HORSE’S MOUTH: Did I Have a Famous Nephew or Did I!

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YOSHINAGA-GEORGEBy GEORGE YOSHINAGA

I was sitting on our front porch (as I always do) staring into the clear blue sky above, wondering what I might write about for my Saturday column.

Hey, after nearly 70 years of pounding out a column, thoughts don’t just pop into mind.

Well, when I went back to my computer, I hoped that when I turned it on, I might see something that would give me some idea about what to write.

What a surprise when I saw a news release entitled “‘When the Wind Blows’ Director Jimmy Murakami Passes.”

The opening paragraph read: “Japanese American animation legend Jimmy Murakami, who played an important role in the development of Ireland’s animation industry, has died at the age of 80.”

Jimmy, or “Teru” as we knew him, was my nephew, the second son of my sister Shizu Murakami, who passed away about a decade ago.

I was unaware of Teru’s accomplishments in the motion picture animation industry since he moved to Ireland many years ago and I had lost track of him.

Here is part of the story of his career as covered in the article on his passing:

“A restless creative soul who directed numerous award-winning shorts and the much-admired feature ‘When the Wind Blows’ (1986), Murakami hopscotched the globe as few other artists. In the span of a few years during the late 1950s, he worked at United Productions of America in Los Angeles, Pintoff Productions in New York, Toei Animation in Japan, and TVC Studio in London, then followed that with stints in Italy, France and the Netherlands.

“Murakami was born on June 5, 1933 in San Jose, California. At the age of nine, he became a victim of America’s World War II concentration camps in which tens of thousands of West Coast-based Japanese Americans were imprisoned for year. (He and his family were interned at Tule Lake).

Jimmy Murakami

Jimmy Murakami

“It was a life-altering experience that would scar him for years afterwards. ‘I was very bitter to be an American citizen treated this way,’ he later said. ‘My older sister died in the camp and the rest of us came out pretty bad.’ A documentary was produced recently about this period of his life, entitled ‘Jimmy Murakami, Non-Alien.’

“Murakami’s family considered moving to Japan after the war, but their family’s home in Japan had been bombed to rubble, so they decided to settle in Los Angeles.

“Murakami attended Chouinard Art Institute in the 1950s, where his teachers included Don Graham and Disney animator Marc Davis — and his night-class drawing classmate was WB animation director Chuck Jones. He was hired by UPA in 1955 to work on the studio’s groundbreaking TV series ‘The Boing Boing Show.’ Murakami also worked on the ‘Ham & Hattie’ theatrical series with Fred Crippen; he designed the big-nosed islanders in the ‘Jamaica Daddy’ sequence of the Oscar-nominated ‘Trees and Jamaica Daddy’ (1957).

“He moved to New York in 1958 to work at Pintoff Productions, which was run by his former UPA colleague Ernie Pintoff. Murakami designed the Oscar-nominated short film ‘The Violinist’ (1959).

“He moved to Tokyo in 1959 to work at Toei Animation, an experience that he described in this interview:

“‘I was basically cracking up, to be honest. I was drinking too much, my health was suffering with late nights in New York. I thought I was going insane. I wanted to find my roots as a Japanese. I was brought up Japanese, speaking Japanese at home as a kid. So I thought, I better go to Japan. No one was guiding me… I didn’t tell my parents anything, I didn’t want them to worry. So I took a boat to Japan, not knowing if I would stay there the rest of my life or what; just made a decision to leave America.

“‘I worked in Toei Animation for a time as a consultant, and all they did was give me grief because they wanted me to do everything their way, including using paper clips for registration instead of pegs, so the picture would be jittery. I had disagreements and left. Then I painted watercolors, made woodcuts and taught conversational English to university students and prostitutes and bargirls. I sold some paintings, but for negligible money.”

“After that experience, Murakami worked for a time in London at George Dunning’s TVC studio, where he wrote and directed BAFTA-winning short ‘Insect’s  (1961). After working around Europe, he returned to Los Angeles to launch Murakami-Wolf Productions in 1965 with business partner Fred Wolf. At the studio, which was among the busiest L.A. commercial houses during the late sixties, Murakami directed mostly commercials, titles and industrial projects but continued to make personal films on the side, including the Oscar-nominated ‘Magic Pear Tree’ and the Annecy Grand Prix-winning ‘Breath.’

“He settled in Europe permanently in 1971 when he traveled to Ireland to become a second unit aerial director on Roger Corman’s ‘The Red Baron.’ Murakami would later direct the Corman movies ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ and ‘Humanoids from the Deep’ …

“In Ireland he set up the commercial studio Quateru Film to work on freelance projects. Among the memorable works he made was the opening sequence of ‘Heavy Metal’ (1981).

“He served as the supervising director of the British TV special (and now a holiday classic) ‘The Snowman’ (1982), based on a children’s book by Raymond Briggs. This led to a second collaboration with Briggs that would become one of Murakami’s most well received projects, the 1986 feature ‘When the Wind Blows,’ a hand-drawn/stop-motion film depicting an impending nuclear attack through the eyes of a retired British couple …

“After his studio Quateru closed, he opened Murakami Films in Dublin. The studio worked on ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ (1989), which was produced by his old business partner Fred Wolf, and Murakami also directed the TV series ‘Storykeepers’ (1995) and ‘Christmas Carol: The Movie’ (2001).

