Monday, March 8, 2010

Johnny Chuck in Japan

For a full 52 weeks in 1973, children could watch "Yama-nezumi Rocky Chuck" at 7:30 on Fuji TV.

Here is the opening

Here is a series of clips from the program, including the end theme, "Rocky and Polly."

From 1969 to 1972, Kinnohoshisha had published translations of the twenty Burgess Bedtime Storybooks (collected from the newspaper feature and originally published between 1913 and 1919 in the U.S.). The TV program "Rocky Chuck" directly followed that the translation project, shown during a time slot devoted to animated versions of popular works of world literature. The original name, "Johnny" was used in the books but changed to "Rocky" for TV; "Yamanezumi" (lit. "Mountain Rat," but really "marmot") was used because Japan has nothing directly comparable to a woodchuck.

This program is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Thornton Burgess bedtime stories, featuring the characters, settings, and narratives of the originals (including "Peter Rabbit Changes his Name"). There are some significant differences, largely in the depiction of animal species--"Bob White," for example, is depicted as a quail, and Rocky lives in the forest, not in the Green Meadows (as a good woodchuck should).

It was a popular show among the children of the era in Japan, and it has a wide nostalgia cult following. (It shows up occasionally in re-runs on Japanese satellite networks.)

Here, for example, is an extensive Japanese fansite.

And here's a relatively recent TV performance of the theme song by the original singer, Mitsuko Horie (she had recorded the original as "Micchi and the Chatterers")

As you might expect, there were associated character goods available. I'm particularly fond of this one, reminiscent of some of the Quaddy toys.

Please note that this is a perfect example of what Burgess pledged to never allow: Johnny (Rocky) Chuck riding a bike.

The program was dubbed into English (and other languages) and distributed by "ZIV International" in the late 1970s. As far as I know, it wasn't shown on US television, but was widely seen in Canada via TV Ontario (this suggests some copyright issues in the US). It was called Fables of the Green Forest and has acquired its own Canadian cult following.

Here's the English-language opening

YouTube supplies at least one full episode: "Johnny's Secret Door," which I can't embed, but will link to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Except for some unfortunate voice direction choices (Peter Rabbit is initially voiced like Bullwinkle), this is a very watchable show. It maintains much of the original Japanese soundtrack and pacing, and includes the occasional nature study note (in the above case, a brief description of the layout of a ground hog den). It also conveys the tension of the Burgess stories, the characters in constant danger from the likes of Reddy Fox and "Mean" Weasel.

Next: Tragedy and Burgess

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