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: March 2007, 12

Monday, March 12, 2007

07:03:44 pm , 733 words, 2013 views     Categories: Animation, Movie, Director

Masami Hata's Mouse Story

As Manuloz pointed out, there is now a site for Masami Hata's upcoming film, now titled Nezumi Monogatari or Mouse Story: The Adventures of George and Gerald. The designs are quite lively and unique for a Japanese feature, and feel like a breath of fresh air in the lately somewhat stylistically stale and cramped range of the industry, really harkening back to the days of the old movies of Sanrio Films. And it goes to reason. We see here many of the key figures behind the old Sanrio Films movies. I knew the film was a Sanrio production from the moment it was mentioned that Sanrio president Shintaro Tsuji was the creator of the story, as he was for all of the classic Sanrio Films productions. And so it turns out to be. But make no mistake, this is definitely a Madhouse production in terms of all aspects of the actual animation. The animation studio Sanrio Films disbanded in 1985 after production of Fairy Florence, and I get the impression that all subsequent Sanrio productions have been outsourced like this one. Madhouse was in fact the studio that produced Sanrio's two Unico features that followed the pilot, so it makes sense for Madhouse to provide the stage for this reunion of all of the old Sanrio Films gang. (Hata, of course, started out at Mushi Pro, where he worked along side Dezaki, who later formed Madhouse, in whose early productions like Aim for the Ace Hata was involved.)

The big surprise was to find that the designs are by the hand of none other than Toshio Hirata! Hirata has never done character designs as far as I'm aware, so this is an exciting development. Exciting particularly because this is the first time we'll have seen Hata and Hirata working together since the 1979 Unico pilot, where Hata was one of the three animators (alongside Shigeru Yamamoto and Mikiharu Akabori) and Hirata was the director. Almost thirty years later they're back, and now the roles are reversed. And this time their film won't be shelved for a decade, either. The film is due to hit theaters this winter. Interestingly enough, we even have the art director of the old Sanrio Films movies, Yukio Abe, who more recently did the wonderfully retro art of Stormy Night, so it really is the old Sanrio Films team come back together again for one big final bash. I doubt it will achieve the level of those films, which were made by a unique studio at the height of its powers, but I'm really excited that we're going to see another film by the same crew, and I'm hoping that it will be imbued with at least some of that unique atmosphere and feeling that I've so missed in those films. I've long wished Hata would do one more big project, a serious effort like Sirius or Florence, and it looks like this is that film.

Just about the only person missing to complete the team is Shigeru Yamamoto, the chief character animator in the old Sanrio Films days. After the closing of Sanrio Films, he moved to Disney Japan, where he worked on all of the studio's productions all the way until 2003, a year before the studio closed. Hopefully he will be there as an animator. He also, of course, worked alongside Hata at Mushi Pro in the early days. Sadly, their comrade Mikiharu Akabori, the chief effects animator at Sanrio Films, passed away a few years ago, so the team can never be fully complete again. I've always been curious to know what happened to the other animators at the Sanrio Films studios like Shinmi Taga, Maya Matsuyama and Haruo Takahashi. From what I can gather, some of them transferred to Disney Japan or other studios, some must have gone freelance, while yet others formed their own studios like Grouper and Circus. I don't know specifically who founded and worked at each of these studios, what else they did, or how long they lasted, but we can see many of the major Sanrio Films figures there in the early productions in the aftermath of the closing of Sanrio Films. In 1986, Circus produced Nayuta and Grouper produced the Super Mario Bros film. In both we can see familiar names like Maya Matsuyama as animator (Nayuta) or animation director (SMB), Yukio Abe as art director, and of course Hata as director.