“Kenya Boy” (Shounen Keniya) is a 1 hour and 50 minute animated movie from 1984. Using a combination of line art and color pencil looking animation, it makes visual references to it’s 1951 source material, a series of highly illustrated, children’s novels of the same name by prize winning novelist and poet, Souji Yamakawa. The story had been previously adapted in 1962 as a live action children’s television series.
The movie begins in live-action , with Souji Yamakawa reading his novel as illustrations from it flash behind him. He stands and spins the globe on his desk and we are transported into the animated story…
1941- Nairobi, Kenya:
Wanting to share the beauty of the country he has come to love, fabric merchant, Daisuke Murakami, takes his son, Wataru, into the African bush for his last trading expedition. Suddenly, his hired natives run-off and Daisuke learns that war has started between Japan and England (Uh-oh! WWII). Fleeing from the British, he takes his son further into the rough where they are attacked by a rampaging rhino.
“Japanese? I see, then. You must be brave.”
Separated from his father, terrified Wataru stumbles upon a critically ill Maasai Chieftain, Zega. Unable to stand, Zega relies on the young boy to brave a treacherous mountain climb, fight a giant frog, and secure the fruit of a rare plant, the only known cure for his disease. Zega, recovered and indebted to Wataru, gives up his status as chief and vows to help Wataru find his father.
“Gin a body meet a body comin’ thro’ the rye”
Three years pass, and Wataru learns from Zega how to live in the wild (wear unwashed, tattered clothing, ride elephants… and play, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” on a reed flute … huh?). The two happen upon a rival tribe. The tribe’s chief has abducted a Scottish girl, Kate, and convinced his tribesmen that she is a god. Using her as a deity, he sacrifices any who oppose him to their little-blonde-girl goddess. With the help of the divine and benevolent giant snake, Dahna, Wataru and Zega free Kate; but just miss a chance for Wataru to be reunited with his dad, as they ride off on the back of the huge serpent.
On their journey, Zega, Wataru, and Kate engage in further adventures; fighting against the sinister Lizard Tribe, nefarious Nazis, and subterranean dinosaurs awakened by a nuclear bomb blast. Through the power of a flood, stolen “2001: A Space Odyssey” imagery, and Dahna, oddly pixilated along with other visuals, Wataru and Kate are delivered to a train platform, and Wataru’s Mom and Dad are on the train. It’s 1945 and everything has worked out just fine (uh…how?). Then, the whole movie ends again with Souji Yamakawa on a street in a digital wire frame, “Tron”-esc looking, 1984 Japan; closing his book, with the camera panning back and up to show a jumbo jet whose silhouette seamlessly cuts to a pterodactyl’s .(WTF!!!!)
“Thank you, Zega. Thank you, Africa!”
“Kenya Boy” is very interesting looking, and uses some innovative and stylish animation. Its story and visuals feel like a throw back to children’s adventure comics and novels, or movie serials of the 1930s and 40s. Unfortunately, it’s a completely incoherent mess.