Jimmy T. Murakami (1933–2014)

Teruaki “Jimmy” Murakami was born in San Jose California on June 5, 1933. Sadly, his family was moved into an internment camp during the 1940’s. The camp’s practice of screening Disney cartoons to the people held there is what first sparked Murakami’s interest in animation. After his family was released in 1946, they initially considered returning to Japan. But after learning of their property’s destruction in the war and having already lost their farm in San Jose, the Murakami family chose to move to Los Angeles in order to be closer to their friends. The 1950’s saw Jimmy taking the first step in his chosen career path by attending (and graduating from) Chouinard Art Institute. He was later hired as an animator at UPA Burbank Studios in 1956 and also designed characters for an Oscar-nominated short Trees and Jamaica Daddy the following year. He then moved to New York and was snapped up by Pintoff Studio, where he worked on another Oscar-nominated short called The Violinist in 1959. That year also saw Murakami traveling to Japan. He wished to connect with his Japanese roots and wasn’t sure if he would be coming back. Murakami soon found himself working for Toei Animation as a consultant. But some disagreements led to his working as a painter and English teacher before deciding to return to the USA later that year. He once again found himself working for UPA and worked on the layouts for 1001 Arabian Nights. 1960 saw him travel to London, where he produced and directed various projects. His 1961 film Insects was written and completed in his new home and earned him a BAFTA award!

He returned to America in 1964, where he formed Murakami-Wolf Productions with Fred Wolf. The company produced numerous animated films, with Breath (1965) winning the Grand Prix at the Annecy Festival and Magic Pear Tree (1968) being nominated for an Oscar. Murakami-Wolf Productions’ The Point made history by being the first animated special to air in prime time on American television in 1971. 1971 was also when Charles Swenson became part of the team and the company was renamed “Murakami-Wolf-Swenson.” It was also around that time when Murakami moved to Ireland to lay the groundwork for eventually becoming known as the “Founding Father of Irish Animation.” After having established a studio there and working on a mixture of animation and live action called Death of a Bullet in 1979, he returned to Los Angeles in 1980. This resulted in his working on two live action projects for none other than Roger Corman at New World Pictures! Having previously acted as the associate producer for Corman’s 1970 film Von Richthofen and Brown, he anonymously directed additional material for Humanoids from the Deep, and also directed Battle Beyond the Stars. But the film is more important than just being a case of his being credited as the director of a live action movie. Although some critics were quick to point out it was made to cash in on the popularity of Star Wars, others have noticed it was much more polished than the usual quickie space opera. Corman recycled music and special effects footage from the film in numerous projects, from movies like Forbidden World and Ultra Warrior to the infamous trailer for the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie. Footage from it was also used by other companies for films like Star Slammer and the early LaserDisc game Astron Belt. But let’s get back to the director, who soon found himself back in London to work on two animated Raymond Briggs adaptations. Murakami handled the supervising director duties on the Christmas classic The Snowman in 1982 and directed When The Wind Blows in 1986. But his biggest animated success of the decade came in 1989: The year he formed Murakami-Wolf-Dublin to produce Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles cartoon! But eventually he left Murakami-Wolf-Dublin (which was renamed “Fred Wolf Films” for its future ventures) and he moved on to other projects (including directing a music video for Kate Bush in 2005 after having been previously approached by her in 1989) before eventually passing away in 2014 at his Irish home. In addition to his work, his legacy lives on with the Dingle International Film Festival’s Jimmy Murakami Award. Listing all of his projects, both post-1989 and his past works, would be a massive undertaking and I only scratched the surface for this article in order to keep it from becoming a book length project. I hope you visit his Internet Movie Database page to learn more, in addition to watching all of the video interviews he did for DiscoverNikkei:

Bibliography:

Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2014 by Harris M. Lentz III
Jimmy Murakami | Real People | Discover Nikkei
Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style – The Three Markets by Giannalberto Bendazzi
Animation Pioneer Jimmy Murakami Dies at 80 – Rafu Shimpo
Film Cartoons: A Guide to 20th Century American Animated Features and Shorts by Douglas L. McCall
Jimmy T. Murakami – Wikipedia
Founding father of Irish animation industry – The Irish Times
Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema by Roderick Flynn and Patrick Brereton
Humanoids from the Deep – Wikipedia
Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) – IMDb
Monsters Under the Bed: Critically Investigating Early Years Writing by Andrew Melrose
John Coates: The Man Who Built the Snowman by Marie Beardmore
The Jimmy Murakami Award | Dingle International Film Festival

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