Cast & Crew
Sasuke and his sister Oyu live in the mountains with their animal friends. Their peaceful existence is disturbed by a witch whose bandits roam the countryside, terrorizing villagers and animals. Sasuke consults Hakuunsai, a famous teacher of magic, to learn how to combat the witch's magic powers. While he is gone, Prince Sanada and his servant Miyoshi meet Oyu, and she tells them of the problems with the witch. The witch abducts Oyu, but Sasuke combines forces with the prince and the animals to rescue her and destroy the witch.
MGM picked the film up for American distribution and had it dubbed, of course, which proved to be less damaging than the English tracks provided for most live-action Japanese features. The story was left intact (in "Big Screen Magicolor!") as it follows the adventures of Sasuke, a country boy whose idyllic existence is disrupted by shape-shifting demon witch Yakusha and her minions. He seeks counsel from mystical teacher Hakuun, who arms him with the knowledge to save Sasuke's sister, Oye, who has fallen into the sorceress's clutches.
In an unusual gesture for the time (particularly when K. Gordon Murray was creating tone-deaf compositions for his Mexican imports), the original Japanese songs were left in their untranslated state for the American release, which remains the standard today. While catchy, it's tempting to wonder what children thought at the time as the basic English spoken by the characters suddenly segued into Japanese musical numbers.
As R. Emmet Sweeney noted in a Movie Morlocks article here at TCM, the film also marked the intersection of two distinctive art styles: Koji Fukiya, creator of elegant and often opulent artwork for publications aimed at young women, and Yasuo Otsuka, an up and comer who would later mentor the legendary Hayao Miyazaki including an early collaboration on The Little Norse Prince (1968).
The early '60s push to bring anime to American screens from both MGM and independents wasn't a particularly successful one, though the few critics who saw Magic Boy were charmed by its lush style and engaging action. Afterwards the immediate future of anime was somewhat grim in America, where studios like Toei were soon generating fast, affordable product for television consumption.
However, respect for the art form was maintained internationally and films like Magic Boy remained popular in Japan, where this even inspired a 1994 video game, Sasuke Ninja Boy. Toei remained in the animation game as well in various forms, later generating popular series like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and Mazinger Z among others. Co-directors Akira Daikuhara and Taiji Yabushita (who had worked on Serpent) remained active as well, with the latter most notably going on to Toei's next animated film, Alakazam the Great (1960), and the later Jack and the Witch (1967). Easy to appreciate both for its artistry and entertainment value, Magic Boy also remains a pivotal moment in the history of one of animation's most vital international incarnations.
By Nathaniel Thompson
Released in Japan in 1960 as Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke.