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“Lt. Norakuro and Mickey Mouse” ?

Disney fans like to look for “hidden Mickeys” – but here’s one they may have missed. When Disney’s mouse became an overnight sensation in 1928, almost every competing studio included a Mickey-like mouse (or a Mickey-like fox or Mickey-like bear) in their films. Now it turns out that these ersatz Mickey’s weren’t confined to Hollywood cartoons.

The frame above is from a 1930s Japanese short called (roughly translated) 2nd Class Lt. Norakuro and Mickey Mouse Play Disturbance. It was recently revealed on the Japanese site, Toy Film Project, which is documenting Japanese home movie films.

Norakuro is a Japanese comic series created by cartoonist Suiho Tagawa (1899-1989), which ran from 1931 up until the early ’40s, about a black dog in a canine Army, very much inspired by the Imperial Japanese army at the time. The comic stopped when World War II broke out, but the cartoons remained popular. It was animated several times – a series of short-films in the ’30s, two TV series (1970-71 and 1987-88). This cartoon is believed to be in public domain (if you can find it) – Mickey Mouse is still protected by international trademark.

(Thanks, Nicholas Pozega and Charles Brubaker)