life
One of the most obscure anime titles in my VHS collection was found in a battered case in a used video bin at a now-shuttered video store back in May 1998. At the time I had no idea what its exact origin was, but I was sure it was Japanese animation, thanks to the © 1983 Harmony Gold credit on the case and the style of art seen in the intriguing image of a young man in Ancient Greece running with a look of urgency on his face. Harmony Gold is the U.S. company that crafted the 85-episode syndicated series, “Robotech,” in 1985 by stringing together three unrelated anime sci-fi series from 1982-84 and adapting the dialogue so that the stringing together made sense. The title on the case of the videotape I bought is “An Olympic Fable: Run for Life,” while the onscreen title on the tape itself is just “Run for Life.”