Spotlight on Kihachiro Kawamoto (川本 喜八郎)
In Memory of Master Puppet Animator
Japanese master puppet animator Kihachiro Kawamoto (川本 喜八郎, 1925- 2010) passed away last August in Tokyo. I met the renowned animation director personally in 2004 when he was filming The Book of a Dead Person (死者の書, Shisha no sho), a 70-minute stop motion puppet animation. A doyen in the Japanese animation circle, I was told that in honor of his elderly age and his contributions to the animation art, many of his Japanese animator-friends, younger colleagues and fans worked voluntarily and raised money for him and his team of assistants to complete the project.
At a university indoor facility where the film was made, it was a hive of activity and absolute silence at times when the filming took place.
Kawamoto was 80 then and he was beaming with youthful energy when I interviewed him for my research work on his earlier international project Winter Days (冬の日, Fuyu no hi) which he directed in 2003. Often dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono in public functions, Kawamoto appeared to me as a hands-on artist, and active with a number of planned animation projects should funds be available. I still remember his leisurely yet inspirited walk in his wooden clogs when I first had several glimpses of him at the Hiroshima International Animation Film Festival in 1998.
I have been informed that old age has finally caught up with him and the animation community in Japan is very saddened by his passing away. For many of us who had met him, he is an inspirational figure who is hard to forget. His animated works not only carry that distinct Japanese presence but also exude a deep East Asian spiritual essence, possessing an inner quality and narrative of which many of his admirer animator-friends and fans in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and parts of Southeast Asia appreciated. “To make the world a better place… tomorrow we have a better world…” Kawamoto did it his own way by engaging world animators to work on a single non-commercial animation project, Winter Days. He managed to convince a Japanese media company to sponsor an unusual united project. Indeed, the animation world is richer because of his prestige, enthusiasm and artistic contribution.
See my English published article “Japanese Independent Animation: Fuyu no hi and its Exclusivity” in International Journal of Comic Art (Vol. 7, No. 1, 2005). The article is also translated into French in CinémAnimatioS edited by Pierre Floquet (Corlet Publications, 2007 - Publication 2).
See also the following links for biographical background of Kawamoto’s illustrious career:
Tze-yue Gigi Hu
Written on March 3, 2011