“Murakami’s long experience in animation made him a valued figure in the Irish animation community at a critical time in the development of their modern industry …

“Murakami’s career is remarkable for its breadth and variety, as well as for his fiercely independent streak that led him to carve out his creative path. It’s not an easy life to sum up, but historian Giannalberto Bendazzi put it nicely when he wrote: ‘Murakami belongs to the generation of specialists who were trained to inspire by UPA and is among the first of American intellectuals who found their social awareness during the difficult 1950s — educated, sensitive artists devoted not so much to finding absolutes in art as to creating intelligently tasteful, ethical films for large audiences.’”

Boy, when I read the above, I couldn’t believe it was about a young kid I grew up with in San Jose (actually Willow Glen) and I used to push him around since I had a few years in age on him.

His older brother, Jun, is also in the film business and last year was nominated for an Oscar for his production work on a movie. Unfortunately, he missed out on his Oscar.

When I think back to those days of our youth, it’s hard to believe that two of my nephews are/were so successful in the film business.

A news tidbit that readers may find interesting.

Would you believe that nearly one million foreign travelers visited Japan during the month of January? That’s right. Nearly a million.

I’m curious how many of the total were Americans, and among the Americans, who many were Japanese Americans.

Man, a million tourists during January when the weather in Japan is not that great. They’ve been having snowstorms in Tokyo at record numbers during the first month of 2014.

The Japan National Tourism Organization released the figures on foreign tourists.

So, I guess if some of our Nisei friends were among the January tourists and were walking about the Ginza, they might have thought they were in Times Square in New York because of all the American faces, instead of being in Japan.

I guess the Japanese airlines lowering their fares to Japan might have something do with the huge number of “gaijins” traveling to Nihon.

I’m a bit surprised by the lack of responses I’m getting on the Santa Anita reunion for those who were placed there during the early days of WWII.

Since Bacon Sakatani is putting the event together, I’ve been forwarding the responses to him because many said they couldn’t get through to his email address.

That could be the case because Bacon’s email reads: [email protected] His name is not fully spelled out, but I would guess that those who tried to send him an email put down “[email protected]” Adding the “ani” created the wrong email address.

Well, that’s what I think is happening. At any rate, hope to see all of you who will attend the March 29 event.

Hey, some of you might even make money betting on the races.

Someone who knew about such things sent me a short message regarding the closure of the popular Makino’s Japanese restaurant in Las Vegas.

He wrote: “Makino’s decided to close the restaurant at the Premium Outlet Mall because the owners of the site wanted to lift the rent three times more than he is paying now and he couldn’t see paying so much more even though business was good.”

Wow! Tripling the rent. Talk about greed.

Oh well, I was reminded by the letter-writer that the original Makino’s on Decatur Boulevard is still open. It’s a bit far from Downtown Vegas but not really that bad. So I guess on my next visit to Vegas, I can still enjoy a Makino’s Japanese meal.

Of course, I’m not sure when my next visit will be.

Speaking of Vegas, the popular Nevada gaming city isn’t the world’s leading casino site anymore.

According to the latest results, the richest casino in the world now belongs to Macau in Asia. The total gambling revenue in Macau hit $45 billion or seven times that of Vegas.

Of course, low-budget gamblers were left without too many options. Not sure what that means. I would guess that a lot of the gamblers come from Japan.

Macau is only a short jump from Japan when compared to the distance to Las Vegas.

Well, my recent piece on the Nobu Hotel being opened in Vegas would indicate that the Nevada city will be trying to win back Japanese visitors.

Thanks to a reader who wants to remain unidentified, here’s today’s rib-tickler:

A cowboy who just moved to Wyoming from Texas walks into a bar and orders three mugs of beer. He sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each one in turn. When he finishes them, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender approaches and tells the cowboy, “You know, a mug goes flat after I draw it. It would taste better if you bought one at a time.”

The cowboy replies, “Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in Arizona and the other is in Colorado. When we all left our Texas home, we promised that we’d drink this way to remember the days when we drank together. So I’m drinking one beer for each of my brothers and one for myself. ”

The bartender admits that this is a nice custom and leaves it there.

The cowboy becomes a regular in the bar and always drinks the same way. He orders three mugs and drinks them in turn.

One day, he comes in and orders only two mugs. All the regulars take notice and fall silent. When he comes back to the bar for a second round, the bartender says, “I don’t want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your loss.”

The cowboy looks quite puzzled for a moment, then a light dawns in his eyes and he laughs.

“Oh no, everybody’s just fine,” he explains. “It’s just that my wife and I joined the Baptist Church and I had to quit drinking. Hasn’t affected my brothers, though.”

Okay, my usual heh, heh.

George Yoshinaga writes from Gardena and may be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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