Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Archives for: August 2005, 02

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

07:06:07 am , 1171 words, 2052 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Hideki Hamasu

I've been busy battling jet lag and sleep deprivation since my arrival in Quebec, and remembering the not-too-subtle irony of how the old fortress city had been given all new barricades during the summit a few years ago.

One of those many animators about whom I've always wanted to know more but never been able to find any real info about is Hideki Hamasu, who I was reminded of after watching Mamoru Hosoda's latest film. Although once employed at Toei, he went freelance around 1997, when Satoshi Kon jumped on the chance to snatch him up for the job of animation director on his feature debut Perfect Blue after having been greatly impressed by the animator's work on the climax of Kon's directing debut, ep 5 of Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure. Since then Hamasu was sought out by Toei for their 1998 film Eternal Fantasy and then the first four yearly Digimon films starting in 1999, all the while continuing to be a pillar of Kon's next two films, first as one of the animation directors of Millennium Actress and then one of the star animators who made Tokyo Godfathers into the great animator's film it is. The production notes for the latter reveal how giddy Kon and the rest of the staff were after seeing the rushes for the early part of the film, including the trash heap scene by Hamasu, which was coming together in an incredible way nobody had even envisioned due to the freedom with which the great animators were attacking their work. Even Kon said he had never seen anything like it before, and nobody knew those scenes better than him, since he had created them.

Presumably one of the reasons Takeshi Honda was chosen as the main designer/animation director for Kon's second film, besides the fact that the different story required a different look and Honda was a brilliant animator himself, was the fact that Hideki Hamasu had come down with a severe case of tendon inflammation during production of Perfect Blue due to overwork, and it had nearly caused him to stop being able to work on the film. He had long suffered from the problem, but managed to work around it, and the heavy load of the film had instantly aggravated the symptoms. He had to take injections to reduce the pain in order to continue to work. Kon remembers seeing him at his desk with a cloth wrapped around his hand to keep his pencil in his hand.

Hamasu started out at Toei many years earlier, staying on for more than a decade after he had moved on to key animation. One of his earliest credits is as an inbetweener in the 1982 Harlock film Arcadia of My Youth. To indicate what I meant about the unusual proportion of key to inbetween animators in Hosoda's latest Toei film, Hamasu was one of 183 inbetweeners to 37 key animators in the 1983 Yamato film Final Chapter. He had moved up to inbetween checker by 1985 for Odin. In the late 80s he began working as a key animator under animation director Jun'ichi Hayama on the OVA series Be-Bop High School, and then later on the aforementioned episode of Jo Jo. Already he had attained such a level with his animation that his scenes went mostly uncorrected into the final product for the Be-Bop series - specifically the scene in the cafe in ep 4 and the scene at the beginning of ep 6 on the train station platform. One of the earliest jobs for which Hamasu became known to fans is the 1990 OVA Vampire Wars, where he was animation director and character designer. After that, as one of the small handful of animators considered up to the task of working on the major feature films, throughout the 90s he was hired in various films including Studio 4°C's Memories and Ghibli's My Neighbors the Yamadas. In Ghost in the Shell he did one of his more reknowned jobs, the part where Motoko rips her arm off, coming directly after Mitsuo Iso's famous sequence with the spider tank.

His work that first came to my attention, however, was his work in Mamoru Hosoda's first Digimon film - specifically, two shots near the end of the film. The first is where Hikari attempts to blow a whistle, but is too weak and breaks down in a fit of coughing. The second is where Hikari breaks out crying. Despite the fact that these are lone shots, they both immediately grab the viewer with the incredible power and nuanced detail of the animation. It's a perfect instance of a director casting the right animator to bring exactly the dramatic weight needed to achieve the dramatic needs of a particular shot or scene. The rest of the film is very nicely animated, but these two shots are head and shoulders above the rest and remain seared in the memory. They're a classic instance of a through-conceived action, where the animator gets into the mind of the character on screen and maps out every single tiny movement in a short burst of magic where the character suddenly comes alive in perfectly timed, realistic and convincing acting. These shots exemplify what it is I most enjoy about animation. They're what I continue watching animation to see. Few animators come close to creating acting with this kind of nuance in Japan - Shinji Hashimoto and Shinji Otsuka are among the few others who spring to mind. It's work that deserves the praise of being called maniacal, and it's a rare and precious thing.

After that came his work on the other Digimon films and then finally Tokyo Godfathers, which undoubtedly is the best place to begin to appreciate his work. Hamasu also appears closely allied with the new realistic school represented by Shinji Hashimoto and Shinya Ohira. He helped Hashimoto animate the Kachi O~ji op, worked as an animator under him on Kid's Story alongside Ohira, and worked on the animator extravaganza that is Ghiblies 2, which featured most of the interesting animators working today, including Hashimoto doing the people eating the curry, Ohira the dance, Utsunomiya the subway scene. Before his work on Hosoda's latest film, in the aftermath of Tokyo Godfathers he had done good work animating the boxing section of the TKO episode of Paranoia Agent together with Toshiyuki Inoue, Michiyo Suzuki and none other than Jun`ichi Hayama himself, in the meantime also having done work on Howl. That he's appeared in nearly all of the most widely talked-about anime films of the last few years goes some way to suggesting just how respected and in-demand he is.

Hamasu is one of the few animators today whom I feel deserves the honor of being called a Toei animator, for the way he creates animation that is the work of a master craftsman, richly inventive and nuanced, developed out of a combination of innate talent and long years of training at Toei, connecting him across a long gap to the great animators of the classic Toei Doga era.