The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Oji-san no Lamp

Title: Oji-san no Lamp
Genre: Drama
Company: Telecom Animation Film
Format: 1 Episode
Date: 12 Mar 2011

Synopsis: An adaptation of Niimi Nankichi’s 1940 children’s story of the same name, Oji-San no Lamp is Telecom Animation Film’s submission for Project A, a government program designed to train and cultivate young animators. Toichi, a young boy, happens upon his grandfather’s old lamp one day while playing with his friends. Upset at seeing his beloved possession used as a toy, Toichi’s grandfather Minosuke chases the kids away and tells Toichi the story behind the lamp.

The Highlights
Plot: Straightforward.
Storytelling: Masterful.
Lighting: Great usage of colors to represent hues of light.

Accepting your own irrelevance is never easy, yet this is exactly what Minosuke, the protagonist of Oji-san no Lamp, must do in order to survive. Having spent his whole life in the oil lamp business, his livelihood is threatened when electricity is introduced to Japan. Determined to save his business, he spreads malicious lies about electricity in an attempt to block its use in his native village. When his plans fail, Minosuke is driven to near-insanity.

Things weren’t always that bad for the young entrepreneur. As a young orphan running odd jobs to maintain subsistence, Minosuke was first introduced to the oil lamp during a trip to the city. Entranced by its light, he begs a merchant to sell him one at wholesale price, claiming that he’ll take it back to his rural hometown to sell. In the scene that follows, we see the young Minosuke skipping home during the night, using his lamp to ward off monsters. He imagines himself as a lord, commanding a vast army of spirits and demons, who all cower in fear of his seemingly magical light. Later, he begins to sell lamps in his hometown, lighting up the night and bringing modernity to his small mountain village. Both he and his business grow, and he becomes the breadwinner of a happy family— until the introduction of electricity. Powerless, he eventually learns to let go of his precious oil lamps.

At the end of Oji-san no Lamp, we truly understand Minosuke: Here’s a man who’s truly passionate about what he does, yet isn’t completely defined by it. He’s not just a lamp-loving maniac— he’s a tragic figure, a great innovator soon to be left behind by the inevitable march of modernity. Thankfully for him, he realizes that he’s still young and bites the bullet, determined to start again. It’s a powerful comment on the need to always look forwards.

The treatment of the oil lamp is crucial to Oji-san no Lamp’s ultimate success. It lights up the night for the peasants of Minosuke’s village, bringing them their first taste of modernity. Though ultimately replaced by the electric light bulb, the oil lamp is still an object worthy of respect. Its light, a warm, inviting orange, stands in stark contrast to the harsh, bright yellow of the light bulb. When Minosuke bids farewell to his beloved lamps, he does so through a grand ceremony. They’re hung up one by one, lighting up the night with the brilliance before being extinguished forever. Dignified and majestic, the oil lamp is not simply tossed aside; it leaves to take its place in history as a harbinger of modernity.

Telecom’s masterful treatment of Minosuke and his story deserves the highest praise. In the short span of 24 minutes of Oji-san no Lamp, we truly connect with this man and his problems. We relate to his reluctance to give up everything he’s loved and accept his own irrelevance. Yet, we implore him to do so, lest he be left behind by the ruthless progress of society. Though everything ultimately ends well for him, we’re still left with a tinge of sadness at the end of it all— unwilling to accept, like Minosuke, than object as beautiful as an oil lamp can be so casually replaced by something as harsh and uninviting as a light bulb, yet knowing, as he does, that such is life— that one must either keep up with the times, or be left behind in the dark.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Akira

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