Kenzō Masaoka


5 October 1898 (Osaka) - 23 November 1988 (Tokyo),

  • one of the first Japanese animators to use cel animation and sound film
  • mentor to Mitsuyo Seo and Yasuji Mori, among many others
  • sometimes called "the Japanese Walt Disney"
  • 1924 graduated from Kyoto Kaiga Senmon Gakko (now Kyoto City University of the Arts)
  • 1925 joined Makino Film Productions (マキノプロダクション) in Kyoto
  • designed sets and film props for Teinosuke KINUGASA's The Sun (Nichiren, 1925)
  • 1926 left Makino Film Productions to set up his own studio Nonbei Productions in Kyoto with the financial support of his father.
  • his first independent project was Palace in the Sea (Umi no Kyuden) - not extant
  • pioneer of animated "talkies"
  • 1932 set up Masaoka Eiga Seisakusho (Masaoka Film Productions) in Kyoto
  • the popularity of animated "talkies" from the USA led Shiro KIDO of Shochiku to commission an animated "talkie" from Masaoka.
  • Masaoka hires aspiring animator Mitsuyo SEO
  • the first Japanese animated talkie in released in 1932: The World of Power and Women (Chikara to onna no yo no naka) - not extant
  • 1933 built his new studio Masaoka Eiga Bijutsu Kenkyusho (Masaoka Cinematic Art Research Centre) in Kyoto
  • 1935 due to financial mismanagement, and his father's reluctance to continue to funding the studio, Masaoka is forced to close his animation studio
  • 1935 joins J.O. Studio (J.O.スタヂオ), where Kon ICHIKAWA is also employed
  • 1941 Shochiku asks Masaoka to produce animation in their Tokyo studios; Hakusan KIMURA, Masaoka's longtime cinematographer stays behind in Kyoto

Wartime Career:

  • 1943 The Spider and the Tulip was Japan's full cel animation. One of the rare wartime anime that is not propaganda. The film was allowed by the wartime censors because Shochiku has acquired permission to make the film before the wartime screening system had been put into place.
  • there is some speculation that Masaoka made the film deliberately anti-propaganda, in opposition to Mitsuyo Seo's Momotaro's Sea Eagles (Momotaro no Umiwashi, 1943)
  • worked as an animator under the direction of his former employee Mitsuyo Seo on the propaganda film Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (Momotaro Umi no Shinpei, 1945) at Shochiku
  • Shochiku's animation studio was bombed by American B29s in May 1945 and all film production equipment was destroyed

Post War career:

  • in spite of its aesthetic beauty, Sakura was not distributed by Toho, who did not feel that it had mass appeal
  • the Tora-chan films were a success for Masaoka, but the production company Nichido was suffering from financial trouble at the time and did not pay its staff
  • Masaoka's wife was very ill during this period and he was forced to quit animation to do illustrations and manga for magazines for children in order to pay for his wife's hospital bills.
  • he continued to draw storyboards in his spare time in the hopes of returning to animation
  • his final storyboard was an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.
  • 1987 retired to Osaka where he spent the final year of his life with his cats


  • was a mentor to Yasuji Mori and Akira Daikubara
  • seen as a key figure in the birth of what is now Toei Animation

Reviews of Masaoka films at Nishikata Film Review (Catherine Munroe Hotes):

Secondary Sources:

  • Montero Plata, Laura. "Los pioneros olvidados del anime: el caso de Kenzo Masaoka." Con A de animación, 4 (Feb. 2014):126-142. Abstract.
  • Yokota, Masao and Tze-yue G. Hu, eds. Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives. Jackson, MS: UP of Mississippi, 2013.

Additional Resources:

MASAOKA, Kenzo — List page from Classic Sites