When production began for the second theatrical movie, Masao Maruyama (Madhouse Producer) recommended Moribi Murano for the job. Osamu Tezuka wrote up the movie’s synopsis and completed it in September 1980*, creating a completely new Unico story with the pending title Unico and the Kingdom of the Sun (ユニコと太陽の王国). Upon completion, the first synopsis was too long, so Tezuka asked Madhouse to shorten it. When Tezuka read the edits, he disliked the changes and rewrote a new synopsis, and handed it to Murano, thus creating the movie we know today.1
Murano and Tezuka worked together before the script and storyboard were created. They changed the plot of the movie, including one version where Marusu had a bigger role. In this version, after Kukurukku transformed Cherry and Unico into dolls, Marusu is the only one left. As a sphinx, they would ask Kukurukku three riddles. One of these riddles was “how do you return a human being who has become a doll,” basically tricking the wizard to turn everyone back.2
Unico shares the spotlight with many other characters for this film. When asked by Tsunemasa Hatano (Sanrio Producer) if it was alright that Unico wasn’t the main protagonist of the movie, Tezuka stated, “Unico is fine with that. There can always be another leading role and Unico can be a supporting role.” 3
After the synopsis’ completion, giving the movie a Sanrio-style humanism, Murano wrote up the script and drew the storyboard. Murano completed the storyboard in three days4 (over 200 sheets!5) and production started shortly after. They completed the film within a year, but because of various reasons, they held it back by another year in order to make the movie solid, giving it a 1983 summer vacation release.
The technical and elaborate backgrounds and Murano’s character style blended well to create a beautiful and unique movie adults and children could love. Murano’s personality is strongly expressed in his work, and the film has a mixture of Tezuka and Murano styled art. Maruyama stated that the goal of the movie was to combine the classic fantasy Disney movies with the feel of Spielberg and Lucas.6
Murano found and chose the main theme song, “Do Re Mi Fa Lullaby” by Emiko Shiratori, at the time as well.7 Upon the movie’s release, the song was only available on the soundtrack and promotional LP until much later when a version (Ai no Teemu/Theme of Love) was added to the Tezuka Osamu World Best of Best album in 1999, and the full song as a bonus track to the Golden Best Emiko Shiratori album in 2005.
They released Unico in the Island of Magic in Japanese theaters July 16, 1983, as a double feature with the 1978 Sanrio documentary Kita-Kitsune Monogatari (The Glacier Fox/The Red Fox Story). Another round of merchandise was released by this time, and like the first movie, The Strawberry News (Ichigo Shinbun) had a featured issue on Unico in the Island of Magic.
Interestingly, the hard cover movie book released the same year has artwork from what appears to be deleted scenes.8 One is when Yamaneko panics and tries to run away from Unico. The other two mountain cats appear, questioning their boss. The orange cat is afraid of Unico’s horn and after holding Unico up and smacking him in the face, he asks to see Unico’s teeth to see if those are scary. Unico does as he’s told, and the three cats laugh and bully him. Yamaneko scratches Unico’s face with his claws and Unico asks why he did that and if he hates him. The orange cat responds that he really hates him and then the three cats chase Unico.
There are also images of Unico looking up when the storm and rain begin shortly after being chased by the cats. This scene would have appeared in between Unico trying to befriend forest animals and when Unico is sitting under a large leaf trying to stay dry.
The opening sequence of the movie features West Wind and Unico zipping through the clouds toward a coastal town. West Wind flies over the town and to the nearby forest, places Unico down and says goodbye. Unico soon meets Yamaneko (Mountain Cat) and tries to befriend him. Once Yamaneko notices Unico’s horn, he grows leery and instantly rejects the unicorn. When Unico comes closer to the orange tabby, Yamaneko is gravely afraid until two other tom cats appear. Yamaneko tries to act tough, smacking poor Unico in the face, then precedes to chase him through the forest with the other cats.
Unico falls down a ravine and is all alone once more. He continues wandering the forest, trying to make friends but is unsuccessful. After the rain, Unico hears a flute in the distance and tries to find where it’s coming from. Animals from the forest also follow the music and surround a tree that has a strange man, dressed in wizard garb, at the top. Yamaneko, angry with the guy being in his forest, calls out to him. The man stops and the animals scatter.
The man uses magic to turn the other two mountain cats into dolls and leaps from the top of the tree, landing before Yamaneko. As the man continues to step forward, extending his arm out and pointing at Yamaneko, the orange tabby tries to reason with him, but ultimately runs away. The wizard gives chase, using a hallowed old tree as his ride. He corners Yamaneko and the cat tries to work out a deal. The man agrees to have Yamaneko serve him and assist with turning the forest animals into living dolls.
While flying through the forest in search of animals, Yamaneko spots Unico in a clearing and they go after him. The wizard misses Unico several times and the small unicorn falls into the water. They flow over Unico, then collide into a tree and fall to the ground, frustrated with what has happened. The wizard tells Yamaneko his name is Tolby but stays still while his master comes closer. A strange cube of light and colors appears, its voice wanting updates. The cube shifts into a sphere and drifts toward a ledge, ordering Tolby to turn the humans of the town into dolls.
The sphere turns red, and a face emerges, glancing over at Tolby with massive eyes. It is Kukurukku, a powerful wizard. Kukurukku disappears and Yamaneko tries to make light of the situation. Disappointed with having to turn humans into dolls, Tolby stares out at a specific cottage in the village.
Inside the cottage, we see a young girl and her mother looking down at Unico. She tells Unico her name is Cherry, and she moves him closer to the fire with a bowl of milk. She mentions an older brother, and the family shifts to anger and sadness when he is brought up. The father wants nothing to do with the son, but it’s easy to see the situation bothers him and he goes to bed.
Cherry tells Unico that they could be friends and that she loves all animals, including him. As she falls asleep, Unico tells her his name and by the morning remembers what she said. Unico wakes her up and Cherry is excited to see Unico all better. They dash out of the house and to a bridge to swear eternal friendship before continuing to play near the forest.
While reading under a tree, dark clouds form over the village. Cherry and Unico return home as a powerful storm arrives and when the front door opens to reveal Tolby and Yamaneko, the family is stunned. Cherry recognizes her brother and immediately runs over. When Unico sees Tolby, he realizes who he really is and what terrible things he’s done.
Tolby’s magic frightens his family even when he tells them it could get them whatever they wanted. Yamaneko spots Unico and exclaims out, but Tolby shooshes him and blows out the lights. Kukurukku’s voice echoes outside the home and lights move toward the door. The family refuses to hide when Tolby warns them, but it’s too late. Kukurukku appears before them and spots Cherry and Tolby’s parents, finding them adequate enough to turn into dolls. The wizard zaps Tolby and Cherry’s parents and they fall as dolls to the floor, warning Tolby once more to turn the people in the village into dolls before disappearing.
Tolby tells Cherry to hide so he doesn’t have to turn her into a doll as well, then runs off to do Kukurukku’s bidding, turning all the villagers into dolls. When Tolby plays his flute, the dolls come to life and walk toward the docks and board a large ship. Cherry and Unico follow close behind and sneak onto the ship. When all the dolls have boarded, Tolby sails toward a foggy place called Fuigo Island* (Bellows Island). The dolls leave the ship and form the foundation for Kukurukku’s castle and more.
The two wander the fortress built of living dolls until the large Toy Monster (Omocha Kaijuu) appears. It chases them until they’re captured and delivered to Kukurukku. Cherry tries to reason with the wizard, but he doesn’t budge and calls upon Tolby once more. When Tolby arrives, he’s surprised to see his sister and offers to turn Cherry and Unico into toys instead of living dolls. Kukurukku agrees and disappears while Tolby is forced to turn his sister and the little unicorn into toys.
After placing Cherry and Unico in a safe place, Tolby and Yamaneko dash off as Kukurukku enters the large open room. From there, the wizard brings his toys to life, and they fly across the air. Kukurukku’s fun is ruined when he spots Tolby watching from an open piece in the room. Tolby returns to work, creating more and more buildings and walls of living dolls. After he finished, he returns for Cherry and Unico and takes them home.
Tolby leaves for Obake Valley* (Ghost Valley) and Cherry and Unico try to hurry to stop him. When they arrive, all the obake are gone, having been turned into living dolls. Only the obake children were left and they tell Cherry about the sphinx. The two leave to find the sphinx, but the harsh desert climate makes it hard. Cherry and Unico collapse in the sand and a small sphinx child runs down to investigate. The sphinx saves them, and Cherry and Unico ask about the sphinx. The sphinx child introduces themselves as Marusu and tells the other two that the sphinx is their mother.
Since Marusu doesn’t know the answers Cherry and Unico seek, they suggest seeing the Mokuba* (Rocking Horse) at the end of the earth. After learning this, Cherry and Unico head out until Cherry stops Unico. Confused by her actions, Unico feels Cherry is abandoning him, but Marusu sets him straight. Knowing that Cherry has left him behind to protect him out of love gives Unico the power to turn into his adult form.
Unico picks Cherry and Marusu up and together the three travel far to reach the ends of the earth. When they finally arrive, the place has several large piles of trash and forgotten items. Everything thrown out ends up there and the place is filthy.
They search for Mokuba and discover that Cherry is already sitting on it. The three clean off the rocking horse and ask about Kukurukku. Mokuba tells the three to look into his eye to reveal Kukurukku’s past. They learn the wizard was a marionette in the past who was thrown away. When he arrived at the end of the earth, he gained power and came to life. Now Kukurukku returned to the human world to seek revenge.
Mokuba doesn’t know how to defeat Kukurukku’s magic, but knows that their love and friendship can defeat the evil. Knowing this, the three depart once more, taking the long path back to Fuigo Island. When they arrive, the toy monster chases them. The monster knocks itself down and Cherry and the other two rush to safety.
The commotion grabs Kukurukku’s attention, and he appears almost immediately to investigate. He finds the three and knows Tolby must have set them free. Cherry tries to reason with the wizard, pleading with him to turn everyone back to normal.
Kukurukku calls for Tolby and wants him to explain himself. When Tolby disobeys, Kukurukku tries to turn him into a living doll, but Tolby dodges. Kukurukku gets a hit in, but Tolby counterattacks. He runs from several of the wizard’s light beams until finally hit. Cherry finds her brother and once more begs Kukurukku to turn everyone back. Kukurukku ends up turning Cherry into a living puppet and the wizard leaves.
Unico crawls out from under Cherry and knows he must defeat Kukurukku no matter what. He goes to locate the wizard and find him turning Yamaneko and Marusu into dolls. The toy monster chases Unico but ends up fall off the ledge and down into the water far below. Kukurukku is right behind Unico, and they zip around the island. Unico keeps dodging the wizard’s attacks, unable to get away. Kukurukku’s attacks bounce off of pillars, knocking everything down. When the wizard thinks he’s won, Unico appears once more.
By now the wizard is done playing and grows angrier. Unico flies toward his enemy, horn glowing bright, and pierces through the wizard. Kukurukku takes damage and Unico apologizes, making Kukurukku more upset. Unico feels sorry for him and with each loving and sympathetic word that comes from his mouth, Kukurukku grows weaker until he shrinks back into his original form. Light bursts and releases all the animals and people from Kukurukku’s spell.
Darkness disappears, and the sun rises over the island where Unico is resting on wooden beams. West Wind appears and takes Unico away once again.
Back on the island, Cherry and her family are reunited. When Cherry cannot find Unico, she calls for him and runs off. In her search for Unico, she finds Kukurukku on the ground and lifts him up lovingly, then looks out over the ocean.
– This would be Moribi Murano’s first time directing a theatrical film.
– The year in which Osamu Tezuka completed the synopsis is not specified but 1980 is a guess as the movie took a year to produce (1981 to 1982) and then was held by another year before theatrical released (1983).
– Tezuka gave the original manuscript for Unico and the Kingdom of the Sun to President Tsuji at Sanrio, but it’s said that they made only five copies from the original. They republished the manuscript and others in the second book titled Osamu Tezuka Scenario Aggregation.
– The island Kukurukku lives on is called Fuigo Shima (Bellows Island) in Japanese. The US subtitled version of Unico to the Island of Magic may have kept the name as “fuigo” instead of a direct translation because most blacksmiths, weaponsmiths, swordsmiths, etc refer to Japanese-styled box or forge bellows as just fuigo or fuigo box/forge.
– Obake is a class of youkai (supernatural entities or spirits), often with shapeshifting abilities in Japanese folklore. Obake is often translated to “ghost.”
– Mokuba translates to rocking horse in Japanese. For the movie translation, Mokuba wasn’t directly translated possibly to give the character more of a name instead of just calling it a rocking horse.
- 1. Osamu Tezuka. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 6 ↩︎
- 2. Osamu Tezuka. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 6 ↩︎
- 3. Tsunemasa Hatano. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 8 ↩︎
- 4. Masao Maruyama. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 9 ↩︎
- 5. Moribi Murano. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 5-6 ↩︎
- 6. Masao Maruyama. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 9 ↩︎
- 7. Tsunemasa Hatano. (1983). Tezuka Fan Magazine vol. 38, April 1983, pp. 8 ↩︎
- 8. Tezuka, Osamu. (1983) Unico to the Island of Magic Hard Cover Movie Book. Sanrio ↩︎