Yasuji Mori and Hayao Miyazaki

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.

Joshua writes:

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.

Kitty’s Studio

He continues:

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.

Kitty’s Graffiti


  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    Yasuji Mori also created a short-lived TV series called “Hustle Punch”. It aired for 26 episodes from November 1, 1965 to April 25, 1966. It was made in black and white. Toei Doga was the studio. Here’s an opening and closing

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RO3d7e5_WnI

    Here’s a clip
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9MHSCYhg4k

  • Saturnome

    I didn’t thought much of Kitty’s Studio (maybe it needs subs) but Kitty’s Graffiti was cute! Thanks

  • http://www.ghiblicon.blogspot.com daniel thomas macinnes

    Fantastic! My deepest thanks to Joshua Smith for finding these Mori gems.

    Ben Ettinger has described Yasuji Mori as “the soul of Toei Doga,” and I always go back and read his two essays on the classic Toei movies again and again. It is great to learn about the early days of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and the others, but it’s also a joy to discover Toei Animation on its own.

    Here is the link to the Ghibli Blog which contains links to Ben Ettinger’s two Toei Doga essays:

    http://ghiblicon.blogspot.com/2008/01/anipages-history-of-toei-animation.html

    I’ve been watching a lot of the classic Toei movies these past few weeks, thanks to the internet…ahem. It is unfortunate that most of these classic films are unknown in the West, aside from dubbed releases in the ’60s. You get to see the modern era of Japan’s animation emerge, as the artists learn the craft, pass their knowledge to their peers, experiement and discover new forms of expression, and finally emerge as a unique visual style. Hakujaden (1958), Japan’s first color animated feature, is striking in its beauty and grace, and it’s fun to see the young animators learning their skills and stretching out over those early movies.

    I’d really like to hear what American animation lovers think of movies like Hakujaden, Shonen Sarutobe Sasuke, Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon, and Gulliver’s Space Travels. I do wish these movies were available on our store shelves.

    Fortunately, we do have Puss in Boots (1969) and Animal Treasure Island (1971), which are absolutely smashing fun. Those are the perfect movies to lead the Miyazaki fans into the Toei Doga camp.

    Of course, the giant of the Toei era is Isao Takahata’s 1968 Horus, Prince of the Sun, which finally broke the old Disney mold for good and established modern anime as its own unique form. That Horus remains unavailable in the US is a crime. The only anime films that surpassed it, imho, are those by Takahata and Miyazaki. That seems appropriate to me.

    One final thing (please forgive me for rambling): If you watch the Hustle Punch intro, you’ll recognize some of the characters, who reappeared later as the pirates in Animal Treasure Island. And the later Miyazaki-directed tv series Sherlock Hound was created as an homage to those two works. Those are the kind of riffs I always love to discover.

  • Brad Constantine

    wow! I really enjoyed that cartoon. I really liked the animation of the graffitti itself, especially when the Kitty was climbing on it and it was all squishy!… It had everything I love about animation…solid drawing, good humor, and some great character interaction…You can see some of the early mouth positions that have become standard anime in there.I can see how Miyazaki has taken from this and applied it to his own work…great stuff….thanks for sharing.

  • http://reggaenights.wordpress.com Reggaenights

    Kudos to Cartoon Brew for posting these shorts! Amid, you and Ben Ettinger of Anipages should write a book together on these subjects. Really let people know what anime is all about.

  • Saturnome

    dtm: I’ve seen all of those you’re mentioning when I decided to get into Japanese animation, and it’s a bunch of masterpieces, nothing less. There’s a R1 DVD release of Hakujaden I believe, though it’s some horrible old american dub on a faded print, and it edited out the paper cut intro.

  • http://hellohue.blogspot.com hellohue

    Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve been looking to watch Kitty’s Graffiti for so long, then gave up. I was thinking I would have to ebay or yahoo bid for an ancient VHS!

