Remembering Jimmy Murakami: 'The godfather of Irish animation'

Murakami, who was born to Japanese parents in the US, moved to Ireland in 1971
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

20.45 15 Feb 2024

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Remembering Jimmy Murakami: 'T...

Remembering Jimmy Murakami: 'The godfather of Irish animation'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

20.45 15 Feb 2024

Share this article

This week marks a decade since the passing of the 'godfather of Irish animation', Jimmy T Murakami.

Born to Japanese parents in the US, he played a pivotal role in shaping Ireland's thriving animation industry.

In 1965 Murakami launched his own company, Murakami-Wolf Productions, with business partner Fred Wolf.


Murakami settled permanently in Ireland while working on Roger Corman's The Red Baron in 1971.

His work in the 1986 feature When the Wind Blows produced some of his most acclaimed work, with The Snowman remaining an enduring favourite to this day.

Murakami Films opened in Dublin in 1989, with the studio producing popular TV series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Budgie, The Little Helicopter and Dinobabies.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Image: RGR Collection / Alamy

Murakami died at the age of 80 in February 2014 in Dublin. He was survived by his wife Ethna and their two daughters.

Animation Dingle Festival Director Maurice Galway told Moncrieff that Murakami put Ireland on the map for animation.

"He's considered the godfather of Irish animation," he said.

"I think it was Cathal Gaffney from Brown Bag Films that coined that phrase.

"Jimmy was just an amazing supporter for so many of the leaders in the industry for animation today.

"He came to Ireland around 1971 with Ethna, his wife from Dublin, who joins us every year at Animation Dingle when we present the Murakami Award.

"He set up Murakami-Wolf in about 1985 or 1986 [amd] he was directing When the Wind Blows at the time.

"Just a stunningly beautiful film; I'm very proud to say we screened that film in Dingle, in the Phoenix Cinema, with Jimmy present."

A scene from the 1986 animated film 'An American Tail' A scene from the 1986 animated film 'An American Tail'. Image: Cinematic / Alamy

Mr Galway said 1986 was a big year when An American Tail began production here.

"Sullivan and Bluth were making An American Tail, that's a deal they made with Steven Spielberg," he said.

"They did get incentives from the IDA to come into Ireland, but the reason they chose Ireland and chose Dublin was because Jimmy would have been here.

"That was the beginning, really, of animation entering into the schools.

"That really launched the careers of so many successful animators in Ireland today".

A logo of Murakami-Wolf in 1990 A logo of Murakami-Wolf in 1990. Image: YouTube

Head of the National Film School in the IADT Vanessa Gildea told the show how she remembers her friend.

"He was kind, generous, warm, funny and really dapper," she said.

"He had movie star good looks and he used to wear the most beautiful clothes like cashmere jumpers."

Ms Gildea also produced a documentary, Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien, with Sé Merry Doyle.

"After World War II when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, [US President] Franklin D Roosevelt interned tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans," she said.

"Jimmy spent four years in an internment camp at the age of nine with his brother and two sisters in northern California.

"But nobody knew this about him only his family.

"Sé met him at a screening at the Galway Film Fleadh and he was upset after seeing a film, The Cats of Mirikitani, and he said, 'I was in that camp'.

"That began the journey of making this film about Jimmy's career, but intertwined with this pilgrimage back to the camp."

Jimmy Murakami. Jimmy Murakami. Image: Paddy Jordan

Ms Gildea said Jimmy ultimately felt at home here.

"After being interned he was very angry, as you can imagine, having four years of his life stolen," she said.

"They had a choice to go back to Japan or America and Jimmy did both.

"He lived in France and he was very successful - but he came to Ireland and he said this was the first place that he felt home," she added.

Fred Wolf Films Dublin was in production from 1989 to 2000.

Listen back here:

Main image: A still from Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien. Image: Paddy Jordan

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An American Tail Animation Industry Budgie The Little Helicopter Dinobabies Fred Wolf Godfather Of Irish Animation Irish Animation Jimmy Murakami Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien Jimmy T Murakami Maurice Galway Moncrieff Murakami-Wolf Productions Murakami Award Murakami Films Steven Spielberg Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Snowman Vanessa Gildea When The Wind Blows

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