Nizo Yamamoto, the renowned anime Art Director, left us and passed away on August 21, 2023. After grappling with cancer, he finally yielded to stomach cancer at the age of 70. Within this piece, we will delve into his five most notable contributions to the world of anime as we bid farewell to this gifted artist.
Top 5 Nizo Yamamoto Anime
6/5 – Castle in the Sky
Although we did mention the Top 5, any list of Nizo Yamamoto anime would be incomplete without this movie. Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa, more commonly recognized as Castle in the Sky, served as Studio Ghibli‘s inaugural film. This cinematic creation also marked the outset of Nizo Yamamoto’s involvement in a series of Studio Ghibli projects. The storyline of Tenkuu no Shiro Laputa unfolds through the soaring escapades of Sheeta and Pazu, demonstrating how dreams and challenging circumstances can forge a profound bond between two individuals.
Within a realm where airplanes and airships dominate the skies, Sheeta, a young girl, becomes the target of government agents due to her possession of a mysterious crystal amulet. While confined aboard an airship, her prospects appear bleak, until a sudden pirate raid shatters the status quo. Exploiting the ensuing chaos, Sheeta seizes her opportunity and escapes her captors. In her flight, she crosses paths with Pazu, a boy driven by a yearning to reach the mythical flying fortress, Laputa. United by a shared goal, they embark on a joint odyssey to unearth this enigmatic castle in the sky. However, their quest is soon shadowed by the government agents who persistently pursue them, their ambitions entangled in the quest to reach Laputa for their own avaricious motives.
The artistry within the film distinctly echoes the signature style of Nizo Yamamoto anime. His characteristic technique involves portraying clouds with bold brush strokes. While his artistic expression evolved over time, this film signifies the foundation of his collaboration with Studio Ghibli—a journey that was yet to unfold.
5/5 – Grave of the Fireflies
Nizo Yamamoto is well-acquainted with the art of stirring emotions through his creative work. Serving as the Art Director of “Grave of the Fireflies,” a narrative so poignant that even veterans could find themselves moved to tears, his remarkable artistic prowess effectively captures the movie’s emotional instances. Notably, the background and cloud depictions employ bold brushwork, characteristic of Nizo Yamamoto’s distinctive artistic style.
Set against the backdrop of World War II’s conclusion in 1945, Japan grapples with extensive devastation resulting from relentless American bombings that lay waste to cities one after another. “Hotaru no Haka,” also recognized as “Grave of the Fireflies,” recounts the tragic journey of Seita and his sister Setsuko, two Japanese youngsters whose lives bear the brunt of the brutal conflict. The loss of their parents, their home, and any semblance of a promising future—all attributed to the harrowing consequences of war—leaves them orphaned and adrift, struggling against hunger and illness.
“Hotaru no Haka” draws inspiration from Akiyuki Nosaka’s semi-autobiographical short story of the same title, penned in 1967. The narrative centers on his personal experiences during and after the American firebombing of Kobe in 1945. The film was subsequently paired with “My Neighbor Totoro” for a joint release. Noteworthy accolades have been bestowed upon the movie, including the Japan Catholic Film Award in 1988, the Special Award in the 31st Blue Ribbon Awards in 1989, the Animation Jury and Rights of the Child Awards at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in 1994, as well as the Grand Prix at the 1st Moscow International Children’s and Youth’s Film Festival in 1998.
4/5 – Perfect Blue
Commencing our countdown, we place Perfect Blue in the top five of the Nizo Yamamoto anime list. Nizo Yamamoto contributed his artistic prowess as the background artist for this anime, creating a flawless composition. Under the direction of Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue was burdened with lofty expectations at its release, and even years later, it continues to uphold its esteemed reputation. Substantial credit for this enduring success can be ascribed to Nizo Yamamoto’s masterful artistry, which effectively captured the unsettling atmosphere woven into the fabric of the anime.
The narrative revolves around Mima, a member of the J-pop idol ensemble CHAM!, which has delighted fans for the past two years. Unfortunately, as all good things must conclude, the time arrives for CHAM! to bid farewell to Mima Kirigoe, who departs to pursue a career in acting. Although met with a mixed reaction, Mima aspires for her admirers to stand by her. Nonetheless, her life takes an abrupt turn post-departure from the group. Determined to shed her pop-idol image, she ventures into a role within a crime drama series. The trajectory of her acting career becomes increasingly demanding and challenging, both for Mima and her manager, Rumi Hidaka. Each unsettling development unravels Mima’s mental stability, plunging her into a disorienting spiral where the boundary between reality and fantasy blurs irreversibly.
3/5 – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Nizo Yamamoto embarked on his inaugural major endeavor, “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” marking a pivotal moment in his career. The film, released in 2006, garnered significant recognition, clinching the esteemed Best Animated Film award at the Sitges Film Festival. Subsequent accolades followed suit: in 2007, it secured the coveted Animation of the Year distinction at the Japan Academy Prize, along with triumphs at the Tokyo Anime Awards, where it clinched both the Animation of the Year and Best Original Story/Work honors.
