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Independence in Japan
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Not quite an innocent playground scene in Kurosaka's work-in-progress Midori-ko. © Keita Kurosaka.

Koji Yamamura: Crossing National Boundaries
Yamamura, 35, on the other hand, graduated from Tokyo Zokei University, another influential private university in the Kanto region of Japan. His university days exposed him to a variety of art techniques and media including oil painting, sculpture and other 3D design courses. During the interview, he paid tribute to his secondary school mathematics teacher who discovered and encouraged his talents in animating. His first exposure to a major film production project was in 1983 when he was still an undergraduate. The feature film, Burmese Harp was remade under the same directorship of auteur, Kon Ichikawa. Yamamura contributed to the design by making 3D objects and dummy human figures for the set. Upon graduation in 1987, he joined Mukuo Studio. Yamamura remembers that the jobs he worked on at Mukuo included animation television series which were subcontracted from other big-time animation studios like Toei Animation Company. After two years of studio production work, he decided "to go independent" in 1989.

A beautiful image from Yamamura's early film Aquatic (1987). © Koji Yamamura/Y.A., Inc.

His earlier works like Aquatic (16mm, 5 min, 1987) and Japanese and English Pictionary (16mm, 12 min, 1989) were exploratory displaying his flair to experiment and absorb new skills. Unlike Kurosaka, whose works show traces of influence from master independent filmmaker, Toshio Matsumoto under whom he was tutored for awhile, Yamamura's works have the childlike taste of Japan's pioneer animators namely the late Tadanari Okamoto and Tadahito Mochinaga. Both masters were known for their sensitive use of materials and lively animation images.

Equally strong in 2D drawn animation, Yamamura achieved success when his film, The Elevator (video, 7 min, 1991) won the first prize at the 4th Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1991 in the children's category. He has since collected a handful of international prizes among his other works and has his fair share of fans in Japan. Lately, he has been invited to conduct workshops both locally and internationally.

Hey, it's Pikach... no, wait, it's a character from Yamamura's 1994-95 short film series, Pacusi.
© Koji Yamamura/Y.A., Inc.

Yamamura's creative domain as seen in his later works like A House (35mm, 5 min, 1993), Pacusi (video, 1 min x 18 episodes, 1994-5), Bavel's Book (video, 5 min, 1996) and his latest music video promotion, Jubilee (1999), testifies to his unique, fable-like atmospheric world that holds no national boundaries and is not specifically tied up with a particular place or time. His combination of 2D and 3D images produces characters that are whimsical and eccentric which can be described as metaphorical reflections of youth culture today.

According to Yamamura, "My independence is insured by the presence of the computer which gives me the ability to meet the production demands of manageable projects." He is considered the pioneer of Tokyo's computer independent environment. At times, his computerized studio offers assistance to fellow independent colleagues. The software he uses includes Adobe Photoshop and a package from CoreRETAS Pro, which enables him to scan, trace, paint and create compound layered artworks, and camera shots. The package is developed locally by Celsys Inc.; a software computer company in Japan that has helped large Japanese production studios digitize their operations.

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.