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Koji Yamamura's latest short, , made for Greenpeace, is up for viewing on the site Whale Love, which seems to have been set up expressly for this purpose. According to an interview on the site, the 2-minute film took him 5 months to make and comprises 1700 drawings, which was 300 drawings over his initial estimate.
I've long been a big fan of the Unico pilot produced by director Toshio Hirata and animators Masami Hata, Shigeru Yamamoto and Mikiharu Akabori at Sanrio Films in 1979, but thought Hirata's feature version of 1981 at Madhouse a step down from the pilot, and thus naively didn't bother to check the last film in the series, 1983's , expecting it to be a further step down. In fact, the opposite was true, as I've just discovered, having recently seen the film for the first time. It's a step up - a film full of vitality and imaginative ideas, quite different from the first (and the pilot) in tone and style. Whereas it doesn't have the rich and nuanced animation and loving attention to detail of the pilot, it successfully goes in a different direction with a more limited and looser approach to the animation and a focus on lively directing and imaginative design ideas. It feels much closer to the Mushi Pro/Madhouse tradition than the pilot. The freedom with the forms and geometric designs reminds me of another film they did around the same period, this time for Toei - The Golden Bird. The directing betrays a great instinct for timing and camera movement, with lots of zooming around to great effect. Action scenes are imaginatively choreographed, with zippy movement, utilizing large spaces effectively like the chase at the end of Puss 'n Boots. The designs remind me mildly of Masaaki Yuasa, with real variety in the forms, minimal use of lines, and balancing cute with bizarre and slightly disturbing. The mechanical dragon that zooms past at lightning speed in the castle was a fantastic idea and a delight to watch, and the memorably designed villain's shapeshifting was quite imaginative. The castle made of living puppets was also a great idea, and the music scenes were pleasing and didn't rub the wrong way.
Considering how well balanced each element of the film is, and the imaginative ideas on display, I was surprised that a figure as obscure as Moribi Murano had directed such a gem. I didn't remember seeing his name very often, and indeed, this is the only feature he has ever directed. His main area of activity is manga, although he had also been active as an animator for a long time, and still is occasionally.
Murano was born in 1941 in Dalian, China, a city on the coast near Korea. He debuted in 1957 as a manga-ka, and went on to be very prolific in that form. According to Arashi Ishizu, who worked at Mushi Pro in the early days as a production assistant, and who wrote a book about the Mushi Pro figures, Murano had problems with his legs, and was an extremely strong-willed person who didn't get along very well working in a studio structure, which is presumably what led to him striking out on his own as a manga-ka. Among his more well-known works are Hoero Bunbun, which was adapted into a TV series in 1980 and then into a film directed by Toshio Hirata at Madhouse in 1986. There is a fan page on the web where you can read through a number of his manga shorts such as Dokugan Sakon and Chinchiririn. After starting out at Mushi Pro on Atom in 1963, Murano went on to work on many of the Mushi Pro productions of the decade that followed, including Jungle Taitei, Goku no Daiboken (Murano was an inbetweener in eps 13, 14, 23, 31, 32, 35, 38 and 39 and a key animator in 28) and the Animerama films.
Probably the one for which he is best remembered is the adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's Sabu to Ichi Torimonohikae, which is important in that it was the first TV anime expressly for adults. Murano designed the main characters, was animation director, and directed a few episodes. The animation was unique, drawn in rough bold strokes at Murano's initiative, cleaving with the clean look of previous Mushi Pro productions. In the 1980s, aside from having directed the second Unico film, Murano was involved in a number of other Madhouse productions, animating the special assassination scene in Floating Clouds in 1982, as well as working on Lensman in 1984 and Dagger of Kamui in 1985. Most recently, he directed a 22-minute animated adaptation of Shotaro Ishinomori's Stream Minnow at Madhouse that won the excellence prize at the 2003 edition of the Japan Media Arts Festival. On his site here there is an intriguing image of a gigantic flying vessel that looks like a cross between Moebius and Miyazaki. Above it there is the text "Roger Bacon's The Flying Machine Anime DVD Plan", but no other explanatory text. It would be nice if Murano were working on this as his next animation project.