After graduating from the Nippon Design Welfare College in 1967, his first industry job was as a colorist at a company subcontracted for Television Corporation of Japan (now Eiken). His first work as an animator was on Space Boy Soran and later Robotan. During his time as a freelance artist, he put in shifts at Mushi Productions and Tsuburaya Enterprises.
As business at Mushi Productions began to fail (the studio went bankrupt in 1973), Nunokawa was asked to be one of the founding members of the upstart animation studio Soeisha, which later became Bandai Namco Filmworks. He declined, however, and instead joined the staff at Tatsunoko Production in 1971, where he directed episodes of Time Bokan!.
In 1978, Tatsunoko Production founder Tatsuo Yoshida died, and Nunokawa joined colleagues Mitsuo Kaminashi and Hiroko Tokita to start an artists’ collective that included former coworkers from Mushi and Tatsunoko.
The following year he founded Pierrot in Mitaka, Tokyo, and staffed it with members of the collective. He continued to produce series and films at the company for decades. An avid fan of the circus, Nunokawa named his studio after the famous French clown Pierrot and even incorporated a clown face into the studio’s logo.
In 2012, Nunokawa became chairman and representative director of Pierrot, eventually becoming supreme advisor to its executive board.
The studio confirmed the news of Nunokawa’s death on Twitter on December 26, saying:
It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Yuji Nunokawa, the former Chairman and the Supreme Adviser of Pierrot.
Mr. Nunokawa passed away on December 25th.
He was 75.
He will be sorely missed for his leadership, commitment and passion.
Outside of Pierrot, Nunokawa was also influential in the organization The Association of Japanese Animations and served as its chairman from 2009-2014. The group publishes “The Report on Japanese Animation Industry” every year. The group also runs the Suginami Animation Museum and helps produce the Anime Japan convention with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.
A longtime educator, Nunokawa helped establish Nunoani, a training program for animators, producers, planners, and directors. He regularly gave lectures and made public appearances in Japan and abroad.
In 2018, Nunokawa was recognized for a lifetime of achievement in animation with the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs award and received one of Japan’s most prestigious honors, a Japanese government Medal of Honor Blue Ribbon.
Adhering to his family’s wishes, only close relatives will attend his funeral, but Pierrot will hold a larger memorial service at a later date where fans can pay their respects.