Jimmy T. Murakami

by Joe Fordham

Sad news this morning. A giant of the animation industry, Jimmy Teruaki Murakami — director of When Wind the Wind Blows, and co-director of The Snowman — has died in Dublin, Ireland.

Painting by Jimmy T. Murakami.

Jimmy was born in San José, California, June 5, 1933. As a boy, he was interned with his family at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center during World War Two. He studied fine arts at the Chouinard Art Institute (forerunner to CalArts) where his classmates included animator Chuck Jones. Jimmy first worked for United Productions of America, in Burbank, on Mr. McGoo and McBoing Boing, he then went on to work as an animator in New York, Japan and London, where he joined animator Richard Williams to work on commercials at George Dunning’s TV Cartoons.

During this time, Jimmy won a BAFTA Award in 1961 for his short film, The Insects, and then returned to California to set up his own animation studio, Murakami Wolf, with animator Fred Wolf, producing commercials and more animated shorts.

With Richard Thomas on the set of “Battle Beyond the Stars”.

By the early ‘70s, Jimmy expanded his horizons and moved to Ireland to work for producer Roger Corman as associate producer and second unit aerial director on a World War One aviator drama, Von Richthofen and Brown. This led to his role directing Corman’s 1980 science fiction epic, Battle Beyond the Stars where he befriended a young art director named James Cameron.

Murakami continued to work in Europe, setting up his own studio in Dublin, and directing animation, which led him back to London, where he rejoined TVC, with producer John Coates and co-director Dianne Jackson, to adapt Raymond Briggs’ illustrated children’s book, The Snowman, creating what has become a perennial TV special.

In the mid-80s Jimmy returned to direct a feature film based on Briggs’ much darker graphic novel When the Wind Blows, which used a combination of hand-drawn cel animation and miniatures rephotographed on a rostrum.

Making "When the Wind Blows"

Making “When the Wind Blows”.

I met Jimmy at TVC, during When the Wind Blows, where I was installed in the basement as assistant film editor for a year and a half. It was fascinating to watch him work with animators as I ran footage back and forth on the Steenbeck. Jimmy was barrel-chested and robust, always smiling, and keen to invite passersby to punch him in the stomach to test his muscles. He was a ladies’ man and a bon viveur, full of life, but he was also sensitive, warm and thoughtful, and he had an immense love of film. Those qualities made a big impression on me, particularly his knowledge of acting and camera blocking, which he drew from the greats, including Akira Kurosawa.

Animator Malcolm Draper, Jimmy and producer John Coates, 1989. Photo by Mark Edwards.

Animator Malcolm Draper, Jimmy and producer John Coates, 1989. Photo by Mark Edwards.

As an example of Jimmy’s generosity of spirit, he mentored a good friend of mine, who went on to become a very talented animator and director, with a studio of his own in London. “I met Jimmy in Dublin at art college,” Paul Donnellon recalled. “He was visiting lecturer and I then ended up working as an intern in his crazy Quatero Studio in Dublin. He gave me my first job in London on When the Wind Blows and I met great friends from that time. Jimmy always encouraged me to do my own thing. Without him I would not have come to london and I would not have my own studio. About seven years ago, I flew in a helicopter from London to Cornwall with Jimmy to meet Kate Bush for a video he was making for her last album, so that is a great memory. Thanks, Jimmy. I will miss you.”

A still from “Jimmy Murakami: Non-Alien” a documentary directed by Sé Merry Doyle for Loophole Films (2010).

Here’s a link to Jimmy’s website, reviewing his 50-year career, and a selection of his paintings: http://www.jimmytmurakami.com