Monday, August 29, 2011

Skinny and Fatty

Blast from the past of "The CBS Children's Film Festival"



Skinny and Fatty (Chibideka monogatari)
Directed by N. Terao; written by Mitsuo Wakasugi and Seiya Yoshida
Cast: H. Sha (Kenkichi Komatsu), Y. Kataoke (Yuso Oyama)
(Japan, 1958, 46 minutes)
Watch entire film

Thanks go to Video Americain manager Scott Wallace Brown for tracking down a DVD-R version of this beloved chestnut from bygone days. Skinny and Fatty was easily my favorite movie from the CBS Children's Film Festival series, a 1967 television series hosted by the puppets 'n' puppeteer team of Kookla, Fran & Ollie. This 1958 children's film tells the story of chubby new-kid-in-school Oyama ("Fatty"), who is teased and ostracized until befriended by popular schoolmate Komatsu ("Skinny"), who shows him that he has to believe in himself and always try to do his best - even if he fails.


Skinny (Komatsu) and Fatty (Oyama)

Komatsu's attempt to help Oyama master the rope climb in gym class is particularly poignant, though not exactly tear-inducing this time around, viewing it 40 some years later.


Give 'em enough rope: "Don't quit!" Skinny implores Fatty

Like any good Baby Boomer, I was reared on KFO during the latter end of their original 1947-1957 run on NBC and ABC, probably first watching them in syndication in the early '60s (my childhood memory timeline really didn't start until JFK's assassination in November 1963 when I was 6 years old). But I really started to appreciate them when they moved to CBS to host this series featuring "films from all over the world especially for kids."


Behaving parents can watch, too!

As hosted by the "Kuklapolitan Players" - puppets Kukla ("doll" in Russian) and Ollie (aka Oliver J. Dragon), created and performed by Burr Tillstrom, and Fran Allison (who had been working together as early as 1948, with the original puppet pair appearing even earlier in 1939) - this hour-long program featured dubbed, edited versions of foreign films that were suitable for children. And that's what made it so special to the pre-Globalization know-nothing nudniks of my generation, raised as we were on a map of the world that still listed almost half of Africa as "West French Africa."


The Puppeteer Team: Burr Tillstrom and Fran Allison


The Kuklapolitan Players: Kookla, Ollie and Fran Allison

Sure, I was in elementary school by then, but I've always been visually oriented, and maps and books and National Geographic magazines were no substitute for seeing live-action kids from all over the globe eating, playing and studying in their native lands - kids who didn't look like me and who seemed to dress funny and eat weird stuff. I can safely say that everything I learned about foreign lands and cultures really started here (just as my friend Dave Cawley's lifelong fascination/obsession with All Things Japanese began with his exposure to '60s TV imports like Ultraman, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Astroboy, Marine Boy, Gigantor, Tobor the 8th Man,and Speed Racer); in fact, Skinny and Fatty was probably the first foreign film I ever saw, and certainly the first Japanese movie. (And this is probably where we all first saw The Red Balloon, a film everyone from my generation knows!)

Two things I noticed right off the bat watching the film again was how trend-setting Japanese school kids were, toting their books around in little messenger bags that today have become, along with mp3 players and cell phones, de rigeur accessories for all young people. The other was a scene where Fatty tries to squeeze through a fence to catch up to Skinny, but gets stuck, to comic effect. The very same scene would be reenacted years later by Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver and his pudgy pal Larry Mondello in American TV's Leave It To Beaver program. I also noticed, in the scene where Komatsu's family is moving to a new home, that the Japanese pack their belongings in straw, instead of boxes. So many little, incidental details - the taking off of shoes when the children visit one another's houses; the everyday tea ceremonies; the communal bathing in which two unrelated boys cleanse each other - unfold in the film's 45 minutes to be stored away in viewer's cross-cultural memories. The film also touched lightly on the class system, for while the two boys may attend the same school, the well-fed Oyama is obviously from a wealthy family, while Komatsu's family is poor and must move away at picture's end to find work in the far-away mountain region.

The film uses athletic achievement as a narrative arc to show how Oyama's growing confidence under Komatsu's friendship and tutelege helps him achieve newfound popularity and belief in himself. At first, Oyama humiliates himself climbing the rope, but by year's end he is able to team up with his skinny friend to win accolades at the annual sports and games competition festival.


