Hashimoto-san is a relatively well-regarded character from the Terrytoons studio. An anthropomorphic Japanese housemouse who practices martial arts, raises a family, and narrates tales to his friends. Hashimoto is credited by animation historians as the first serious attempt to create a largely sympathetic Asian protagonist for the medium. Rather than the vile Japanese enemies depicted in the Wartime Cartoons, and the Asian manservants and sidekicks prevalent in the American fiction of the time. He was introduced in 1959, created by director Rokuro "Bob" Kuwahara (1901-1964).
Kuwahara had been born in Tokyo. His family moved to the United States c. 1910. He entered the animation field in 1932 when hired by the Walt Disney animation studio. He worked in the storyboard department for animated shorts, such as the Silly Symphonies entry Who Killed Cock Robin? (1935) and the Mickey Mouse entry Thru the Mirror (1936). He was also involved in the story department of a feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). He left the Disney studio in 1937, starting work in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. World War II derailed Kuwahara's career as he spent "three hectic years" (as described by Bob himself) in an internment camp for Japanese Americans. He tried his hand as a comic strip artist from 1945 to 1950, but returned to animation when hired by Paul Terry in 1950. Nine years later, Kuwahara got to create his own character. He wanted to have the series serve to introduce American audiences to "positive images of Japan".
Hashimoto was accompanied by a supporting cast: his wife Hanako, his son Saburo, his daughter Yoriko/Yuriko, ... and an American best friend. Said best friend was an American reporter going by the name of G.I. Joe, in probable reference to a term for United States military personnel, popularized by cartoonist Dave Breger (1908-1970) during World War II. How the two met was never explained. Hashimoto was at times the actual protagonist, and at times the narrator to an old legendary story, introducing Joe-san and the audience to the many "charms and mysteries" of his native land. While the main characters spoke English, secondary characters could be heard using genuine Japanese vocabulary, though nothing too complex: terms such as "banzai" and "kawaii". The series was also noted for some "authentic Japanese touches" such as correct use of futons, shamisen, etc.
Theatrical shorts featuring Hashimoto-san and ancillary characters remained in production until 1963. By the time the series ended, Terrytoons had ceased producing most of its theatrical animated series, turning its attention to creating animated television series. Hashimoto-san turned up in his own segment at The Hector Heathcote Show (1963-1965). But when that show also ended, Hashimoto-san joined the ranks of Terrytoons' defunct characters.
In comic books, Hashimoto-san stories were featured in New Terrytoons series (1962-1979). While not particularly well-remembered, a couple of these stories can be found online, scanned by fans of the old character. Hashimoto-san briefly returned to animation, as one of many classic Terrytoons characters receiving cameos in the Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (1987-1988). But other than that, Hashimoto-san remains defunct.
- "Hashimoto-san" (1959), co-directed by Bob Kuwahara and Dave Tendlar.
- "House of Hasmitoto" (1960), directed by Connie Rasinski. Scripted by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Doll Festival" (1961), directed by Mannie Davis. Episode features the Hinamatsuri festival.
- "Night Life in Tokyo" (1961), directed by Mannie Davis.
- "So Sorry, Pussycat" (1961), directed by Art Bartsch.
- "Son of Hashimoto" (1961), directed by Connie Rasinski.
- "Strange Companion" (1961), directed by Mannie Davis.
- "Honorable Cat Story" (1961), directed by Connie Rasinski.
- "Honorable Family Problem" (1962), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Loyal Royalty" (1962), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Honorable Paint in the Neck" (1962), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Tea House Mouse" (1962), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Pearl Crazy" (1963), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
- "Cherry Blossom Festival" (1963), directed by Bob Kuwahara. Episode features the Hanami festival.
- "Spooky-Yaki" (1963), directed by Bob Kuwahara.
This Terrytoon cartoon series provides examples of:
- All Asians Know Martial Arts: Hashimoto-san is a martial artist. Modern critics often point out that this is stereotypical in its own right.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Averted in "House of Hasmitoto". The invisible mouse is treated like a regular boy by both his parents and the community at large. As the narrator explains, "folks got used to having" him around.
- ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Toyed with in "House of Hasmitoto". The audience gets to find out the secret of the narrator. That he was the protagonist of the story narrated through the short. But the other characters do not.
- Attack the Tail: Toyed with. In "So Sorry, Pussycat", the cat is unable to defeat Hashimoto-san and Saburo until it captures their tails with its paws.
- Awkward Father-Son Bonding Activity: In "So Sorry, Pussycat", Hashimoto-san decides to teach Saburo fishing, partly for teaching him survival skills, partly for "Japanese father-son type togetherness". While Saburo doesn't complain, he is rather confused. "Papa-san, why must we fish when fish not our food?" When they are both threatened by a cat, Hashimoto-san offers the fish to the cat as an alternative food source. Hashimoto explains that this is why the activity is an important survival skill. "Keep cat fed, save our head."
- Cats Are Mean: The villains of the series tend to be cats. Ranging from Civilized Animals to Nearly Normal Animals, but all vicious.
- Festival Episode:
- The plot of "Doll Festival" is based on the Hinamatsuri festival. Hanako and Yuriko have worked for "many weeks" to create a doll for the festival. Saburo has created his own "hero samurai doll". The family transfers the dolls from their residence to a display location. But a "kabuki doll" displayed with the others is actually a cat in disguise, spelling trouble for the family.
- The plot of "Cherry Blossom Festival" is based on the Hanami festival.
- Furry Female Mane: Hashimoto-san and Saburo seem bald, while Hanako and Yoriko/Yuriko have black hair.
- Happily Married: Hashimoto-san and Hanako are depicted as a loving couple and no marital problems are ever mentioned.
- Invisibility: In "House of Hasmitoto", Hashimoto-san narrates the tale of an invisible mouse. It begins from his birth with this unusual condition, to growing up a fighter, and to saving his people from a giant cat before losing his ability due to an accidental blow to the head. "But each month, at stroke of midnight when moon is full, he becomes invisible again. Until dawn". The ending has all the conditions met and Hashimoto-san himself turning invisible. He was narrating his own story.