Nizô Yamamoto, an acclaimed animation art director and background artist whose warmly realistic work can be seen in many iconic Studio Ghibli films, died Saturday, August 19 at age 70 due to stomach cancer. His signature style often featured sweeping horizons overhung with picturesque clouds — easily identified as Nizô-gumo (Nizô Clouds) by his admirers.
Born in Gotō City, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan on June 27, 1953, Yamamoto studied architecture in high school before pursuing fine art training in Tokyo, where he began drawing anime background art while still a student. His first projects as art director were the series Attack on Tomorrow and Future Boy Conan, where he worked alongside directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
After Miyazaki and Takahata set up Studio Ghibli with producer Toshio Suzuki, Yamamoto’s talents were enlisted on globally beloved films — as art director on Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies and Princess Mononoke and background artist on Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart and Spirited Away.
Yamamoto’s many credits also include projects helmed by anime legends Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue), Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt through Time) and Makoto Shinkai (Yamamoto painted the Weather Shrine for Weathering with You).
A celebrated artist, Yamamoto’s work was presented in a touring exhibition through Japan which attracted over 900,000 visitors. A museum dedicated to his work, life and legacy — Clouds Over Goto: Nizo Yamamoto Art Museum — was established in Gotō in 2018. The artis worked on a series of landscapes from his birthplace from 2010 to 2021, and had been working on a 120-page manga depicting local folktales until mere days before his passing; he was reportedly one page from finishing the graphic novel.
A service will be held to commemorate Yamamoto’s passing on Sunday, August 27 in Hanno City, Saitama Prefecture, with his son Takao as chief mourner.
[H/T: Anime News Network, Crunchyroll]