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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Friday, September 14, 2007

07:36:04 pm , 383 words, 6323 views     Categories: Animation, Animator

Reiko Okuyama passes away

One of the luminaries who shaped the face of commercial animation in Japan is no longer with us. I was late to learn that Reiko Okuyama, whom I profiled at the end of last year in a post on two pioneer women animators, passed away last May. I had great respect for Reiko Okuyama both as a pioneering animator and as a person, so I'm deeply saddened to hear the news. I think it's a great loss for animation.

I was moved and inspired when Reiko Okuyama returned to animation after a long absence with a short for the Winter Days omnibus in 2003. Okuyama had distanced herself from animation in the 1980s after two decades of working in the industry, focusing instead on her passion for copperplate engraving. Since 1991 she held numerous exhibitions of her work in galleries. In 1989, Okuyama was called upon by indie animator Tadanari Okamoto to help on a piece he was doing in the style of a copperplate engraving. Working with Tadanari Okamoto on The Restaurant of Many Orders re-awoke an interest in animation in Okuyama, revealing to her a new kind of animation that was different from everything she had done before, and more artistically fulfilling. This fortuitous encounter with indie animation is what eventually led to her creating the evocative and heartfelt piece featured in Winter Days, an ode to motherhood and bereavement that appears to be an animated elaboration of some of the themes addressed in her copperplate engravings over the preceding years. To me the piece seemed to represent a kind of reconciliation between Okuyama and animation following years of estrangement, the re-discovery of new possibilities for animation in an artist at a later stage in life. Okuyama appeared to be poised to create more pieces in this vein, and I was eager to behold a new stage in her creative life, but it seems that this piece was her parting gift to animation. Okuyama storyboarded the piece, and her husband animated the movement, after which she gave Kotabe's drawings a copperplate engraved finish. The piece can be seen here. I hope that a book of her engravings will be published so that we can have a picture of the artist Reiko Okuyama who emerged out of the shell of the great Toei Doga animator.

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2 comments

daniel thomas macinnes

I’m very saddened to learn belatedly of Okuyama’s passing, and also embarrassed that I didn’t learn this sooner. Still, I’m very thankful for your site, as always, which taught me more about this anime history than anyone possibly could.

Ironically, Wednesday is Int’l Talk Like a Pirate Day. I was planning to throw on Animal Treasure Island and sing its praises. And maybe Puss in Boots, too, make it a double feature. Those are two of my absolute favorite anime movies, and it’s astounding to me that nobody even knows they exist. I think I’m the only one who ever bought the DVD’s, usually as gifts to others to spread the word.

I’m also sorry that we’ll never see anything to follow up Okuyama and Kotabe’s great short for Winter Days. It was a miraculous piece, full of fire and passion and spirit. That short, as well as Takahata’s and, of course, Yuri Norstein’s, absolutely shamed today’s modern animation. I’m not looking forward to losing this revolutionary generation.

09/17/07 @ 18:53
Ben [Member]  

I’m glad to have been of help to you, Daniel. Okuyama’s passing has also got me thinking that we’re finally starting to see the fading of the Toei Doga generation, which is quite sad. I wonder what it’ll mean for anime…

09/24/07 @ 13:55