Renzo Kinoshita: A Talk With Miyasan Sadao Miyamoto

Will Ryan asks Mike Kazaleh slightly fewer than ten questions regarding getting started in Detroit, comic books and the benefits of working for hire...

Renzo Kinoshita - 1990

"Renzo Kinoshita began working as an independent animator in 1967. His own major work, Made in Japan won the Grand Prix at the New York International Animation Festival in 1972. He became involved with ASIFA (The International Animated Film Association) and was a tower of strength as vice president. His wisdom and dedication had a great influence on animation in Japan and throughout Asia and he established the ASIFA Japan national group in 1981. In 1985, the first Hiroshima Animation Festival was held as a result of long years of tireless work by him and his wife Sayoko. His other well-known works include Japonese (1977)--a send up of all things Japanese, Picadon (1978)--a moving portrayal of the horror of the A-bomb attack on Hiroshima, and The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (1993). It was a great pleasure to work with him and I was proud to be his friend. I will miss him sorely."

--Pat Raine Webb, President, ASIFA-UK

As Pat Webb so eloquently states in her brief tribute, Renzo Kinoshita was a major figure in the international animation community. For many, he and his wife Sayoko were the personification of the spirit of independent filmmaking in Japan, and were closely associated with ASIFA-Japan and the Hiroshima Animation Festival. But in talking to Miyasan Sadao Miyamoto, a veteran Japanese animation artist who knew Renzo since they were both apprentice animators in Osaka back in 1957, I got a somewhat different perspective on him as both artist and human being.

Miyasan, whose appearance, with trim beard and bald head, as he likes to point out, makes him look very much like Renzo, is currently character art manager at Disney Consumer Products in Burbank. He came there after working as a directing animator and designer at Baer Animation. His career in Japan spanned nearly 35 years and includes working at Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Productions on Astro Boy. He also worked at Sanrio (in Tokyo and Los Angeles) and Toei Animation, before establishing his own company , Raku-Kobu, an animation and merchandizing company in Tokyo, in 1989.

The following is based on my conversation with Miyasan, with Willie Ito, another friend of Renzo and a colleague at Disney, acting as translator. Miyasan said he had "many, many memories of Renzo," and here are some of the ones he shared with me.

Kinoshita's The Last Air Raid Kumagaya(1993).

We were both from the Osaka area and started at the same time at a little animation studio there where we were in training together. Renzo sat in front of me and he looked older; I thought he was a veteran animator and was thus a little shy about approaching him. Meanwhile, Renzo looked back at me and thought I was an old veteran, and was also a little reticent about striking up a conversation. And that, basically is how our friendship began.

Eventually, I moved to Tokyo and started working for Mushi Productions. Then, lo and behold, Renzo came there and started working there at the studio, where we both worked on Astro Boy as animators.

There are some funny little anecdotes I could tell about when we were a bunch of young guys working together, raising hell and doing all sorts of funny things. Renzo was a little cheap about going to the barber shop. Back then, believe it or not, he had a lot of hair and I had an Elvis Presley. Renzo asked me if I could give him a trim. So, I took a pair of paper scissors and started to trim his hair. It was kind of uneven, so I cut a little bit more. There were a bunch other guys working in the place and one of them said, "Let me have a hand at it now." Eventually, they all got in on it and pretty soon his hair was a total mess, short here and long there. In the end, he was forced to go to a barber shop and have it corrected. But, of course, the barber cut everything to match the short part. So, when he came back to the office, he was almost bald. The irony of it all is that it never really grew back to its fullest. So, the way we all remember Renzo, with his bald head was the result of us fooling around and giving him this haircut.

There was another animator, who would go out and raise hell with me and Renzo. But I was the one who would have to watch their sake drinking to make sure these two guys didn't get into any trouble. This all happened, of course, before Renzo was married to Sayokosan.

Renzo's autograph from Hiroshima 96 to our own Wendy Jackson.

After about a year at Mushi Productions, Renzo left and got into making his own films, while I stayed on doing TV series and feature films. Renzo met Sayoko at Mushi, where she was sort of a secretary to an executive. She had gone to art school and hung out with our crowd. That's how they met. About three years later, after he started his own studio, they got married.

Renzo had a unique style, and I remember when I became one of the premiere animators in Japan and had had the chance to evaluate a lot of artist portfolios. But when I would see Renzo's work, I got the feeling that if they were for sale, they would be worth buying, they were that good.

Renzo was quite involved with the independent filmmaking movement and ASIFA, but I was not closely in touch to talk about these things. However, I vividly remember when he and Sayokosan were the motivating force to get the Hiroshima Festival off and running. Sayoko was always very much involved in the creative part of it. She would go out and really promote a lot of their travels to ASIFA events, which they always did together.

He was quite famous in Japan, not for his own films, but for the work he did on a 90 minute TV show back around 1965 called Geba Geba. He did brief, five second spots, with a character spaced throughout the show called Geba Geba Ozisan (Uncle Geba Geba.) which they blended optically with a live-action comedian and they would banter back-and-forth. And that was a very popular character for Renzo. But Renzo's main focus was his own little films and documentaries. But to make money in order to keep these films in production, he would make commercials to subsidize his independent films. His company was always a two man studio. It was him and Sayokosan. He would hire people like me to come in and help him out on a film, but he never had like a full-time crew. Renzo was essentially the art crew, while Sayokosan would do the ink and paint and background.

Among his tight circle of friends, there are some very famous illustrators who all kind of learned together. Renzo could always depend on them to come in and help them out on a film. So, he was able to get the best designers and illustrators and all that. He was very dedicated in making his films and developing his craft, and he was very proud of it, but in a low key sort of way.

It's ironic about the film he made about Hiroshima and the A-bomb. You see, I was born in Hiroshima and experienced the bombing as a child and saw the mushroom cloud. I never talked about what I saw or experienced to Renzo, but what he depicted in his film was so true to life: the bomber flying over, the blue sky, and the smokey part; I was just absolutely flabbergasted at how real Renzo's image was; it was exactly like what I actually saw.

It was funny, because as fellow animators, we would always discuss what we're working on, what are our new ideas. But that was one film that we never actually talked about. If we did talk about it, I would have described it vividly, because as an animator you're able to describe things that way. But in spite of that, Renzo captured it all.

Kinoshita's Made in Japan (1972).

When we were students and learning the craft, we would talk for hours about American animation. We always spoke of how someday we would come to the United States and work in the animation business there, which I eventually did. I would write letters and at Christmas we would exchange cards, where I would say, "Come on, when are you ready to come to America and work here?" And he would say, "I would love to, but you know how much I like apple pie. Do you have a good recipe for apple pie?" So, I said, "My wife makes wonderful apple pies, so if you come you can have all you want." And that was the very last note I sent to him in my last Christmas card I sent him. In that note, I also said, "I will be coming back to Japan in May, so we will get together and we'll talk more about American animation."

I heard the news of his death from a friend we both worked with in Osaka, who sent me the obituary in an Osaka newspaper. It's rather poignant that we ended up talking about apple pies and American animation.

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