THE BOOTLEG FILES: "ADVENTURES OF SINBAD" Image

BOOTLEG FILES 197: “Adventures of Sinbad” (1962 Japanese animated feature).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening of this film.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: In the 1980s on VHS.

REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: The film just seems to have fallen through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Insh’allah!

One of the joys of chasing down bootlegs comes in discovering titles that somehow got lost in obscurity and only survive in crummy duped videos. This happened to me the other week during a visit to a department store. While browsing through a collection of kiddie films in a cheapo public domain DVD bin, I came upon a title I knew nothing about: an animated flick called “Adventures of Sinbad.” For a $3.99 purchase, “Adventures of Sinbad” was mine.

And, quite frankly, it was $3.99 that was very well spent. “Adventures of Sinbad” turned out to be a pleasant surprise: a Japanese production that offered an entertaining, family-friendly spin on the hoary old Arabian adventure. I later discovered the film originated from the first wave of Japanese animated features that began to reach world markets in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In fact, its director (Taiji Yabushita) also helmed several of the better-known animated films of this period: “Hakujaden” (a.k.a. “Panda and the Magic Serpent”), “Alakazam the Great” and “Magic Boy.”

“Adventures of Sinbad” opens in old Arabia. This time around, Sinbad is a young man who is either in his late teens or early twenties. He doesn’t appear to have a family or a visible means of support, but he has a groovy bachelor pad overlooking the harbor. He also has a couple of Star of Davids hanging over his bed (shout out to our Sephardic friends!).

Sinbad’s sidekick is Ali, a little boy with a high pitched voice. Both Sinbad and Ali wear excessive white turbans that make them look like cranial surgery patients. Ali has his own sidekick, a little cat with pointy ears.

One day, Ali discovers an old man lying near death on the beach. He fetches Sinbad, who carries the old man back to his bachelor pad. The old man gives the duo a map and talks about an island full of gems. The old salt then dies. Sinbad and Ali, eager for adventure and potential riches, leave the dead man in Sinbad’s flat and seek out passage on a ship. When they are disqualified from maritime employment consideration because of their youth, the pair and Ali’s cat stow away on a ship. They are discovered, but the kindly old sea captain (who has his own supersized turban and has one tooth in his mouth) agrees to have the young stowaways swab the deck, hoist the sails, and join in the prayers to Allah.

The prayers to Allah? Oddly enough, “Adventures of Sinbad” catches an Islamic vibe. Twice during the film, the characters face Mecca on their knees (they should be doing it five times a day, but that would significantly slow down the advancement of the film’s plot). There are also plenty of crescent-and-star flags fluttering around the film.

Anyway, Sinbad falls in with Aziz and Abdullah, a Laurel and Hardy-inspired pair of sailor. One night in a port of call, they all head off to a bar where Sinbad plays what he says is a guitar (although it looks like a mandolin). Abdullah takes the instrument and sings a song about how he discovered vast wealth by playing a magic guitar. A pair of palace guards, conveniently ignoring the Koranic warning about consuming alcohol, interrupt their intoxicating off-duty pursuit and rush back to their boss, the wicked prime minister, with word about a magic guitar that can find treasure. The prime minister orders Sinbad and his pals arrested.

The prime minister is also eyeing the sultan’s daughter as a possible wife. The princess (who has no name – everyone calls her “Princess”) has no interest in the wicked prime minister. She falls in love with the handsome, bare-chested Sinbad (you go, girl!). The princess conspires to get Sinbad and his pals out of the dungeon and they sail off to the island that is supposedly full of gems. The wicked prime minister gets his own ship and chases them.

The good news: the island full of gems really exists. The bad news: the treasure is guarded by flying jellyfish that wrap themselves around intruders and fatally electrocute their victims. There is also an oversized bird that wants to eat Sinbad, a flood that nearly drowns half the cast, and a giant avian sculpture that doesn’t like intruders. Don’t worry, it all works out well for Sinbad and the princess.

“Adventures of Sinbad” is full of nifty surprises (you really must see the jellyfish in flight). But the real joy here involves a baby whale that keeps turning up at odd moments. The little whale first appears when a gigantic swordfish is trying to kill it – Sinbad shows off his harpoon-tossing muscles and terminates the swordfish. The baby whale comes back later with his mother, who shows her appreciation by helping the ship when it is stuck in a reef. And the baby whale, in complete defiance of the laws of marine biology, comes on board to hang out with Sinbad and the crew.

“Adventures of Sinbad” was dubbed into English and, for the most part, the dubbing is fine. The only serious problem comes in the film’s musical interludes, which have weak orchestration and atonal singing (Abdullah’s song sounds like it was performed by a drunk in a shower). The American version also cut nine minutes from the original 87-minute version.

So if this is such a fine film, how did it get forgotten? From what my research can determine, “Adventures of Sinbad” was never theatrically released in the U.S. It was syndicated for American television in the mid-1970s and it appeared to have been made available on 16mm for the pre-video home entertainment circuit. It turned up on home video (at its original length) in a VHS release from F.H.E. in the 1980s.

Today, however, “Adventures of Sinbad” is only available in bootlegged dupes. The film, from what I can gather, is not public domain and should not be released by PD labels. That $3.99 DVD I purchased specialized in PD fare and used a grainy, faded 16mm print. Although it was watchable, I would’ve loved to have seen the film in its original pristine hues.

However, a bootlegged “Adventures of Sinbad” is better than no film at all. Maybe this film will someday be restored and presented in its full-rigged glory. Now that would be something worth a tip of the turban to Mecca!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at
Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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