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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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

09:29:51 pm , 279 words, 2096 views     Categories: Animation, Indie

The autobiography of Tadahito Mochinaga

Tadahito Mochinaga is one of the legendary figures in the history of Japanese animation. Born in Tokyo in 1919, Mochinaga spent his formative years traveling between Japan and Manchuria, becoming conversant in both languages and cultures. Near the end of W.W. II he returned to China, where he would go on to play a major role in helping to lay the foundations for the animation industry in China by helping build up China's most famous studio, Shanghai Animation Film Studio. Upon his return to Japan he began making puppet films, becoming the pioneering figure in Japan in that form of animation. Kihachiro Kawamoto, the figure who later became synonymous with Japanese puppet animation, learned his craft during this period by working under Mochinaga.

Mochinaga passed away in 1999. On the occasion, animation historian Kosei Ono wrote an informative article on the man that can be read here. Near the end of the article Ono mentions that Mochinaga was in the process of writing an autobiography in the days leading up to his death. He was apparently prompted to do so at the insistence of the great Chinese animator Te Wei. His autobiography remained incomplete at the time of his death, but his widow continued working to compile the unfinished writings into published form. The autobiography was finally published posthumously a little over a year ago in 2006, with an afterward by Kihachiro Kawamoto. I obtained the book recently, and am looking forward to reading it. It promises to be a fascinating story about an interesting and too-little known figure who was at the center of one of the most unique cultural exchanges in the history of animation in the 20th century.

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5 comments

Seamus Walsh
Seamus Walsh [Visitor]  

Thank you very much for the info about this book! I’ve long been an admirer of Japanese puppet films. Do you know how to get to see Mochinaga’s work? I’ve been searching for some time now, but haven’t been able to find any video or dvd releases. Perhaps my inability to speak/read Japanese is the problem. I’d love any info you could offer on how to get my hands on the puppet films of Okamoto/Mochinaga. (I have the pioneer LD’s, but they just scratch the surface). I’d really love to see the early films of Tadanari Okamoto.
Thanks again for having a great site.
Sincerely,
-Seamus Walsh

02/06/08 @ 01:35
Ben [Member]  

No, it’s not because you haven’t heard about a release of Tadahito Mochinaga’s work that you haven’t seen one. There is no handy collection of his work available anywhere at the moment, in or outside of Japan, as far as I know. The same goes for Tadanari Okamoto. At least for Okamoto it is still possible to hunt down that old Animation Animation 2-LD set, which you’re lucky enough to own. I’m truly baffled as to why Geneon has not re-released the Tadanari Okamoto edition on DVD, even though they have re-released the Kihachiro Kawamoto set. (it’s frustrating because personally I’m more of an Okamoto fan)

And you’re right about the old Pioneer 2-LD set of Tadanari Okamoto just scratching the surface. It does provide a good overview of his best films, but it’s clear from the ‘outtakes’ chapter that there are numerous fairly lengthy films that weren’t included that quite obviously deserve to be seen. (to say nothing of The Restaurant of Many Orders) If a DVD ever does come out, I hope that it is significantly expanded to include these films. Okamoto was so prolific - there’s certainly a ton of commissioned work we haven’t seen either. For the moment I have no idea how you would go about seeing his early films or other films not included on the set, short of going to Japan and getting in contact with an animation society such as Anido, where I am sure they could probably help you.

As far as Mochinaga goes, there are actually two options I can think of. The easiest way to see Mochinaga’s films in their original form at present is probably to watch the one DVD devoted to his work on the 12-DVD set “Japan Art Animation Movie Selection", released in 2004. It will cost you more than $3000 to purchase the set, and the DVD isn’t available individually, but in Japan I gather it is probably available for viewing at certain specialized libraries.

The other way would be to hunt down 16mm film reels of his films that were perhaps released in the 50s-60s in English-dubbed form. I know for sure that at least a few of the Gakken puppet films were released in this form around that time, so who knows, maybe a few of Mochinaga’s films made it over. Perhaps there are some animation film collectors over here who have a few of these.

That’s the best I can do. I don’t recall ever having seen any of his films myself, so I would dearly like to see a good selection of his films released one day. I don’t really know what to expect in terms of their quality as films, but as the pioneering puppet animator in Japan his films clearly deserve to be given their due as the seminal animated films they are. A Mochinaga collection would make a great new entry in the New Animation Animation series.

02/06/08 @ 17:22
Seamus Walsh
Seamus Walsh [Visitor]  

Thank you Ben, I appreciate you taking the time to respond. I figured there was little hope that I’d somehow missed a release of his films. But you are so right - Mochinanga’s films need to be given their due… it’s a shame he’s so unknown, even by people who are pretty big fans of Japanese animation.

And I, too am really wishing Geneon would release an expanded set of the Okamoto disc… I guess there’s not enough interest to justify the expense of a release? I can only hope that the internet will eventually make super-niche things like this more cost effective for rights holders to make available.

Speaking of which, I remember when that $3000 DVD set came out… I think I’ll contact the JACC here in Los Angeles and see if they have a set in their library, thanks!

I actually did score a 16mm print of Okamoto’s “Monkey & the Crab” on ebay a few years ago, seems as though it was heavily edited for the educational market here, most of the insane violence was cut out!

I’ll continue to search, and let you know if I dig anything up. I have a friend from Japan, and at some point we’re going to take a puppet animation-focused trip there. I’ve contacted Anido with mixed success in the past, perhaps if I let them know I’m coming with plenty of advance notice they can help me out.

Thanks again for your thoughts on this, keep up the great work.

All the best,
Seamus

02/13/08 @ 01:59
Dale
Dale [Visitor]  

What is the title of the (autobiography) book?

Where can it be purchased?

Thank you-

04/15/11 @ 10:46
Ben [Member]  

It’s written there on the picture of the book: アニメーション日中交流記 持永只仁自伝 (Animation Nicchu Koryuki: Mochinaga Tadahito Jiden / Record of China-Japan Animation Exchange, the autobiography of Tadahito Mochinaga)

09/28/11 @ 13:16