When Oyama pouts "I can't!"...


Komatsu says "Just do it, Oyama!"

The following clip highlights Oyama's progression from failure to success in competitive sports.


And, as the blogger at everydayfamily.com observed, not only does Komatsu teach Oyama the values of courage, friendship, self-pride and risk along the way, but "with the subject of bullying so up front these days, Skinny and Fatty addresses the issue with subtly and beauty."

By film's end, Oyama has learned to stand on his own two feet and runs to the hills to shout his thanks to his friend who's now physically far away but still near and dear to his heart.


The Climatic Finale: "Komatsu! Thank you!"

According to Pop-Cult.com, "The CBS Children's Film Festival was an hour-long program appearing sporadically beginning in 1967, until it joined the early-Saturday- afteroon schedule in 1971...The show ran in this format until 1977, when it was reduced to the half-hour CBS Saturday Film Festival, without the charming hosts. It continued to air irregularly until 1984."

(Trivial aside: Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson cited the CBS Children's Film Festival as one of his inspirations for creating the concept of MST. "It was just one of those shows from my childhood that prepared me for fully appreciating the greatness of MST in the future. You got to see a lot of goofy films from other lands." Even the framework - with a human host and two non-human sidekicks (with MST's Crow and Tom Servo filling in for Kukla and Ollie) introducing the films and then later talking about them and performing little skits - was similar to MST.)

Pop-Cult.com and other sites believe the titles that follow represent a complete listing of all of the films and programs shown during the Film Festival's run:

Adventure in Golden Bay - Czech, 1956
Adventure in the Hopfields - British, 1954
The Angel and Big Joe - American, 1975
Anoop and the Elephant - British, 1972
Bag on Bag - Russian, ?
A Bird of Africa - Japanese, ?
Birds Come Flying To Us - Bulgarian, 1971
Black Mountain - Soviet, 1970
The Blind Bird - Soviet, 1963
The Boy and the Airplane - ?
The Boy Who Wore Spectacles - Soviet, ?
The Boy With Glasses - Japanese, 1962
Bunnie - Polish, 1973
The Camerons - Australian, 1974
Captain Korda - Czech, 1970
Captain Mikula, the Kid - Yugoslavian, 1974
Charlie the Rascal - Swedish, ?
Chipmates - British, ?
The Chiffy Kids - British, 1976
Circus Adventure - Dutch, ?
Circus Angel - French, 1965
Clown - Spanish, 1969
Cold Pizza - Canadian, 1972
Countdown to Danger - British, 1967
Cry Wolf - British, 1968
Carole, I Love You - French, ?
Danger Point - British, 1971
Death of a Gaudy Dancer - Canadian, ?
Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World - British, 1973
Doggie and Three - Czech, 1955
Egghead's Robot - British, 1970
Elephant River - Ceylon, 1956
Felipa: North of the Border - American, 1971
The Firefighters - British, 1975
Flash the Sheepdog - British, 1966
Flay Away Dove - American, 1982
The Flying Sorcerer - British, 1973
For Boys Only is For Girls, Too - Czech, ?
A Friend - Italian, 1967
Friend or Foe - British, ?
Friends For Life - Soviet, 1971
Funny Stories - Soviet, 1962
Geronimo Jones - American, 1970
Get Used To It - ?
Ghost of a Chance - British, 1968
Giamador - ?
The Giant Eel - Czech, 1971
The Goalkeeper Also Lives on Our Street - Czech, 1957
The Golden Fish - French, 1959
Gosha the Bear - Soviet, 1971
Hand in Hand - British, 1960
Headline Hunters - British, 1967
Heidi - German/Austrian, 1965
Joey - American, 1964?
John and Julie - British, 1954
The Johnstown Monster - British, 1971
Jumping Over Puddles - Czech, 1970
The Legend of John Henry - ?
The Legend of Paul Bunyon - ?
Lionheart - British, 1968
The Little Bearkeepers - Czech, 1957
The Little Ones - British, 1965
Little Pig - Chinese, ?
The Little Wooden Horse - ?
Lone Wolf - Yugoslavian, 1972
Lost in Pajamas - Czech, 1966
Lucy and the Miracles - Czech, 1970
The Magnificent 6-1/2 - British, 1967
Mauro the Gypsy - British, ?
Me and You, Kangaroo - Australian, 1974
A Member of the Family - British, 1971
Miguel's Navidad - Mexico, ? Miguel: Up From Puerto Rico - American, 1970
Mischief - British, 1968
Mr . Horatio Knibbles - British, 1971
My Father, Sun-Sun Johnson - Jamaican, ?
My Main Man - ?
Nikkolina - Canadian, ?
Nina and the Street Kids - Swedish, ?
Nunu and the Zebra - South African, ?
On Snow White - Czech, 1972
The Orange Watering Cart - Hungarian, ?
Paddle to the Sea - Canadian, 1966
Paganini Strikes Again - British, 1974
Pero and His Companions - ?
The Promise - ?
The Ransome of Red Chief - Soviet, 1963
The Red Balloon - French, 1956
Soapbox Derby - Canadian, ?
Scramble - British, 1969
A Seafaring Dog - Soviet, ?
The Secret - ?
The Seven Ravens - German, 1937
Shok and Sher - Soviet, ?
Shopping Bag Lady - American, 1975
The Show Must Go On - Soviet, ?
Six Bears and a Clown - Czech, 1972
Sirius - Czech, 1974
Skinny and Fatty - Japanese, 1959
Stowaway in the Sky - French, 1959
Strange Holiday - Australian, 1969
That's My Name, Don't Wear it Out - British, ?
Three Nuts for Cinderella - Czech, 1973
Thunderstorm - French, ?
Ticko - Swedish, ?
Tiko and the Shark - Italian/French, 1965
Tjorven, Batsman, and Moses - Swedish, 1964
Tony and the Tick-Tock Dragon - Hungarian, ?
Turniphead - Italian, 1965
Tymancha's Friend - Soviet, 1970
Up in the Air - British, 1969
The Violin - Canadian, 1974
What Next? - British, 1974
Where's Johnny? - British, 1974
White Mane - Frenche, 1952
Winter of the Witch - British, 1969
The Yellow Slippers - Polish, 1961

