Kotabe, Mario, Heidi Kotabe, Mario, Heidi

Readers who find themselves in the Japanese city of Kanazawa this week may want to swing by the Shiinoki Cultural Complex, where an exhibition about a remarkable artist has just opened. “The World of Yoichi Kotabe: An Animator of Genius” explores the work of Kotabe, 84, an eminent animator and character designer who has made his mark on anime and video games alike.

Kotabe is best known for his collaborations with Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, who went on to set up Studio Ghibli, and for his later work as a designer for Nintendo. The exhibition displays artwork from across his career, including animation cels and development artwork aplenty.

After being enchanted by Panda and the Magic Serpent, Japanese animation’s first color feature, Kotabe joined the studio that made it, Toei Doga (now Toei Animation). There he met Miyazaki and Takahata, and worked with them as a key animator on Takahata’s groundbreaking debut feature The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (aka The Little Norse Prince).

Having left Toei amid a labor dispute, Kotabe continued to collaborate with the pair at smaller studios. As a character designer and animation director, he exerted a huge influence on the visual styles of popular series like Heidi, Girl of the Alps and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, on which Miyazaki served as layout artist and scene designer, and Takahata as director.

In 1985, Kotabe was hired by Nintendo to advise on animation in its games. He stayed with the company for more than two decades, going on to play a key role in the visual development of the Mario and Zelda franchises. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, credited Kotabe with developing the design of “the Mario we see today.”

Kotabe continues to freelance and travel widely. At last year’s Annecy Festival, we saw him speak at length about his work with Takahata.

“The World of Yoichi Kotabe: An Animator of Genius” runs until December 6. Entry is free. For more information (in Japanese), head to the venue’s website.

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