Yuji Nunokawa, founder of the internationally regarded Studio Pierrot, producer of smash-hit series including Naruto and Bleach and champion of Japan’s animation industry, died suddenly on December 25 at age 75. His passing was reported by Japanese media and confirmed by the studio’s official Twitter account, which shared a statement saying Nunokawa “will be sorely missed for his leadership, commitment and passion.”
— 株式会社ぴえろ (@studiopierrot) December 26, 2022
A driven talent from an early age, Nunokawa was born February 11, 1947 in Sakata City, Yamanashi, into a family of tailors. Young Nunokawa developed a love of drawing and, on the recommendation of his high school art club advisor, chose to pursue art at the Nippon Design Welfare College in Tokyo and graduated in 1967.
Nunokawa began his anime career as a colorist at studio subcontractor for TCJ (now Eiken). He went on to work as an animator, first on TCJ’s Space Boy Soran (1965-67), and as a key animator on Robotan (1966-1968) for TMS. He also freelanced on a number of titles for Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions and Tsuburaya Enterprises.
Amid the decline of Mushi Pro (which declared bankruptcy in 1973), Nunokawa was asked to become a founding staffer at Soeisha studio (now Bandai Namco Filmworks) or Sunrise, but instead accepted Hiroshi Sasagawa’s offer to join Tatsunoko Productions in 1971, onboarding as a character designer, later assuming the director’s chair at Tatsunoko, on the Time Bokan! series (1975-76). He also directed for Yatterman (1977-79) and Gatchaman II (1978-79).
When Tatsunoko founder Tatsuo Yoshida died in 1978, Nunokawa left the studio and with animation directors Mitsuo Kainashi and Hiroko Tokita formed an animation collective, operating out of an apartment in Kichijoji. The collective grew to include Toriumi Hisayuki and Masami Anno, and was dubbed “Studio Pierrot” with Nunokawa as founding president. The studio’s forward thinking core mission was to produce artist-driven animation with reasonable production schedules.
As President of Pierrot, Nunokawa served as a producer and executive producer on many hit anime series, including the original 1981 Urusei Yatsura series (a reboot of the Rumiko Takahashi story debuted in Japan in October, simulcasting on HIDIVE), Creamy Mami (1983-84), Yu Yu Hakusho (1992-94) Naruto (2002-07), Tokyo Mew Mew (2002-03) and Bleach (2004-12), as well as several Bleach and Naruto movies.
Nunokawa was elevated to Chairman and Representative Director of the studio in 2012,eventually becoming Supreme Advisor to Pierrot’s board.
Nunokawa furthered Pierrot’s aims by helping to establish the Association of Japanese Animations, which operates the Suginami Animation Museum, helps run the Anime Japan convention (alongside Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and publishes an annual report on the state of the industry. He served as Vice Chairman of the Association and then Chairman from 2009-2014.
The dedicated producer also joined forces with animator Noriyuki Abe, director Kazunori Mizuno (1966-2017) and animator/character designer Atsushi Wakabayashi to establish the NUROANI Juku animation school. The academy, where Nunokawa continued to lecture until his death, trains producers, planners and directors as well as animators.
Nunokawa’s stalwart dedication to the anime industry, his professional and creative achievements were recognized in 2018 with the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award as well as the Medal of Honor Blue Ribbon from the government of Japan, one of the nation’s most prestigious honors.
Nunokawa will be memorialized in a private funeral for family and friends, and celebrated with a party hosted by Studio Pierrot at a later date.
[Source: Nikkan Sports via Crunchyroll]