Looking Back At Yamamoto Nizo’s Best Work At Studio Ghibli

Published September 9, 2014
Updated January 12, 2018
Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A brilliant view of a sunset over the water. (Girl Who Leapt through Time)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

When Studio Ghibli announced the re-tooling and possible closing of their company this past summer, many of us to took a look back on some of the production studio’s finest films. Many of us grew up during Studio Ghibli’s heyday, shortly after it was created in 1985. It’s no secret that these films possess beautiful animation and the unforgettable stories, but there’s more going on behind the scenes of these animated classics than most of us realize.

Yamamoto Nizo Little Nemo

Yamamoto’s knowledge of architecture shows through in this scene. (Little Nemo)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo was a star Studio Ghilbli employee for many years, and he is the one responsible for the beautiful backgrounds we see in these treasured movies. He has been at the forefront of production for over 30 years; from the forests of “Princess Mononoke” to the temples of “Fantastic Children”, he puts unmeasurable care and detail into Ghibli’s animated backdrops, which are only meant to be seen for a few short seconds.

Fantastic Children

One of the many amazing temples that appears in “Fantastic Children.” (Fantastic Children)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Future Boy Conan

A highly futuristic control panel with numerous circular windows to boot. (Future Boy Conan)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto originally studied architecture in school, but he later discovered a passion for art and went on to create the backgrounds for many animated movies and TV shows; his work even pre-dates Studio Ghibli films, such as “Future Boy Conan.”

Later, in 1985, he was asked to join Studio Ghibli and agreed to start working on his first Ghibli film, “Castle in The Sky.” Even though it was Yamamoto’s first Ghibli film, it features professionally executed scenery. The architecture of the castle is unique, and can no doubt be attributed to Nizo’s time studying architecture.

Castle In Sky Laputa

As beautiful and creative as the design of this Castle is, we wouldn’t want to find ourselves falling off of it. (Castle in the Sky) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Castle In Sky Grassland

We can almost feel the breeze blowing through the grass. (Castle in the Sky) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Made in 1997, Princess Mononoke is one of Studio Ghibli’s more popular films. The beautiful forest landscapes provided the movie with the eerie yet calm atmosphere that Yamamoto excels at.

Yamamoto Nizo Dappled Light

This very cool colored and dark background puts the viewer at ease. (Princess Mononoke) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Forest Wide

This background from “Princess Mononoke” captures the essence of the forest. (Princess Mononoke)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Mononoke Forest

The bright color in this scene from “Princess Mononoke” encapsulates what Studio Ghibli is all about. (Princess Mononoke)
Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Princess Mononoke Kodama

Watch your step as you go exploring through these woods. (Princess Mononoke) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

After production was completed on Studio Ghibli’s “Spirited Away” in 2001, Nizo left to pursue a career in freelance projects for Kaieisha, the business that he founded and directs. One of Nizo’s more well-known projects is “The Girl Who Leapt through Time,” for which he won the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award in 2006.

Girl Who Leapt

A relaxing scene with many potted plants. (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) Source: Spoon Tamago

Created in 2006, “Grave of the Fireflies” was one of Yamamoto’s freelance projects. Not only did he receive the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Award for it, he also won the 12th AMD Award, given out for excellence in digital media. We hope that Yamamoto continues to enrich these films for us for a long time to come.

Yamamoto Nizo Grave Of Fireflies

A friendly looking neighborhood. (Grave of the Fireflies)
Source: Spoon Tamago

Yamamoto Nizo Grave Of Fireflies

Disaster strikes! (Grave of the Fireflies) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Evacuation

A marshy, residential landscape. (Grave of the Fireflies) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Yamamoto Nizo Kumanogakkou

Beautiful forests don’t only exist in Princess Mononoke. (Kuma no Gakkou) Source: The Kobe Shimbun

Erin Kelly
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer, artist and video editor that splits her time between the humid Midwest and the dusty corners of her mind.
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