Sunday, February 16, 2014

Jimmy Teruaki Murakami (1933 - 2014)

Well, the animation world is hit by another sad news of the passing of a well respected animator. Earlier today word came out that the first animator of Japanese heritage nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar has passed away from an undisclosed cause. No, we're not talking about Koji Yamamoto. Instead, we're talking about Murakami Teruaki (村上輝明), better known around the animation world as Jimmy T. Murakami.

Murakami was born in California. He was only eight years old when war broke out, and suffered from the bitter xenophobia of the Americans when he and his family were sent to concentration camps just because he was of Japanese descent. The incident had a profound impact on the young Murakami, but he persevered and pursued his love of art. He went on to art school and was worked at UPA and Pintoff productions, where he worked on Oscar nominated films such as Trees and Jamaica Daddy and The Violinist. After that he moved around the world working in animation for a couple of years.

In the middle of the 1960s, Murakami went back to the US where he teamed up with fellow animator Fred Wolf to form Murakami-Wolf Productions, an animated studio that made commercials and other products. Murakami got to enjoy life of a producer, which allowed him to pick up his only Oscar nomination for the film The Magic Pear Tree, which was actually directed by Charles Swenson. The film ended up losing to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, but at least Murakami had his nomination. Still, he would later feel the same agony that Swenson did.

Shortly afterward, Murakami left the studio and settled in Ireland, where he remained active and was a pioneer in Irish animation. In 1982, he was the supervising director of what may be his most famous work, a film based off of a picture book by author and illustrator Raymond Briggs called The Snowman. The touching film became extremely popular, and was also nominated for the Best Animated Short Oscar, although the nomination went to producer John Coates instead. Still, Murakami and Briggs teamed together to create what might be the most profound film of his career, a harrowing anti-war film titled When the Wind Blows. The film told the tale of an elderly couple as they tried to navigate life in the nuclear age.

Murakami continued to work and influence younger animators in the years after When the Wind Blows. He was an inspiration to other Irish animation studios and animators, including Brown Bag Films who made an Oscar nominated film of their own in Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, and I presume Eoin Duffy, who made the brilliant and denied shortlisted film The Missing Scarf. And yet all good things must come to an end, and the end came for Murakami today. RIP

Here are some of Murakami's greatest Oscar nominated hits:

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