Animation director Teruaki “Jimmy” Murakami has died at the age of 80. Born in San Jose, California, Murakami was 8 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and spent four years during the war housed with his family in a Japanese-American internment camp. He would eventually become best known for his pitch-perfect adaptations of works by the English cartoonist and illustrator Raymond Briggs, such as The Snowman, made after he’d selected Ireland as his base of operations. Children’s TV creator Jason Tammemagi publicly mourned him as “a friend to us all in the Irish animation scene, supporting new talent and offering advice.”
Murakami’s wide-ranging career began at in 1956 UPA, and included stints at the Pintoff Studio and Tokyo’s Toei Studio. Starting with 1964’s The Top, he directed several short animated films, including The Insects (1964), Breath (1967), and the Oscar-nominated The Magic Pear Tree (1969).
In 1980, Murakami directed the live-action sci-fi adventure Battle Beyond The Stars for producer Roger Corman. A good-natured, unofficial remake of The Magnificent Seven set in outer space and disguised as a Star Wars rip-off, the film is now probably best remembered for giving James Cameron—who’s credited with the art direction and “visual effects” —is big break. (Murakami had previously done uncredited second unit work on 1971’s Von Richtofen And Brown, the last movie that Corman himself would officially direct for nearly 20 years, and he also did some uncredited directing on 1980’s Humanoids From The Deep.
In 1982, Murakami was hired by the fledging British TV network Channel 4 to turn Briggs’ children’s book The Snowman into a half-hour program for the holidays. The visually stunning film, whose look was closely modeled on that of the book, became a Christmas perennial.
Four years later, he directed a much darker work, When The Wind Blows, based on Briggs’ graphic novel about a sweetly oblivious English couple (voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft) who hole up in their cottage during a nuclear war and do their best to remain upbeat and trusting in the wisdom of their leaders, even while falling apart from radiation sickness. Murakami would later say that he was “not one for kid’s films,” and that When The Wind Blows was much closer to his heart than The Snowman—an understandable attitude from an artistically ambitious animator who didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a “cartoon” director.
In 1989, he opened his own company in Ireland, Murakami Films, which turned out episodes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Story Keepers TV series. In 2001, he directed an animated version of A Christmas Carol, with a voice cast that included Simon Callow, Kate Winslet, Nicolas Cage, Michael Gammon, Rhys Ifans, and Jane Horrocks. More recently, he appeared in Jimmy Murakami—Non Alien, a documentary about his efforts to come to term with his childhood internment camp experience.