Koji Yamamura

Koji Yamamura is one of Japan’s finest animators, who has even been nominated for an Oscar for best short animation with Mt. Head. He creates his animations mostly on his own, without a huge team of people working for him and he mixes different traditional techniques to complete his creations, such as claymation, stop-motion and hand drawn animation.

He visited London for the London International Animation Festival last November and Anime UK News had a chance to watch a restrospective of his work and interview him.

AUKN – Can you tell us what inspired you to become an animator?

Yamamura-san – In the late 80s, while studying oil painting at the university, I watched the films of Yuri Norstein and Priit Parn. These films had a great impact on me. I understood the wide range of possibilities involved in animation. Another motivating factor that led me to the world of short animation films is the films of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), for example, the works of Norman Mclaren, Co Hoedman, Paul Driessen, Jacques Drouin, Caroline Leaf, and especially the Indian animator, Ishu Patel. Patel attended the Hiroshima International animation festival in 1985, and in the subsequent year, he came to Tokyo and conducted a one-day workshop that I attended. This was a milestone for me because when I met Patel, I thought, “Oh, such animators, who are more concerned with the artistic aspect of animation rather than the commercial one, really exist in this world!”

AUKN – In the credits of your shorts, it is noticeable that almost all the work is done by you. How long does it takes to create a 5 minute short? Something like Fig or A Child’s Metaphysics?

Yamamura-san – It depends on the film. It took me about 3 months to make Fig and A Child’s Metaphysics.
But for Muybridge’s Strings I needed 2 years to animate the 13 minutes film.

AUKN – In your work, surrealism seems to play a vital part and sometimes, is at the heart of the stories you are telling. Is there a deeper meaning to the surrealist aspects of your work or was this just your way to explore ideas beyond words or labels?

Yamamura-san – Yes, indeed. I was influenced by Belgian painter RenéMagritte and surrealism film maker Luis Buñuel. Unconsciousness is an important element for my creations.

AUKN – Have you ever considered creating a full-length film?

Yamamura-san – I’m considering now. I have two ideas for feature films.

AUKN – Since 2004 you have been working as an animation professor, initially at Zokei University and then at the Tokyo University of the Arts. Was this a natural transition? Can you tell us the story of how you became involved in the education of a new generation of animators?

Yamamura-sanYes, it was a natural transition for me.
In Japan education of animators at university began around 2000. Some good talented animation makers were growing up at the University. I saw some films and I met some students, I felt I want to push them forward. They are good, but they lack something. So the decision to teach for them came automatically. Also my age is good to become a professor.

AUKN – Your work uses mainly traditional animation techniques, but some earlier works even included clay stop-motion. What are your favourite techniques? Why?

Yamamura-san – In the 80s I was experimenting with various techniques. In the 90s I used various techniques for children’s films. I like drawing style animation now. Representing the lines wiggly shaking was useful for the unstable identity in Mt. Head and effect to enhance the feelings of fear and anxiety in Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor.

AUKN – With all major animation studios moving to CG Animation, have you considered using CG in any of your films?

Yamamura-san – I will probably use a CG as some part of techniques diversification in feature.

AUKN – Any future projects you can tell about?

Yamamura-san – I’m making 2~3 minute short 4 episode for TV special. It’s based on Kojiki which is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, edited in 712. This year is the 1,300 year anniversary. It will be broadcasted by NHK BS next March.

Anime UK News would like to thank Yamamura-san for his time as well as thank Mr Nag Vladermersky, Festival Director for the London International Animation Festival.