    Thanks Amid for posting, to Joshua for finding them, and for Ben at Anipages for mentioning the film on Anipages where I first read about it and continue to be stunned by his thorough and devoted knowledge to animation that is almost unheard of or lost in the west.

  • http://www.commanderkitty.com Scotty A

    This is a fantastic find..
    These cartoons are long, aren’t they? They’re about twice as long as any Tom & Jerry short.
    I’m going to check out the other movies recommended here.

  • http://www.JohnTravieso.blogspot.com John Tallacksen

    These are great finds! Any ideas where a guy can get a copy of Little Prince and the Eight Headed Dragon?

  • Jay Sabicer

    What completely charming films. It’s sad that the Japanese animation industry resorted to animating on 3′s and 4′s so soon afterwards. I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Kitty’s beret being some sort of reference to Tezuka. How many Kitty films were made? Looks like the 3 main characters worked well together. It definitely has piqued my desire to seek out more of these.

  • http://www.commanderkitty.com Scotty A

    What I’m learning from these links is that Yasuji Mori also animated on this movie, “Panda and the Magic Serpent” I Just happen to have that on DVD… I’m going to put it on YouTube if anyone is interested

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    Absolutely stunning and captivating, especially the black and white piece. Really very unusual work. Thanks for sharing.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Seems like there was only these two films featuring these characters in it, but it would’ve been neat if more were made of Kitty and his pals. When I think of Yasuji Mori, I’m often think of the clever animal designs he’s done over the years, especially the pointy cheek ruffs on characters such as the one seen in Hustle Punch. You don’t really see designs that well stylized anymore, especially in anime today. Several books were published on his work I still need to check out someday!

  • http://ryuuseipro.deviantart.com John Paul Cassidy

    Yasuji Mori was one of the greats indeed.

    This kind of anime is my absolute favorite kind. And it’s really sad that we don’t see this kind of animation anymore. Miyazaki’s work is still head and shoulders above everything else in Japan, while the rest of anime is plagued by Sturgeon’s Law (90% of all new anime is crap). The anime industry is pretty much suffering from the same problems as our own animation industry. Except that Japan is not replacing their anime shows with adolescent reality shows.

    I’ve already voiced my love for THE LITTLE PRINCE AND THE EIGHT-HEADED DRAGON (which Mori worked on as animation supervisor), which I’ve hailed as my all-time favorite anime film, by far. Brilliant and colorful animation/design, plus Akira Ifukube’s beautiful score (this is one of his best film scores, as he had more time to compose it, in this case)! This cries for a DVD release in the US.

    Question: Isn’t Koneko/Kitty the basis for Toei’s PUSS IN BOOTS? If so, that defintely explains his being the mascot of Toei-Doga, and rightfully so!

  • http://www.ghiblicon.blogspot.com daniel thomas macinnes

    @Saturnome @Scotty A – I’ve written a number of posts about Hakujaden (“Panda and the Magic Serpent”) on my blog. I finally got to watch it recently and absolutely loved it. It’s a terrific movie that has aged very gracefully. I’m amazed that only two people – Mori and Daikuhara – were responsible for all the key animation in the movie.

    Here’s a post about the movie:
    http://ghiblicon.blogspot.com/2009/07/photos-hakujaden.html

    I would love to get my hands on Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon. It’s my favorite of Toei’s pre-Horus movies and it’s endlessly thrilling. You can watch the American dubbed version at Youtube. The Japanese DVD can be found via import retailers like CD Japan; no English subtitles are included, however.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Question: Isn’t Koneko/Kitty the basis for Toei’s PUSS IN BOOTS? If so, that defintely explains his being the mascot of Toei-Doga, and rightfully so!

    Why Toei hasn’t done anything with Pero in a while, I wish I knew? A 40th anniversary movie wouldn’t be out of the question right now!

