08 January 2012

Eiichi Yamamoto’s Animation Top 20 (2003)

Back by popular demand, individual questionnaire responses from Laputa Animation Festival’s publication of the Top 150 Japanese and World Animation (2003). 

Biographical information about the great animator Eiichi Yamamoto (山本暎一, b. 1940) in English is unusually sparse on the internet considering that he is one of the top anime directors of his generation.  It is somehow fitting that he was born the same year that Fantasia was completed by Disney, for his contributions to animation have been equally bold and groundbreaking as the work done by James Algar, Wilfred Jackson, et al.

Born in Kyoto during the Pacific War, Yamamoto’s father was called up for service and as an infant Yamamoto’s mother and her family moved to Shōdoshima where they stayed for the duration of the war.  The island is famous for its olives, soy sauce, and wild monkeys.  .  .   as well as being the setting of Keisuke Kinoshita’s classic film Twenty-Four Eyes (二十四の瞳, 1954).  As a school boy, Yamamoto already dreamed of becoming an animator and upon graduation from high school he got work at Otogi Pro under the anime pioneer Ryūichi Yokoyama (横山 隆一, 1909-2001).  He worked on the productions of Fukusuke (ふくすけ, 1957) and Otogi's World Tour (おとぎの世界旅行, 1960) before meeting Osamu Tezuka (手塚 治虫, 1928-89) in 1960.

In 1961, Yamamoto became one of the founding members of Tezuka’s Mushi Productions and he took on the task of animating Story of a Certain Street Corner (ある街角の物語, 1962) which won much acclaim including the first ever Noburo Ofuji Award at the Mainichi Film Concours.  He worked with Tezuka on the original Astro Boy Series and directed the Kimba the White Lion series (1965-7) and feature film (1966).

Yamamoto is perhaps best known for his work on the Animerama (アニメラマ) trilogy of films: A Thousand and One Nights (千夜一夜物語, 1969), Cleopatra (クレオパトラ, 1970), and Belladonna (哀しみのベラドンナ, 1973).  Although these adult themed films may have been conceived and co-directed by Tezuka, Yamamoto is generally credited as the main creative force behind these unique films.  Yamamoto was also the supervising director of Leiji Matsumoto’s influential anime series Space Battleship Yamato (1974-5).

The 20 films that Yamamoto selected for the 2003 Laputa survey reflect his love of both popular and avant-garde forms of animation. .  .  not to mention a taste for the eclectic and unusual.  Yamamoto’s generation were hugely influenced by the extraordinary cell animation produced by Walt Disney in the 1930s and 1940s.  Although they emulated Disney to a certain extent, with the Animerama films Mushi Productions also sought to move animation in a completely new and different direction than Disney.  The avant-garde spirit of these films was influenced by Yōji Kuri and the Animation Sannin no Kai, which is doubtless why Two Grilled Fish made Yamamoto’s list.

On the surface it may seem egoistic for two of Yamamoto’s own works to appear on this list, but it is not uncommon among the Laputa lists.  Puppet animation pioneer Katsuo Takahashi mentions his own work Nobara (野ばら, 1967) and Tsutomu Shibayama lists 18 Doraemon movies in his Top 20 List.  I enlisted my husband to help me translate Yamamoto’s comments about his selection which I have included below.  They reveal his quirky sense of humour. Although the list is numbered, Yamamoto claims the order is random. I am fascinated by the inclusion of The City of Lost Children which is not animation at all, but he suggests the aesthetics have an “anime taste” to them. 

Catherine Munroe Hotes 2012

(ファンタジア, 9 Disney directors, 1940)
The film that inspired Yamamoto to become an animator.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
(白雪姫, David Hand et al., Disney, USA, 1937)
“The dark beauty in Snow White reminds me of kabuki” - EY
Two Grilled Fish
(二匹のサンマ, Yōji Kuri, 1960)
“Scary, terrible and disturbing to envision the progress of humanity in this way.” - EY

One Thousand and One Nights
(千夜一夜物語, Eiichi Yamamoto, Japan, 1969)
Yamamoto claims that it was the first animation to be have an “Eirin cut”
(Eirin is the Japanese film classification – some would say “censorship” board)
(哀しみのベラドンナ, Eiichi Yamamoto, Japan, 1973)
“Because I made it!” - EY
Night on the Galactic Railroad
(銀河鉄道の夜  Gisaburo Sugii, 1985)
“Because a friend of mine made it!” - EY
Laputa: Castle in the Sky 
(天空の城ラピュタ, Hayao Miyazaki, 1986)
“It has such a great chase scene!” - EY

My Neighbor Totoro
(となりのトトロ, Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
“It succeeded wonderfully in turning Japanese folklore into entertainment.” - EY

Renown “Ye-Ye” Girls Commericals
(レナウンのイエイエ娘CM, 1960s)
“Oh those were fun, weren’t they!” - EY

Ugo Ugo Lhuga series
(ウゴウゴルーガ, Toshio Iwai, 1992-1994)
“This series was great because it turned poo into a character.  
Iwai took animation to a new level.  I watched it every day when it was on TV.” - EY

Minna no Uta series
(みんなのうた, various, NHK, 1961-present)
“I congratulate the NHK on this series.  Please continue it forever!” - EY

Hedgehog in the Fog
(霧につつまれたハリネズミ, Yuri Norstein, 1975)
“Well, I listed it because everybody says it’s great.”  - EY

The Mighty River / Le fleuve aux grandes eaux
(大いなる河の流れ, Frédéric Back, 1993)
“I like it better than The Man Who Planted Trees” - EY

American Pop
(アメリカン・ポップ, Ralph Bakshi, 1981)
Yamamoto enjoyed the combination of rotoscoping with human drama.

Heavy Metal
(ヘヴィメタル, Gerald Potterton, 1981)
“Hmmmm… this one is ugly and beautiful at the same time (醜悪美).” - EY

The Nightmare Before Christmas
(ナイトメアー・ビフォア・クリスマス, Henry Selick, 1993)
“A grotesque doll with an exceedingly beautiful heart.” - EY

Beavis and Butt-head Do America
(ビーバス・アンド・バットヘッドDo America, Mike Judge/ Yvette Kaplan, 1996)
“Very queer characters, very strange story, knee-slappingly hilarious.
On the one hand there’s Disney, and on the other hand there’s this odd, queer stuff.
America produces such diverse [animation].” - EY

Death Becomes Her
(水遠に美しく, Robert Zemeckis, 1992)
puppets and special effects Guy Himber, Alec Gillis, Don Elliot, et al.
“Fantastic animation techniques used with ‘humans’” - EY

Run Lola Run / Lola rennt animation sequences
(ラン・ローラ・ラン, Tom Tykwer, 1998)
Animation designed by Gil Alkabetz
“The animation is good, as is the beauty of the camera work.  
The construction is also great.  
Lola with the tattoo on her belly is really kawaii” - EY

The City of Lost Children / La Cité des enfants perdus
(ロスト・チルドレン, Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Marc Caro, 1995)
“There’s no “anime” in it at all, but it has an anime flavour to it. 
(he uses the katakana term アニメテイスト literally “anime taste”)  
Their debut film Delicatessen was also good.” - EY

Source: Laputa Top 150 World and Japanese Animation