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Back No.
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transper_1pic.gif Master of Short Animated Films:
Animator Koji Yamamura


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Koji Yamamura wields a variety of tools, including clay, photos, colored pencils, felt-tip markers, and ink, when he produces short film series for children, TV commercials, and other animated works. Among his productions are Mt. Head (2002), Bavel’s Book (1996), Pacusi (1994–95), and Karo & Piyobupt (1993). His films have been screened in more than 30 countries and have won numerous awards at events including the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the International Animated Film Association in Japan and a member of the board of directors of the Japan Animation Association. Recently his Mt. Head won the 2003 Annecy Grand Prix and was nominated for an Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards.


These days Japanese animation is a global industry Japan can be proud of, one whose influence on video productions and popular culture has spread around the world. Such is the fame of the country’s animated films that a name has been coined for them: Japanimation. But they are by no means all of a piece, and one that stands apart from the rest is Mt. Head by Koji Yamamura. It was awarded the 2003 Annecy Cristal, the grand prize for short films at Annecy, one of Europe’s leading festivals for animated works, and it was nominated for an Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards.

Usually the talk of the town will be a big production rated as a commercial success, but Mt. Head is essentially the product of a single artist. This is precisely the kind of work the Annecy Cristal aims to promote, as Yamamura himself comments: “For any artist involved in creating short animated films, no honor is greater than winning the Annecy Grand Prix.” A serious believer in the idea that “animation is inherently a sequence of pictures drawn by a single artist,” he personally drew the more than 10,000 frames that went into Mt. Head, a 10-minute film, and he put the whole work together with only the help of his wife and two assistants. The budget for the film came out of his own pocket, and the production work, which began without any guarantee of paying off, took six years to reach completion.

Yamamura was born in Nagoya in 1964. He created his first animated film with an eight-millimeter camera while a junior high school student. The style he began to express then, a mixture of laughter and fear, can be seen in Mt. Head, which tells the tale of a miserly man who, after he eats some cherry seeds, sprouts a cherry tree from his head. “I wanted to portray the humor and ugliness of human beings, which stand out in sharp relief when you change the scale,” notes Yamamura. He says he based the film on a comic story (rakugo) he remembered reading as a child. “Recalling my youth, the sight of a weeping willow on the riverbank where we played in Nagoya comes to my mind. Perhaps that is what gave me the idea for the drooping cherry tree in Mt. Head.”

When he is engaged in creative work, Yamamura says, he sometimes finds himself thinking about the world of his childhood. “On occasion I make use of people and scenes I encountered when I was young.” Thus if you watch his films, perhaps you will get a glimpse into what Nagoya looked like back in the good old days.

Speaking of Nagoya, it was in this city that Matsuo Basho (1644–94), the master of haiku poetry, assembled his disciples to create the famous collection of renku (linked verses) titled Fuyu no hi (Winter Days). Now a renku anime, a series of animated sequences linked like a renku, is in production. Based on Winter Days, it will be released under the same name this autumn. Yamamura, who is one of the 35 animators from Japan and overseas participating in this production, observes that “though the words of a verse in a renku do not change, the images and world they evoke may be completely changed by the succeeding verse linked to it. That is just like animation.”

Here we find a connection between Yamamura, an animator who has turned short animated films into a sophisticated art form, and Basho, the poet who perfected the world’s shortest literary form. Such collaboration has the potential to reshape the concept of Japanimation once again.

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