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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Saturday, September 11, 2004

07:16:46 pm , 821 words, 1584 views     Categories: Animation, Studio

Cleopatra and the Mushi Pro diaspora

Within the first minute of ep 18 of Tweeny Witches I knew it was a Yasuhiro Aoki episode, and sure enough, he did the storyboard. Still, only the storyboard, and it was that obvious! This guy is great. Of course, the storyboard determines about 76.7% of the final product, give or take some depending on the director, so it only makes sense.

I was rewatching the Animerama films, and one thing that seemed really clear this time around was the way the films are propelled entirely by the directing, rather than by the animation. That's what differentiates them most from Toei Doga and Disney. Of course, there's the adult content, but really this directing-orented stance is the basic characteristic of most Mushi Pro anime, whether adult or not, so I think that's the thing to note.

So it's interesting that for the second Animerama film they should have taken a "character animation" approach, since it obviously comes from Disney. 1001 Nights had the typical shot-based animation approach, with key animators and inbetweeners. But Cleopatra only has animators. Kazuko Nakamura for Cleopatra; Masami Hata for Caesar and Antonius; etc.

This time I felt I was able to figure out Kazuko Nakamura's animation. I always had a hard time figuring out what I thought about it. It's not that well drawn. Yet somehow it's convincing. Why is that? It's because they made the right decision to cast a woman to animate a woman, and Nakamura's acting in the role of Cleopatra is extremely convincing in terms of her expressions and behavior in response to the various situations.

It's a rather odd thing, but one of the few anime that comes close to the depth of characterization achieved in Horus by having Yasuji Mori animate Hilda throughout the film is Cleopatra, of all things. There haven't been many anime that took this approach, to my knowledge. One of the few others is Gisaburo Sugii's Jack and the Beanstalk, from four years later (1974).

The staff of Jack is mostly from Mushi Pro (which folded a year earlier), so we have a lot of the same people who did the Animerama films: Teruto Kamiguchi, Mikiharu Akabori, Kazuko Nakamura, etc. Kazuko Nakamura animated the witch. Teruto Kamiguchi is one of the other memorable animators in Cleopatra. His Lupa is quite fun to watch and possibly the most laboriously animated character in the film.

But the thing I came away with this time was that this is Masami Hata's film. He animated Caesar and Antonius, so the reason should be obvious. Not only does he have the most screentime, but his animation is simply the most fun, interesting, skilled, convincing and flat-out funny. Where a lot of the characters in this film seem rather amateurishly penned, and usually rather static, revealing the youth of a lot of these animators (and the fact that Mushi Pro never bothered to train its animators in the sort of traditional animation skills taught at Toei Doga), his characters are always well drawn and doing some kind of funny movement.

Masami Hata went on to do Andersen for Mushi Pro afterwards (Kazuko Nakamura did one episode) and then went to TMS before going to Sanrio around 1975. The closing of Mushi Pro was one of those pivotal events that sent the various staff members working there either to Madhouse or Sunrise. As the legend goes, whoever wasn't accepted at Madhouse because they weren't good enough went to Sunrise.

The latter group includes Yoshiyuki Tomino and Ryosuke Takahashi. The Madhouse group includes Akio Sugino, Osamu Dezaki, Rin Taro. Mikiharu Akabori and Shigeru Yamamoto eventually made their way to Sanrio with Hata. These three groups account for most of the Mushi Pro diaspora.

The year after 1001 Nights, which featured Takashi Yanase so prominently (he was the designer of the film and his illustrations were used in various spots), Akabori and Nakamura and Kamiguchi were animators on The Kind Lion in 1970. Maya Matsuyama was also an animator on the film, and the same team would later move to Sanrio along with Masami Hata and Shigeru Yamamoto and create two more Takashi Yanase films: Little Jumbo and Ringing Bell (which has always sounded like a pun on Raging Bull to me).

Kazuko Nakamura and Akabori Mikiharu had a training period at Toei Doga, both moving to Mushi Pro when it was founded - perhaps out of impatience with Toei Doga's long incubation period for inbetweeners? Some talented animators like Otsuka had rapid accessions to key animation there, but others remained inbetweeners for years and years. The earliest credit I can find for Shigeru Yamamoto, on the other hand, is Tetsuwan Atom. After this he animated those two experimental shorts for Tezuka, took part in Goku, then 1001 Nights, then was one of the major players in Memol in 1971-2, before animating Jack in Jack at Tac after Mushi Pro went out of business, then finally settling down at Sanrio.

To be continued

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