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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Tuesday, August 2, 2005

07:06:07 am , 1171 words, 2039 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.

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6 comments

iamNataku
iamNataku [Visitor]

Whoa!
Do you mean to tell me that Mr.Hamasu did the sequence in the original GITS where Matoko rips off her arms trying to open the giant Tachikoma?

That sequence is EASILY one of my favorite movie sequences of ALL TIME, and is BY FAR my favorite animated sequence.

08/02/05 @ 15:42
Random person
Random person [Visitor]

“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.”

I thought you said that Toei films had a lot more key animators than inbetweeners? Or was it different then? (I seriously find it hard to believe it would be 37 inbetweeners to 183 key animators, so I suppose you’re right…)

08/03/05 @ 00:01
Josh
Josh [Visitor]

I had a very similar reaction to Nataku, that this felt like a list of many of my favorite anime sequences I didn’t have a name attached to (though I prefer the shots of Hikari at the end of Digimon Adventures to GITS). Also kind of cool that he got his start on my favorite old school anime film (Arcadia), even if it was far from a visual masterpiece.

Do you know which scene he did in Ghiblies?

08/03/05 @ 00:33
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Nataku:
Great to hear. Yes, it’s the first film. My memory was a little fuzzy about the number of arms.

RP:
> I thought you said that Toei films
> had a lot more key animators than
> inbetweeners?

No, I was saying that in Toei’s recent films there seem to be a lot more key animators than in other studios’ films. I just remembered watching the Digimon films and thinking the key animator lists were interminably long. Probably not true, it just felt that way. Danshaku is the first time I remember noticing a disproportionately small number of inbetweeners in a Toei film or anywhere. They might very well simply not have been listed, though I don’t know why they’d do that.

This gets me to thinking it would be interesting to look into how all this has changed over the years at Toei, since they’ve been making features for the longest time in Japan.

Josh:
I still don’t know what part he did in Ghiblies 2, as I don’t for a lot of his work. My first thought was that it might be one of the dance sections, though maybe not. I was surprised that Hashimoto worked on the curry rather than the Ohira sequence.

I’ve always wondered how the breakdown was for the dance sequence. I’m pretty sure Ohira must have done the first part, but who did the rest? If I remember correctly, there’s one shot at full for 15 secs or so, and then a number of different shots in different costumes at limited for 15 secs or so. I thought it was unlikely that they ran out of time to fill it out, so it’s probably a different animator with a different style, but who? I was always amazed that they let him do that sequence…

Anyway, I knew listing out Hamasu’s work would probably trace out a list of people’s favorite scenes in a lot of films. It’s great to see it did just that. I’m going to see if I can find out more about specifically what he did, because I don’t know much right now and I’d like to know more.

08/04/05 @ 06:30
Benjamin Sanders
Benjamin Sanders [Visitor]

Hello,

Sorry to re-awaken an old message but I thought this the best place to put my comment, I’ve been following your site for a few months now and it’s kicked me into a feverish frenzy of searching for these numerous pieces of animation you talk about.

Ohira in particular I’ve become fascinated by, and the “expressionistic realism” as you so aptly put it of the Ghiblies 2 dance sequence for me has to be the standout of the vitality and originality in his work. I recall you’ve mentioned in previous posts that Ghibli have often touched up Ohira’s work, or put it on model, in the feature films, but I take it that this wasn’t the case for this sequence as the drawings are so fresh and free with their distortions?

You also mention you think he did all of the first part, does this mean all the sections from the more short but more realistically drawn pencil shaded bit of the woman dancing, as well as the stylized, abstracted almost, little figure of the woman and two men dancing in their own sections, and the first 15 second ish closeup where all three of them are together dancing at the camera??

All those sections seem so exciting and new in their movements, and of course they seem to be full animation, mostly on two’s but some, the glasses man dancing and changing into a skeleton and the closeup of the three together seem to be on ones. If he did all these does he work with other animators and inbetweeners in more of an animation director role or does he do all the drawings like some amazing soloist, as in your karisuma section on him I think you mention he lives in the country and works from home, and him having a tendency to do 1000’s of drawings for the smallest amounts of screen time?

Anyway I look forward to hearing your response, I’m blown away by Ohira’s work, and many of the other animators you highlight.

Keep up the good work.

09/17/05 @ 04:15
Ben
Ben [Visitor]

Thanks for the interesting comment. I remember feeling the same way you did when I first saw the dance section in Ghiblies 2. It felt like his breakthrough, his summum opus as an animator. It was exhilirating to see that the big G had given him the chance to do a whole section entirely in his own style in such a prominent place.

I can’t really be sure which parts Ohira did, but it feels like he did them all, doesn’t it. At the very least it seems obvious that he did the very first of the four ’sections’ - the part with that realistic looking woman clutching her face. Only Ohira would have drawn a woman that unflatteringly realistically. He was probably heavily involved in most of the remaining three sections - the individuals dancing, the closeup in ones, the final three shots in twos - but I don’t know whether he did every drawing, even for the two shots in ones, or he had inbetweeners for those sections alone. He’s certainly been known to draw entire 24-drawing-a-second shots (with multiple layers!) entirely by himself before, so it’s entirely possible he did it here; and now that I think about his recent work, it feels like he doesn’t do inbetweens, probably out of the fear of an inbetweener messing it up, which is probably why most of his recent work is more limited, in twos or threes.

I’m reminded of his sequence in Innocence, where Bateau jumps down the tube to the catwalk below. The jump switches to ones, but the catwalk breaking up was in twos - did he draw all that, or get an inbetweener? One thing I remember feeling right away was that the last section of the dance felt slightly different from the rest, like the movement didn’t follow in sequence the way it did in the preceding sections, which is what made me suspect it might be a different animator. Ohira is the first key animator credited in the credits, and usually they list it by amount of work, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d at the very least keyed each of the sections but (or maybe including) the last.

And it seems pretty obvious that none of the dance was corrected by anybody. In fact, I now realize there was no animation director for Ghiblies 2, which would appear to mean that none of the drawings in the film were corrected. And who would need to with those characters (and so many great animators)? With the feature films I could perfectly understand why they wouldn’t want Chihiro’s face suddenly looking Ohira-esque for just the boiler scene. It’s obvious that they left the movement alone but corrected the individual drawings - particularly the face. The last time I remember a character looking a bit dangerous in a Ghilbi film was Pazu going into the whilrwind in Laputa (by Kanada)… though Porco in the hangar was also looking pretty wild…

The second section with the three individuals dancing alone was maybe the most impressive of the lot in a certain way, due to all those wonderful transformations and effects integrated so well into the rhythm of the dance. It felt like the most successful part. It was nice to see because it was a more playful side of Ohira I’d never seen before.

Anyway, sorry I couldn’t help much… Hopefully someday I’ll find out the scoop on how exactly the Ghiblies dance was made. Thanks for the support.

09/18/05 @ 11:52