Besides the actors and live action films awards, the Mainichi film festival reserves as well two special awards to animation films. Following the death of pioneering animator Noburō Ōfuji in 1961, Mainichi established a new Ōfuji Noburō Award (大藤信郎賞 Ōfuji Noburō shō ) in his honour to recognise animation excellence. A specialist in silhouette animation, Ōfuji was one of the earliest Japanese animators to gain international recognition, winning accolades at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and the 1956 Venice Film Festival. This award was first presented in 1962 for Tale of a Street Corner (ある街角の物語 Aru Machi Kado no Monogatari ) by Tezuka Osamu.
With the growth of the animation industry in Japan, the award in the 1980s came to be dominated by big budget studio productions, over the work of the independent animators for whose efforts it was originally established. To address this concern, the Animation Grand Award was established to reward large scale cinematic animation, enabling the Ōfuji award to focus on shorter pieces again. This award was first presented in 1989 for Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便 Majo no Takkyūbin ) by Hayao Miyazaki.
The award encompasses a much wider variety of animation than many western anime fans would consider. Two of the most frequent winners over the years, Tadanari Okamoto (岡本忠成 Okamoto Tadanari ) and Kawamoto Kihachirō (川本喜八郎), specialize mainly in stop motion rather than cel animation. As well as being an adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, The Old Man and the Sea is the winning work of Russian animator Aleksandr Petrov.