The best site for detailed information about these films, as well as sample video clips, is the Kuklapolitan Website's CBS Children's Film Festival page at kukla.tv/cbs.html.

Video:
Watch "Skinny and Fatty" in its entirety (46:32)


Related links:
CBS Children's Film Festival (The Kuklapolitan Website)
CBS Children's Film Festival film listings (Pop-cult.com)
CBS Children's Film Festival (Wikipedia)
1967 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)
1972 CBS Children's Film Festival Commercial (YouTube)

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4 Comments:

Blogger THorne said...

Thank you Thank you Thank you for reminding us of the CBS Children's Film Festival as well as my favorites, Kukla Fran and Ollie. I distinctly remember one film about a young Jewish boy who goes to Mass at a Catholic church ... and if I'm not mistaken, his young Catholic friend goes to a service at a synagogue. Can't figure out which title in your list fits that film. Anyway, thanks!

1:51 PM  
Blogger HFM said...

The film you're talking about, THorne, is called "Hand In Hand", about a Catholic boy's friendship with a Jewish girl.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Daisy Deadhead said...

Wonderful post, I loved this movie and saw it over and over. I saw several others on the list you provide, but this is the one that I loved the most and remember best.

I always cried at the end, when Oyama shouts "thank you" to Komatsu (who isn't physically there to hear it) and I never understood why; it just overwhelmed me every time. Even though I was a child and the movie was ostensibly just a "kids movie" -- the emotions/friendship in the film were actually very mature and authentic. And cathartic too: this scene perfectly sums up/represents all the people in our lives we *wish* we could have thanked for helping us, but never had the chance.

Oyama reminds us to thank them, in our thoughts, in our hearts... and then shout it to the world, for emphasis. :) Just beautiful.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happened on this post and can say I spent more than a few minutes taking a great walk down memory lane. As kids we often watched these shows at times when our parents could leave us be "in front of the tube" for some time. I believe our parents thought KF&O was the main attraction, but for us kids it was really about "skinny and fatty" and many of the other shows. And, replaying some of the shows clearly they were (for us, at least) about the friendships and situations we could all relate to, and getting a window into what it might be like where kids just like us lived, in other parts of the world. What a gem, to watch these again. Thank you!

9:06 AM  

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