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: July 2008, 13

Sunday, July 13, 2008

12:41:33 am , 878 words, 6067 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Sachiko Kamimura

If I were in Japan, I know where I'd be on July 28: Yokohama. Koji Yamamura is going to be holding a chat with Isao Takahata titled "The Expressive Possibilities of Animation" on that day at the Yokohama EIZONE 2008 event. Sounds exceedingly titillating. Too bad I'll be in Quebec instead.

The satellite station Animax has held a yearly script contest for the last few years. The winning script gets to be produced by a professional animation studio. This year's script for a short film called Takane's Bike was produced by the up-and-coming studio A-1 Pictures, whose Birdy the Mighty just started airing. I was a little dismissive as I started watching Takane's Bike, but after a while I started feeling that at least the story was honest in its simplicity. It's a good old-fashioned, naive, earnest children's film of a kind that doesn't seem to get made often anymore.

More importantly, I could have sworn I'd seen the designs somewhere before. I finally figured out what they reminded me of - the old TV show Mama is a 4th Grader. I wasn't aware of her name, but both were designed by Sachiko Kamimura. Looking into it, I realized that she had also designed one of my favorite anime films from back in the day when I was first starting to watch anime around 1992 - Arslan Senki. That's where I remember these drawings from. It was like seeing an old friend again. She has a distinct and immediately identifiable style that I find very nice to look at, but for some reason she hasn't done much designing other than these two shows, which is why I'd sort of forgotten about her over the years since those shows. Kamimura seems to have started out as a disciple of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko in the 80s. Even in this latest film, a certain twinge of Yasuhiko influence rears its head in her drawings every once in a while. Apart from these two stints designing, she has mostly worked as an animator, animation director and illustrator. Notably, she animated the ending of the re-make of Jungle Taitei in her own identifiable cute but rich style. She was also an animator in many of the Doraemon films.

Sachiko Kamimura has a nice home page where she provides a generous sampling of rejected designs, storyboards, key animation and the like from various shows she worked on throughout her career. It was particularly instructive to discover, for example, that she had animated numerous of the hair-raisingly complicated mob scenes from the Yoshikazu Yasuhiko epic Arion (1986). Even apart from this, Arion featured quite a lot of extravagant animation in Yasuhiko's unique style, including a nice scene from Satoru Utsunomiya (the mid-air attack of the sickle monsters). Kamimura thus adds her name to my short running tab of mob animators, which so far includes only Hiroyuki Okiura and Michio Mihara. It would seem that her work caught the eye of Yasuhiko, as three years later, in 1989, when Yasuhiko came back with another big movie of his own creation, Venus Wars, this time he turned to Kamimura to handle the drawing side of things as the animation director, which in Yasuhiko's richly animated films must have been quite a task.

Before that, Yasuhiko had directed an OVA between his two big films entitled The Song of Wind and Trees (1987), on which Kamimura had worked as character designer and animation director. She provides some examples of her corrections (which in the analog age were drawn on yellow sheets) on her home page. This was another well made film from that era that left a favorable impression on me at the time, perhaps also because it was maybe my earliest exposure to shoujo manga (or at least its anime rendition). I suspect she had a major hand in the animation through her work, helping give it a certain richness and elegance of movement that I remember struck me as seeming different from other anime even back then. A look at the animator list reveals the presence of Ghibli regular Makiko Futaki, who is an expert at just the sort of rich animation I remember the film for. Kamimura, then, turns out to have been one of the main figures behind the Yasuhiko films of yore.

Arslan fared quite well when I had another look at it recently, thanks in large part to Kazuchika Kise's work as animation director, so this is another nostalgic oldie I'd like to have a chance to revisit one of these days to see how my impression may have changed over the years. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems like it was more common back in those days to see big studio films like these headlined by these charismatic animation directors who sort of stepped in and took hold of the reins, putting in this massive effort to totally define the feeling of the animation of a film in a holistic sense, really taking the spotlight as the ones who created the feeling of the show through their effort, rather than just correcting the drawings in a rote way as seems more common today. I don't know what it is, but there's something different about the approach on display in films like these from the late 80s.