09 November 2010

Reiko Okuyama’s Top 20 Animated Films

Okuyama working on Winter Days (2003)
One of the most exciting discoveries in the publication of the 150 Best World and Japanese Animated Films is that one of the professionals included in the survey is Reiko Okuyama (奥山玲子,  c. 193? – 2007). In the west, she is one of the little known and under-appreciated gems of the Japanese animation world. Her list 20 of what she considered to be the best animation of all time gives us an idea about the kind of films she would have made if she had been able to make more independent work during her long career.

First, a little background on the artist herself:

Like many other animators of her generation, Okuyama’s career in animation came about more by chance than by design. She applied for the job at Toei Doga because she mistakenly understood “doga” to mean picture books rather than animation (the term ‘doga’ was only invented in the early part of the twentieth century by putting together the kanji for movement and the kanji for picture). It turned out that she had a talent for inbetweening and took the job after passing a skill testing exercise.

Her first job was as an inbetweener on Legend of the White Snake (Kazuhiko Okabe/Taiji Yabushima, 1958). She went on to work as an animator on a number of classic Toei Doga works including the Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (Yugo Serikawa, 1963), Horus: Prince of the Sun (Isao Takahata, 1968) – where she was responsible for the design of many of the female characters – and Puss in Boots (Kimio Yabuki, 1969). Her final major project at Toei was Taro the Dragon Boy (Kiriiro Urayama, 1979), before she started drifting away from commercial anime.

In the early eighties she took jobs illustrating children’s books and teaching animation. She also took up the art of copperplate engraving, which led to Tadanari Okamoto inviting her in the late 1980s to work with him on his final film The Restaurant of Many Orders (1991). In the late eighties she also worked on the Studio Ghibli film Grave of Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988). In the 1990s she focused on her career as a copperplate engraver, holding many gallery exhibitions of her work. 

In many ways, Okuyama was a feminist pioneer in the field of animation in Japan. At a time when most women were expected to give up their careers and become homemakers, she continued working after she married the legendary animator Yoichi Kotabe (小田部羊一, b.1936) in 1963. When she became a mother, she refused to switch from full-time employee status to working on a contract basis and both she and Kotabe faced a lot of opposition from the company for their determination to co-parent while working full-time as animators. For more detailed information about Okuyama’s career, check out her profile at Anipages.

 It is a real shame that Okuyama was rarely given the opportunity to helm animation projects of her own. For me, her most moving work was her and Kotabe’s shared contribution to Winter Days: an elegy for a woman who has lost her child. This beautiful depiction of the maternal body was achieved by doing them in the style of Okuyama’s copperplate engravings.

Looking at her list of the top animation of all time – which she listed in no particular order – it is clear that Okuyama admired animation that is forward-thinking and pushes at boundaries:

Jiri Trnka Film Worls / Animation
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 
(真夏の夜の夢, Jiri Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1959)
The Hand 
(手, Jiri Trnka, Czechoslovakia, 1965)
A Drop Too Much 
(飲みすぎた一杯, Bretislav Pojar, Czechoslovakia, 1954)
The Fantastic World of Jules Verne 
(悪魔の発明, Karel Zeman, 1958)
Tale of Tales 
(話の話, Yuri Norstein, Russia, 1979)
Hedgehog in the Fog 
(霧につつまれたハリネズミ, Yuri Norstein, Russia, 1975)
(クラック!, Frédéric Back, Canada, 1981)
The Man Who Planted Trees/L'homme qui plantait des arbres 
(木を植えた男, Frédéric Back, Canada, 1987)
(ノーマン・マクラレンのシネ・カリグラフィ, Canada)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 
(白雪姫, David Hand, et al., USA, 1937)
Yuki no Joou (The Snow Queen / Snezhnaya koroleva) / Animation
The Snow Queen 
(雪の女王, Lev Atamov et al., Russia, 1957)
Le roi et l’oiseau 
(王と鳥 やぶにらみの暴君, Paul Grimault, France, 1948)
Dojoji Temple 
(道成時, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Japan, 1976)
The Restaurant of Many Orders 
(注文の多い料理店, Tadanari Okamoto/Kihachiro Kawamoto, Japan, 1991)
Hakujaden (The Legend of the White Snake) / Animation
Legend of the White Snake
(白蛇伝, Taiji Yabushita/Kazuhiko Okabe, Japan, 1958)
Horus: Prince of the Sun 
(太陽の王子 ホルスの大冒険, Isao Takahata, Japan, 1968)
Taro The Dragon Boy 
(龍の子太郎, Kiriro Urayama, Japan, 1979)
My Neighbour Totoro 
(となりのトトロ, Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 1988)
The Snowman 
(スノーマン, Dianne Jackson, UK, 1981)

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This blog entry is a part of the Japanese Film Blogathon 2010

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010