Kazuko Nakumara

“Reiko Okuyama entered Toei Doga in the second wave of public recruitment. She had in fact been preceded by another woman, Kazuko Nakamura, who joined Nichido in 1956, one year prior to Okuyama, right before the company was absorbed into Toei and renamed to Toei Doga. In the transitional period between this and the first wave of public recruitment to find animators for Hakujaden, Kazuko Nakamura was trained as an inbetweener on two of the early shorts produced at this time – Kappa no Pataro (Pataro the Kappa) (1957) and Yumemi Doji (1958). Yasuo Otsuka, who had joined Nichido not long before Nakamura, can also be seen credited as an inbetweener in Yumemi Doji.

Nakamura worked alongside Okuyama as an inbetweener on the first three Toei Doga features, but soon went down a very different path. It would seem that Osamu Tezuka, while visiting the studio to work on Saiyuki in 1960, noted Nakamura’s skills and effectively ‘stole’ her for himself, as she left the studio after her involvement in the film and transferred to Mushi Pro. Tezuka’s experience working on that film had obviously been a way of not only learning about the animation process, but also finding some interesting faces to help out with the formation of his own studio, as numerous of the early Toei Doga trainees defected to that studio when it was formed in 1961-62. Nakamura was merely one of the earliest to do so.

Nakamura participated in the very first Mushi Pro production – Tale of a Streetcorner (1962) – and would go on to play an important role in many of the Mushi Pro productions of the next decade. She worked first as an animation director on several of the TV series that were the raison d’etre of the studio in the 60s, and then worked as a head animator on the first two adult Animerama features. Reiko Okuyama had been one of the first women to play the role of animation director for TV episodes in Wolf Boy Ken (1963) and then Hustle Punch (1965) at Toei Doga. In 1967, Kazuko Nakamura probably became the first woman to play that role for every episode of a TV series in Mushi Pro’s first shoujo anime, Ribon no Kishi (Knight of the Ribbon).

Typical of Mushi Pro’s unusual, ad hoc way of assigning tasks – very different from the strictly regimented ranks at Toei Doga – was the almost random order of her various roles at the new studio. Although she had only drawn inbetweens up until moving to Mushi Pro, she immediately started out drawing key animation at the new studio in Tale of a Streetcorner. Yet then she returned to inbetweening for Tetsuwan Atom. She then went back to drawing key animation for the pilot of Knight of the Ribbon, moved up to animation director for the TV series of the same, and then came back to key animation for the Animerama films.

Perhaps this freedom was something that attracted her to the new studio. The sexism of the Toei Doga system must also have been a factor that drove her away. Many of even the best Toei Doga animators chafed under the constraints of the studio’s corporate mindset, so clearly Mushi Pro’s more animator-centric approach must have appealed to them. Even Okuyama couldn’t resist and participated in one of their productions while she was still an employee at Toei Doga and therefore not technically allowed to do so.

In any case, it’s clear that Nakamura was one of the more important animators at Mushi Pro throughout the decade or so of its existence. From what I can gather, the reason for this would appear to have been not just her skill at drawing appealing characters and bringing them to life in lively animation, but also more simply her personality. She was one of the most hard-working animators at the studio. Having been trained at Toei Doga, she brought to Mushi Pro a precious commodity – an approach grounded in the fundamentals of how to move characters. She was a role model both as a powerhouse animator and as a strong female figure in the workplace.

After her early work on Tale of a Streetcorner, her main contribution in the following years was to help bring the first TV anime to life, and act as animation director of Knight of the Ribbon. But it’s in the first two Animerama movies that came at the end of the 60s – 1001 Nights and Cleopatra – that we can get the clearest picture of what kind of an animator Kazuko Nakamura was. In both films she contributed the most animation, and the ‘character system’ was used to animate the characters, so it is easy to get a feel for her style, as she animates the same character throughout.

In 1001 Nights, she animated Miriam, the girlfriend of Aldin who we see in the first half of the film, and then Jalis and Aslan, the two lovers who we encounter in the second half of the film. The climactic love scene of the latter two was animated with the assistance of another ex-Toei animator – Sadao Tsukioka of Wolf Boy Ken fame. Despite not even being the animator of the protagonist, she took the top spot for the volume of her work. In Cleopatra, she animated the heroine. She also animated another love scene in cooperation with another ex-Toei animator, Mikiharu Akabori, who would go on to be the natural FX man at Sanrio Films. Akabori animated the waves while Nakamura animated the figures in the memorable scene, which takes place in a bathtub. The otherworldly colors and spare, undulating lines create one of the more vivid and genuinely sensual moments in the film.

What can be seen stylistically in these films is that she is very strong in creating emotive characters, and in bringing a sense of femininity to her characters that no one else could have achieved, despite not necessarily being very strong in movement or drawing. Her women convince as women in their poses and expressions. You can sense the conviction of the animator in every one of her drawings. The drawings themselves are very distinctive, with a heavy line and faces elegantly stylized. The designs of both films set the films apart as looking nothing like the anime of later years, and the same can be said of Nakamura’s drawings. The chins and jaws are well defined, the noses very distinctly drawn with nostrils and a projecting ridge. The way the characters are stylized in 1001 Nights seems closer to folk motifs than to anything I’ve ever seen in anime. In Cleopatra, her drawings of the female form are very honestly feminine – round with ample curves, completely devoid of the male fantasies and erotic overtones they would have had at the hands of a man. It creates a fascinating kind of unerotic eroticism that I’ve never seen in animation before.

Osamu Tezuka appears to have held Kazuko Nakamura in particularly high esteem among all of his animators. Nakamura was one of the people Tezuka turned to after Mushi Pro had disbanded and he was setting out to make a full-length feature out of his life work, Hi no Tori. As animation director, Nakamura handled the character Olga throughout the film, a film notable for having reinterpreted (intentionally or not) the idea of ‘full animation’ to mean that the characters have to move at a constant 24 cels/second, always, even when standing still. Nakamura was also involved in animating the animated portions of a live-action version of this story that was made around the same time.

Although, as the creator of the idea of limited animation, Mushi Pro was just about as far as you could possibly get from Disney, it was ironically about the only place in Japan where the character system had been used (apart from maybe Group Tac in Jack and the Beanstalk and Sanrio Films), so Nakamura’s animation in this film and in the Animerama films remains a precious relic of an unusual approach to animation that hasn’t been seen in Japan since. Whatever the flaws in this approach, her work is an interesting case study in how different the results are when a woman animator is consciously assigned the task of exclusively animating a particular female character.”

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