Studios, The Latest Animation News

What You Missed: ‘Usagi Yojimbo’ Stop-Motion Short + Feature Film in Development

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Welcome to another installment in the What You Missed series.

To recap, this is a series of news stories that fell off our radar during the 2014 year in animation. So consider this a way of catching up with the stories you may have missed out on.

Usagi Yojimbo Short Film + Direct-to-DVD Feature

If you are in anyway familiar with the comics’ medium, then you may recognize this name: Usagi Yojimbo.

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For the uninitiated, Usagi Yojimbo is the name of an ongoing comic book series by writer and artist Stan Sakai. Set during the early Edo period of Japanese history with anthropomorphic characters in place of humans, the series focuses on the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi, a rabbit ronin (a samurai without a master) who wanders the land on a warrior’s pilgrimage (or musha shugyo), selling his services as a bodyguard and making friends (and enemies) along the way.

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Praised universally for weaving together many elements from Japanese cinema, history, and folklore, all drawn with a faithfulness to period style, Usagi Yojimbo remains a seminal title that has influenced creators across multiple mediums (including animation). But with the exception of numerous television appearances with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the 1987 and 2003 TV shows, respectively), the series has yet to have a feature film adaptation. But if one small stop-motion animation company has their way, that may not be the case for much longer.

Cartoon Brew reported last August that upstart company Lintika Films was hard at work on a direct-to-DVD feature film adaptation of Usagi Yojimbo.

But of course, they couldn’t just make the movie right off the bat. So they created a proof-of-concept short film (titled ‘The Last Request’) in order to convince Sakai to grant them the feature film rights (which he did).

You can watch this film down below:

It’s a tad bit rough, but it’s a proof-of-concept piece and according to director Roel Robles, the short was made on a super-low budget with the help of industry friends (many of whom are fellow Lucasfilm alumni): “We are speaking with investors so hopefully it will get funded,” Robles tells Cartoon Brew. “I have something epic in mind. This short film was done on a shoestring budget so just imagine what we can do with an actual film budget. If we get the budget to make this film it will look 100x better.”

Regardless, it’s a pretty solid product considering the amount of resources that went into making the film. Also notice how the direction is very much in the style of Akira Kurosawa (one of the heaviest influences on the comic book itself).

The intended plan so far is for the film to be released on DVD with a finalized sound mix and extras: “It’s  still a work-in-progress and about 90% complete. We’re currently working on the sound mix and refining the film for the DVD release which will include behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, deleted scenes, and interesting details regarding the making of the featurette.” Robles told the ToysREvil blog.

Usagi-Yojimbo-Last-Request-Making-Of-01(Animators Shauna Hagerman, Spencer Beckert, and Desiree Ong + The Set)

The proceeds will go directly to Stan and his family. His wife, Sharon Sakai, sadly passed away back in November after battling an illness inflicted by her brain tumor.

On a final note: with over thirty years worth of stories, Usagi Yojimbo would make a great series of films (should the first one prove successful).

The direct-to-DVD feature has no release date as of yet, but we’ll keep you updated on when that will be unveiled.

What do you think? Any thoughts on the short film? Are you looking forward to the feature-length effort? Are you interested in the comics?

Edited by Kelly Conley

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About Brandon Smith

Brandon is your average nerd with a love for nerdy things (games, comics, anime/manga, etc.). He also loves reading and writing and plans to be an author someday. For now, he writes with passion and curiosity about the world of animation. He lives with his family in North Carolina and is currently attending college.