25 December 2010

Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials: Made in Japan

Christmas is upon us, which means endless outings of Christmas classics like White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954), It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1964), and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Chuck Jones/Ben Washam, 1966). As a child, my favourite TV special by far was the Rankin/Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Larry Roemer/Kizo Nagashima, 1964). I loved the songs – mainly because they were sung by Burl Ives whose children’s album Burl Ives sings Little White Duck was one of the most played on my blue plastic record player. 

In addition to the rich, rolling voice of Burl Ives, I found the puppet animation simply magical. The character expression and movement is so exquisitely done. It was only in recent years that I discovered that although the projects were conceived and written by Americans, the puppet animation was done by Japanese animators at Tadahito Mochinaga’s MOM Productions studio. Their partnership with Rankin/Bass had begun in 1960 with the TV series The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1960-61)

In Rick Goldschmidt’s The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, Arthur Rankin, Jr. talks of the dedication of the Japanese animators, who would stay up late into the night in order to finish an individual scene. The “Animagic” animators often ending up sleeping next to their puppets. In addition to “Tad” Mochinaga, other Japanese who worked on these films included Kizo Nagashima, Hiroshi Tabata, Ichiro Komuro, Sataoshi Fujino, Senchi Akaki, Akikazu Kono, and the producer Masaki Iizuka.

Here is a listing of the Rankin/Bass Animagic Christmas Specials along with the Japanese staff who worked on the animation side of the production:
 The Original Christmas Classics (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer/Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town/Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns/Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol/Little Drummer Boy/Cricket on the Hearth)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 
(Larry Roemer/ Kizo Nagashima, 1964)
• Tad Mochinaga (Animation Supervisor)
• Kizo Nagashima (Associate Director)
The Little Drummer Boy
The Little Drummer Boy 
(Rankin/Bass, 1968)
• Takeo Nakamura (Animation Director)

Santa Claus is Coming to Town 
(Rankin/Bass, 1970)
• Kizo Nagashima (Animation Director)

The Year Without a Santa Claus / Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey / Rudolph's Shiny New Year
The Year Without A Santa Claus 
(Rankin/Bass, 1974)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Production Supervisors)

The First Christmas 
(Ranking Bass, 1975)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Production Supervisors)

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
(Rankin/Bass. 1976)
• Akikazu Kono and Ichiro Komuro (Animagic Production Supervisors)

The Little Drummer Boy, Book II
(Rankin/Bass, 1976)
• Akikazu Kono and Satoshi Fujino (Animagic Production)

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey
(Ranking/Bass, 1977)
• Akikazu Kono and Satoshi Fujino (Animagic Production Supervisors)
• Masaki Iizuka (Asssistant Producer)
Jack Frost
Jack Frost 
(Rankin/Bass, 1979)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Iabata, Senchi Akaki (Animagic Production Supervision)
Rudolph & Frosty's Christmas in July
Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July
(Rankin/Bass, 1979)
• Iwao Kondo (Production Manager)
• Shinichi Noro (Set Designer)
• Ichiro Komuro (Character Model Sculptor)
• Takeo Ando (Camera Operator)
• Mitsuhara Hirata (Lighting Technician)
• Hiroshi Otokozawa (Camera Operator)
• Seiichi Araki (Animator)
• Shigeru Ohmachi (Animator)
• Hiroshi Tabata (Animator)

Pinocchio’s Christmas 
(Rankin/Bass, 1980)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki, Fuminori Minahi,
Ryoji Takamori, Muchara Hirata, Totetu Mirakawa (Animagic Supervisors)

The Leprechaun’s Christmas Gold 
(Rankin/Bass, 1981)
• Masaki Iizuka (Associate Producer)
• Akikazu Kono, Ichiro Komuro, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki,
Fuminori Minahi, Mitsuhara Hirata and Shinichi Noro (Animagic Supervisors)

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 
(Rankin/Bass, 1985)
• the last Animagic holiday special produced by Rankin/Bass for network television
• Masaki Iizuka (Production Manager for Pacific Animation Corporation)
• Akikazu Kono, Hiroshi Tabata, Seiichi Araki, Ichiro Komuro, Minoru Tamura, Koji Hirata, Shinichi Noro, Yukio Fukushima (Animagic Staff)

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2010