ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.9 - DECEMBER 1999
Tadahito Mochinaga: The Japanese Animator Who Lived In Two Worlds
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Since a film studio was a valuable asset for both Mao Tse-Tung's Communist Forces and Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalists, they fought over the ownership. Even the Soviet forces showed their interest in this studio, because of its scale and latest equipment. The whole of China plunged into civil war. When the Nationalists' attack on Chang Chun became intense in 1946, the studio staff, including Mochinaga, escaped and went further north. Arriving in the mining town of Hao Gang, they started the "new" Tong Pei Film Studio from scratch. The shooting crew set out to the front lines and concentrated on making news films to inform people about the status of the civil war. Thus, this became the starting point for filmmaking in what is later referred to as New China.
Mochinaga felt very much alive, sharing his experience as a filmmaker for the development of Chinese film culture. By that time, returning to Japan became easier and half of the Japanese staff left, but Mochinaga and his wife remained. His wife, Ayako, not only labored as his assistant, but also helped out in a newly built nursery for the children of the studio staff.
In the fall of 1947, Mochinaga was shown a caricature of Chiang Kai-shek and a photograph of G.E. Marshall, U.S. Secretary of State, for the purpose of making a live-action puppet film presenting how Chiang was controlled by the Americans. After much testing, Mochinaga decided to make a stop-motion puppet animation on this subject instead. Chiang's look alike puppet appeared dressed like a king in a Peking Opera play, and revealed how inefficient a leader he was despite powerful injections by "Dr." Marshall. Titled The Emperor's Dream, this 35-minute short became Mochinaga and China's first stop-motion puppet animation.
In 1979, Mochinaga (in middle) shooting a puppet animation with Chinese staff at the Shanghai Animation Film Studio.
The following year, Mochinaga directed his very first cel animation in China, and was given a Chinese name which appeared in the film credits. His Chinese name, Fan Ming, meant "bright direction," and also symbolized the bright future of filmmaking in China. The film title was A Turtle in the Pot and it also caricatured Chiang Kai-Shek. This time, Chiang was presented as a miserable turtle captured in a pot. Although Mochinaga's name is listed only as director, he had to take part in almost every area of filmmaking. He even had to procure the paint, as well as mix it for the right tones. As for his wife, Ayako, she also worked as a cel-checker at this time. This was not unusual, since most of the studio staff carried out many tasks. Among Mochinaga's numerous duties was the training of young people to prepare them to become filmmakers.
Along with the other films and news reels made at the studio, the two aforementioned animated films were edited and shown outdoors via the movie caravan, which circulated the rural districts and Communist Army units on wooden carts. Mochinaga often joined the studio staff along this caravan, and was able to receive first-hand reaction to his films. Animated films were a treat for the people during wartime, and they wholeheartedly enjoyed them.
More Times of Change
After the Kuomintang retreated from Chang Chun, the Ton Pei Studio staff moved back to the ex-Man-Ei Studio building in 1949. Mochinaga and the animation related-staff of the studio were to work in the newly created Animation Division of the Art Department. This was the first time they were officially recognized as a separate section. This division consisted of 20 staff members, and their chief was Tu Wei, a famous cartoonist from Shanghai, who later became the noted animation director of "brush and ink" films. Four years older than Mochinaga, Tu Wei had participated in the anti-Japanese propaganda cartoon movement during the war with Japan. Mochinaga soon became best friends with Tu Wei, and until his death he treasured his friendship with this cartoonist-animator.
In 1949 when the People's Republic of China was established, the Culture Division of the new government evaluated both The Emperor's Dream and A Turtle in the Pot as important filmmaking attempts in New China. They were not films geared to the child audience, but the Culture Division issued a new policy that all animated films from that time on should be healthy entertainment for children.
With such official recognition of animated films, the Animation Division moved to Shanghai, and became a department of the Shanghai Film Studios. Shanghai was basically where the first Chinese animation film was born. It was also where personnel with animation expertise were in abundance. For that reason it was easier to collect those who were enthusiastic about working on animation.
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