  • Iritscen

    Nice stuff, and I am quite impressed by the solidity of the animation in Kitty’s Studio. The influence on Miyazaki is easy to see (and quite a step up from Graffiti, just two years before!). I’d much rather watch a cartoon where cats and mice get along any day of the week, instead of the mindless violence of Tom & Jerry and the usual dumb American vilification of the cat as some evil predator.

  • Tommy Brierly

    Someone put the original dubbed version of Little Prince And The Eight-Headed Dragon on youtube. Definitely one of my favorites!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TS14RS-IT0U

  • David Breneman

    The thing that struck me about the “Hustle Punch” intro is that the villains are the victims of the heros. Here these villains are, driving down the road, minding their own business, when the heros tie their car to a lamp post. Hmmm…

  • Román Arámbula

    very good animation, thanks guys…

  • http://www.ghiblicon.blogspot.com daniel thomas macinnes

    @Chris I’m surprised that Pero hasn’t been touched in ages. Perhaps this was because the movies got steadily worse and worse. The 1969 Puss in Boots is a classic, probably the best Tom-and-Jerry anime cartoon ever – Miyazaki and Otsuka’s castle chase is spectacular.

    The 1972 sequel, The Three Musketeers in Boots, wasn’t as good, but it was still really nice and had its charms. Yasuji Mori was the animation director, with Akira Daikuhara, Akemi Ota and Reiko Okuyama the top key animators.

    The third and final movie in 1976, Puss in Boots Around the World in 80 Days, is just awful. You can tell all the major players have long since left Toei (where they already created Lupin III, Panda Kopanda, Heidi and Marco). But the third Puss in Boots does have this clocktower chase at the end that looks REEAALY similar to Castle of Cagliostro. Considering that this movie ripped off bits from Horus, Prince of the Sun and Animal Treasure Island, perhaps Miyazaki wanted to steal something back?

    I would love to see a new Pero cartoon, if the right people were in charge of creating it. That style of slapstick cartoon is long gone from anime, and that’s a shame. Perhaps it was just seen as too “Western,” or perhaps tastes have just changed in Japan.

  • http://www.itsthecat.com Mark Kausler

    “Kitty’s Graffiti” was originally released under the title of “The Scribbling Kitten” in the English speaking countries. I like the animation, but it’s all a bit wooden looking, not much “give” to it, even when the characters crash into something. The kitten’s doodled cars and trains have more squash and stretch to them than the characters! Both of these cartoons were longer than presented here.
    You Tube must have cut them off.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    > Both of these cartoons were longer than presented here.
    You Tube must have cut them off.

    Couldn’t tell since these were split in half, as there’s a part one and two for each video, but thanks for the info Mark on it having an international release. I sorta figured Kitty’s Graffiti looked like something I could see getting distributed outside Japan very easily.

  • Mark

    Wow, cartoon characters gots shoulders!

    Didn’t Toei have a bid in to animate “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” until Jay Ward & Co. visited the studio site and found it still hadn’t been built?

  • http://www.markmcdermott.com Mark McDermott

    I stand corrected. I think it was Toho (Godzilla, etc.) that wanted to get an animation studio started and bid on the “Rocky & Bullwinkle” before they had any studio built.

  • http://cartoongeeks.com Ms. Geek

    That is awesome stuff…Konneko (Kitten) is awesome. I wish I knew more than snippets of what they are saying to each other. BTW I think that the director with the beret is more universal of an image to where it’s not necessarily just a reference to Tezuka-sensei. Konneko is not wearing riding pants along with his (her?) beret, but I think that Erich von Stroheim was the first to rock that sartorial style, and that became a universal cliche image of the movie director.

  • Lucy

    …I’ve been a long-time anime fan (especially older titles, like this), and I’ve been showing this to all of my other anime-loving friends… They’re in near-agreement that if this were to be more available that Yasuji Mori would have a much wider audience here. These cartoons are a joy. I love proof that there was once upon a time when anime wasn’t all about cat-eared girls and guys blowing things up (not that that’s such a bad thing in moderation–But still, I’d kill to see more things like this nowadays).