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ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.9 - DECEMBER 1999

Tadahito Mochinaga: The Japanese Animator Who Lived In Two Worlds
(continued from page 2)

A scene from one of Mochinaga's most beloved cel efforts Thank You, Kitty. © Shanghai Film Studios.

In 1950, Mochinaga's first task in Shanghai was to direct, abiding the new government policy, an animation short for children. Even though Mochinaga was the director (as Fan Ming), the film was the result of the entire Department's hard work. Titled Thank You, Kitty, the film was about a cat which kept night watch over a village to protect the villagers. The film's theme song was cherished and sung by all the children in Shanghai.

The first feature-length animation film in China was made in Shanghai in 1926 by the Wan brothers. With Lai-Ming as the oldest, there were four brothers, but only three of them took an active role in filmmaking. During the civil war, the two older brothers, Lai-Ming and Ku-Chan moved from Shanghai to Hong Kong, but Zhao-Chan, the youngest of the three, remained, and joined the Animation Department after the war as Technical Supervisor. This was a title Mochinaga also shared. (Wan Lai-Ming returned to Shanghai in 1954, and joined the Animation Department, which became independent in 1956 as the Shanghai Animation Film Studio. Tu Wei became the first director of this studio.)

Back to Japan
Mochinaga worked on several more animated shorts for children with his close friend Tu Wei and other Chinese animators. After finishing the tests for China's first color cartoons, Tadahito Mochinaga finally left for Japan in 1953 with his devoted wife, Ayako.

The experience Mochinaga gained during his dramatic eight-year residence in China was prosperous both for himself and China. The happy collaboration with the Chinese staff brought him many joys, and he was able to pass on his knowledge, technique and experience to the young animation enthusiasts of China.

1953 was the year full-scale television broadcasting in Japan began. In 1955, two years after Mochinaga returned, he was invited to make commercial films for a beer company. Utilizing his experience in China, the commercial films were stop-motion puppet animation, and they became the first of their kind in Japan. Kihachiro Kawamoto, now the foremost puppet animation filmmaker in Japan, was Mochinaga's first disciple.

Following these commericals, Mochinaga established the Puppet Animation Film Studio in Tokyo. From 1956 to 1979, he directed nine puppet animated shorts, mostly based on Japanese folk tales. Some were derived from foreign stories, such as Little Black Sambo (1956) and Little Black Sambo and His Twin Brother (1957). All of these films were geared to the child audience, and were mostly shown at elementary schools.

The central characters of the award-winning film Little Black Sambo and his Twin Brother.
© Puppet Animation Film Studio.

Little Black Sambo was screened at the first Vancouver International Film Festival in 1958, and won the Best Film award in the Films for Children section. Arthur Rankin, Jr. of Videocraft International (Rankin/Bass) was impressed by the brilliant finish of the film, and contacted Mochinaga's studio.

In 1960, Mochinaga and prominent personnel at the old GES studio, which survived the war, again joined hands to establish MOM Film Studio to produce puppet animated films for Videocraft International. Beginning with 130 five-minute segments of The New Adventures of Pinocchio, MOM turned out five television features: Willy McBean & His Magic Machine (1963); Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964); Andersen's Fairy Tales (1966); Ballad of Smokey the Bear (1966); and Mad Monster Party (1967).

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