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, February 28, 2009

02:35:08 pm , 806 words, 6658 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Departed animators

One of the animators I discovered while watching Dirty Pair was an animator named Saburo Sakamoto, who died around age 61 in 1996. He was an interesting figure for the fact that he was originally involved with the famous Tokiwa-so manga group from the 1950s that included luminaries like Fujio Fujiko and Fujio Akatsuka. Instead of continuing down that path, he changed careers and became an animator, much like fellow Tokiwa-so member Shinichi Suzuki, who eventually went to work for Ryuichi Yokohama at Otogi Pro before co-founding animation studio Studio Zero in 1963 with many of the members of Tokiwa-so. Saburo Sakamoto was primarily involved in Toei and Sunrise TV shows throughout the 70s and 80s, having perhaps most famously been heavily involved as an animation director in the classic Yoshiyuki Tomino productions of the early 80s. In Dirty Pair, he was an animator in episodes 3, 5, 6, 13, 20 and 23 of the TV series.

I've mentioned several important animators who have passed away recently here in the blog, including Reiko Okuyama (1925-2007), Daikichiro Kusube (1934-2005) and Koichi Murata (1939-2006). Not surprisingly, many of the important figures of the very first generation of Japanese animation production are no longer with us - including Yasuji Murata (1896-1966), Kenzo Masaoka (1898-1988) and Noburo Ofuji (1900-1961), perhaps three of the most important figures from the very first generation who paved the way for everyone who came after. Kenzo Masaoka lived to a respectable 90, so he got to see a considerable many of the changes that overtook the industry since he left the world with masterpieces like The Spider and the Tulip (1943) - and not all of them good. More than 60 years later, the latter remains an unsurpassed achievement in many ways.

Two of the important figures of the next generation, Ryuichi Yokoyama (1909-2001) and Masao Kumakawa (1916-2008), also lived into their 90s. Masao Kumakawa worked under director Kenzo Masaoka as an animator, having animated the ladybug in The Spider and the Tulip among many other of the best pieces of animation from the 1940s and 1950s, even going on to work as an animator in the first few classic Toei Doga films until around 1964. Ryuichi Yokoyama, meanwhile, famously founded animation studio Otogi Pro, which I touched very briefly upon way back when and would like to expand upon eventually.

Otogi Pro notably featured one of the great animators of the next generation after Ryuichi Yokoyama: Shinichi Suzuki. Also from the generation of Shinichi Suzuki, but following a very different path from the latter, was Yasuji Mori (1925-1992), who seems to be one of the successors of the work of Masao Kumakawa and Kenzo Masaoka at Nihon Dogasha. Mori in turn went on to train and influence many of the figures of the next generation who worked at Toei Doga in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Daikichiro Kusube and Reiko Okuyama. Chikao Katsui was another now-departed animator of this generation who started out at Toei Doga and went on to work at Mushi Pro. At Mushi Pro, meanwhile, an animator named Shinji Seyama passed away at a prematurely young age just a few years after drawing, among other things, the animation of Aldin walking out into the desert in the very last shot of 1001 Nights. Thankfully many of these animators have lived full lives, but there have been a number of tragically premature deaths, and Seyama's is among the first one that stands out.

Both Koichi Murata and Kazuo Komatsubara (1943-2000), among the founding members of Oh Pro and among the greatest animators of the 1970s and 1980s in Japan, passed away what feels like too early, as did one of the greatest animators of the generation afterwards, Yoshifumi Kondo (1950-1998), who left behind some of the best work of each decade in which he was active right since the year of his debut in 1968.

A number of figures from the next generation have already left us in tragically early deaths, including Junichi Watanabe (1962-2007), a director who started out at Tomonori Kogawa's legendary studio Beebow; Hiroshi Osaka (1963-2007), who was very prolific and much relied-upon for his drawing skills as an animation director, leaving behind much great work as an animation director and animator, including work on most Bones shows of the last decade; and Toshiaki Tetsura (?), among whose most memorable work was his work as visual director, mechanic director and layout supervisor on one of Akiyuki Shinbo's best early works, Soul Taker. Among his last contributions was animation in the first two episodes of Shinbo's masterpiece, Cossette. Among other scenes, he animated the scene in the cafe at the beginning of ep 1. He was also heavily involved in Yamamoto Yoko under Shinbo on the mecha and effects side of things, as well as in the movie Shin Kaitei Gunkan (1995). He had a sharp, refined style as an animator that immediately set him apart.


1 comment

h_park [Member]

Although I can’t say much about animators active in 1970’s and previous era, some of these animators don’t deserve premature death. Japan having one of the excellent national medical coverage and its elderly population with long life expectancy, it made wonder what kind of lifestyle some of these departed animators lead before their death.
Hiroshi Ousaka is the first animation artist who made me aware the role of animation supervisor while watching “Vision of Escaflowne". To me, he had “better” character drawings than other animation supervisors by watching episodes one after another.
It just saddens me to see some of these artists dying in their 40’s and 50’s. These reminds of Madhouse animator Jamie Vicker’s words: “If you don’t eat right, don’t sleep well, and don’t exercise, you’ll die. After all, you only have one body.”

03/03/09 @ 11:28