Joshua Smith, who has introduced me to lots of great anime over the years, wrote to let me know about some recent discoveries he made on YouTube: Kitty’s Studio (1959) and Kitty’s Graffiti (1957), two shorts animated by Yasuji Mori. I’ve embedded them below.
These were produced during a time in which Toei was just gearing up it’s attempt to become the “Disney” of Japan, a feat that probably would not have succeeded without the talent of Yasuji Mori. He was probably the greatest Japanese character animator of his generation, stressing the concepts of appeal, solid construction, and moveability in his character design and animation. As the most influential mentor at Toei, he passed his skills on to subsequent generations of Toei animators such as Yasuo Otsuka, Gisaburo Sugii, and Hayao Miyazaki.
Most prewar and postwar Japanese animation up to this point was rather crude, so it’s striking to see Japanese animation at a level of quality that equals or surpasses much American short animation from the same time period. These shorts clearly contain a great deal of Western influence, but have a distinct approach that makes them feel exotic. Without further context, it seems like this style of animation appeared from a vacuum. On the weekend that sees the American release of Miyazaki’s latest film, it’s interesting to ponder what the state of Japanese animation might be like today without Mori’s influence.
Josh is spot-on when he writes about the distinct approach.The filmmaking choices in these cartoons are very odd and un-Western. In the cartoon below, the face of the main character is not shown from a three-quarter or front view until well over two minutes in the cartoon, even though he’s onscreen for much of that time. I can’t think of a single example of when that’s happened in a Hollywood theatrical short.