The movie’s accomplished team, under Yamamoto’s stewardship, amassed a slew of accolades. These encompassed the Director Award, Script-writing Award, Achievement in Art Direction recognition, and the Character Design Award. Notably, the film secured the Animation Grand Award, the pinnacle of entertainment in animated cinema for the year, at the esteemed sixty-first Annual Mainichi Film Awards. Further acclaim arrived in the form of the Grand Prize in the animation category at the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival. Internationally, the film added to its laurels with the Special Distinction for Feature Film at France’s thirty-first Annecy International Animated Film Festival on June 16, 2007, and the Feature Film Award at the 11th Animation Kobe Awards in 2006. These multifaceted achievements stand as a testament to Nizo Yamamoto’s remarkable art direction that breathed vitality into the narrative.
At the narrative’s core, Makoto Konno finds herself in the final year of high school, grappling with the formidable task of charting her future path. Amid the dual pressures of academic expectations and camaraderie with her closest companions, Makoto’s life undergoes an abrupt transformation when an accidental revelation unveils her newfound ability to traverse time itself. “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” tracks Makoto’s journey as she gleefully experiments with her extraordinary power. Nevertheless, the gravity of her choices dawns on her in challenging ways, unraveling the intricate complexities of time that belie initial appearances.
2/5 – Princess Mononoke
In the second position of the Nizo Yamamoto anime list, we encounter one of Ghibli’s emblematic masterpieces, “Princess Mononoke.” Back in 1997, this film secured an impressive array of accolades at the 52nd Mainichi Film Awards, including Best Japanese Movie, Best Animation, and the Japanese Movie Fans’ Choice awards. The following year, in 1998, the film continued its triumph by clinching the prestigious Best Picture award at the 21st Japan Academy Awards.
This cinematic gem etches an indelible mark in the annals of Studio Ghibli’s legacy, serving as a beacon that illuminates the path for future creations, infusing them with the studio’s hallmark serenely immersive artistry, set against lush and vibrant backdrops. Guiding this artistic voyage was Nizo Yamamoto, the Art Director, whose commendable efforts unequivocally shine. The visual tapestry of enchanting forests, fantastical creatures, and spirited characters seamlessly coalesce to vividly convey the narrative tapestry of “Princess Mononoke.”
In the narrative’s heart, a fateful encounter unfolds as an Emishi village falls under attack by a formidable demon boar. In a bid to safeguard his tribe, the young prince Ashitaka stakes his own life, but in doing so, incurs a curse from the dying beast. This curse bestows upon him demonic abilities while slowly draining his vitality. Guided by the village elders, Ashitaka embarks on a westward journey in search of a cure, leading him to Tatara, the Iron Town. Here, he becomes enmeshed in a fierce conflict: Lady Eboshi of Tatara, an advocate of relentless deforestation, opposes Princess San and the sacred woodland spirits, incensed by the human-induced devastation. As the clash between the forces of nature and humanity escalates into a desperate struggle for survival, Ashitaka endeavors to forge harmony between the two realms, all the while wrestling with the dormant demon within him. “Princess Mononoke” weaves a narrative that intricately explores the interplay of technology and nature, ultimately charting a path to harmony through mutual acceptance.
1/5 – Spirited Away
Taking the topmost position in the Top 5 Nizo Yamamoto anime list is, of course, the hallmark film that defines Ghibli’s renown: “Spirited Away.” This cinematic wonder held the distinction of reigning as Japan’s highest-grossing film from 2001 until 2020. By December 2020, its box office earnings tallied an impressive 31.68 billion yen in Japan and a staggering $395.8 million worldwide.
- This cinematic gem has garnered a plethora of accolades, including the coveted Academy Award—more commonly referred to as the “Oscar”—for Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy Awards in 2003.
- It also secured the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival, sharing the honor with “Bloody Sunday.” Furthermore, it takes a place in the British Film Institute’s elite roster of “50 films you should see by the age of 14.”
In the heart of the tale, we encounter the stubborn, indulged, and innocently inexperienced 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino, whose enthusiasm wanes upon discovering an abandoned amusement park en route to her new home. As dusk descends, the park reveals its enigmatic nature through ghostly specters and bewitched cuisine that transforms her parents into swine. Unwittingly, Chihiro has traversed into the realm of spirits, entwined in its captivating web. Stranded and resolute, she must summon her inner courage to coexist and collaborate with spirits, supported by the enigmatic Haku and a diverse cast of characters she encounters along her journey. “Spirited Away” unfolds as a captivating narrative, recounting Chihiro’s expedition through the unfamiliar tapestry of this mystical world, as she strives to rescue her parents and find her way back home.