Kitaro of the Graveyard (partially found artwork from kamishibai street plays; 1930s-1950s)
One of the few remaining illustrations by Masami Ito that exists from the Kitaro of the Graveyard kamishibai.
Status: Partially Found
Gegege no Kitaro (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎) is a multimedia franchise known for popularizing the use of yokai, Japanese spirits and monsters, in pop culture. The series first started off as a type of street theater known as kamishibai, and was originally created by Masami Ito before being adapted by Shigeru Mizuki. At the time, it was known as Kitaro of the Graveyard (Hakaba Kitaro, 墓場奇太郎). These kamishibai versions of the Kitaro story differ vastly from what we know today, featuring a much darker tone. As Shigeru Mizuki started work as a kamishibai artist before he popularized the Kitaro character, most of his original artwork at the time is considered lost. Some of Masami Ito’s original Kitaro of the Graveyard artwork has been recovered, and is featured in books such as “Kamishibai Showa History” (紙芝居昭和史). However, much of it still remains lost to time.
Ito’s original version of Kitaro of the Graveyard story is based on the tale of the child-rearing yokai (Kosodate Yūrei,子育て幽霊). There are multiple different versions of the story, however they all share one common theme: A ghost of a woman leads a bystander to her grave, where it’s discovered that the woman had given posthumous birth to a healthy baby. The original Kitaro had a disfigured face, with buck teeth and a large bulging eye. He was born in a graveyard from the belly of a snake, due to the karma of his parents. Other details of the story are unknown. It is said that the original Kitaro of the Graveyard was even more popular than Golden Bat, a well-known kamishibai story, but there are very little sources that can confirm this claim. Also worth noting is the claim that many of the original Kitaro drawings may have been lost due to WWII.
Thankfully, some of Ito’s version of the Kitaro story have survived. Illustrations are featured in the book “Kamishibai Showa History” (紙芝居昭和史).
Even less is known about Mizuki’s adaptation of the kamishibai story. Thankfully, an illustration has surfaced of his original design of Kitaro. In this illustration, we see Kitaro with a snake, which confirms that this was an adaptation of Ito’s story.
After returning from the war, Mizuki would start working as a kamishibai artist. Kamishibai was struggling to stay popular after with the introduction of other forms of media, such as television and manga. When Mizuki moved on to adapt a kashihon (rental manga) based on Kitaro of the Graveyard, he would take inspiration from other kamishibai stories he worked on and use them in his work. One of these being Neko Musume, a story about a girl born as a strange cat/human hybrid. Sadly, many of these works seem to have been lost to time.
- Information about the origins of Neko Musume. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- Information about the original Neko Musume Kamishibai, provided in Japanese. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- Detailed information about the child-rearing yokai. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- A website detailing the history of Gegege no Kitaro. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- A blog post detailing information about Kitaro of the Graveyard. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- Kada, Koji (2004). 紙芝居昭和史. Retrieved 13 Aug '20
- Papp, Zilia (2010). Anime and Its Roots in Early Japanese Monster Art. Pp. 54 Retrieved 13 Aug '20