Kyoto Animation Arson Attack: Veteran Animator of 'Akira' and Ghibli Feared Dead

A SILENT VOICE - Still 1 -Annecy Film Festival - H 2017
Courtesy of Annecy Film Festival

Yoshiji Kigami worked on numerous productions at the studio, where he was said to be a mentor to young animators. Kyoto Animation received 200 threats before the attack.

Anime industry veteran Yoshiji Kigami, who worked on films including Akira and Studio Ghibli's Grave of the Fireflies before moving to Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), is believed to be among the 34 dead in the July 18 arson attack on the studio.

Names of the dead have not been released yet, as requested by the studio, but Kigami has been unreachable since the fire. Police have announced that the oldest victim of the fire was 61, Kigami's age.

Kigami's mother, who is in her 80s, told local media on Wednesday, "I still have hope. I want to believe that my son is alive."

Kigami was key animator on Katsuhiro Otomo's seminal Akira (1988), of which a new series and live-action Hollywood remake are in the works, as well as on Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies from the same year.

He joined KyoAni in the early 1990s at the request of its president, Hideaki Hatta, going on to work on many of the studio's best-loved productions, including Lucky Star, A Silent Voice, K-On! and Tamako Market. The versatile Kigami used different names depending on whether he was working as a director, animator or storyboard writer. He also was an instructor for the studio's teaching course and was said to be a mentor to the many young animators at the studio, who often turned to him for advice.

The studio was sent around 200 threats over the last year, believed to be from the same person, according to investigators working on the case. They are searching the home and belongings of the 41-year-old suspect, who is badly burned and hospitalized, for proof they were sent by him.

The online messages — which were sent using encryption technology to disguise their origin — escalated from insults and threatening language to death threats on individual workers at KyoAni, investigators told the Mainichi newspaper. The company reported the threats in October and police temporarily patrolled its head office in Uji, Kyoto, a short distance from the former studio, and around the homes of those named in the threats.

The suspect was captured on security camera footage near the studio in the days before the attack and also at an internet cafe, where he is believed to have stayed on July 16 and is reported to have searched for the location of the company.

Donations collected for the victims of KyoAni through GoFundMe have exceeded $2 million.

July 25, 1:00 a.m. Updated to correct the period when Yoshiji Kigami entered Kyoto Animation. THR regrets the error.