Isao Takahata, 1935–2018

On Film / The Daily — Apr 5, 2018


“Isao Takahata, who co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, has died at eighty-two, according to Yahoo! Japan.Michael Nordine for IndieWire: “Takahata was a revered director in his own right, helming such animated classics as Grave of the Fireflies [1988], Only Yesterday [1991], and Pom Poko [1994]; he most recently directed The Tale of the Princess Kaguya [2013], which received near-universal praise an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.”

“Though you’d be hard-pressed to get him to admit it, Japanese animator Isao Takahata is one of the most influential artists in the medium, alongside his longtime collaborator and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki,” wrote Terry Flores at the top of an interview for Variety in 2016. “Because Hayao Miyazaki’s various films were so alluring,” Takahata told Flores, “I thought I would realize in my animation films a different appeal and a different expression from what was in his works. In that regard, I suppose you could say I have been greatly influenced by his work. We also share our attitudes toward our love for the nature immediately around us and our political beliefs of anti-nuclear weaponry and anti-nuclear power.”

“Life in Japan was in tune with nature until the modern age,” Takahata told Matt Kamen in Wired in 2015. “A sustainable system was in place for people to receive the fruits of nature while they worked to allow nature to survive in a viable way. All life on Earth is cyclical—birth, growth, death, and revival . . . I consider this to be the basis for everything.”

“It comes as little surprise that Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies remains as vital and potent as it was nearly a quarter of a century after its premiere in Japan,” Chris Cabin wrote for Slant in 2012. “This wrenching yet largely unsentimental anime depicts the “collateral damage” of the United States’ firebombing of Japan in the waning years of World War II, but its ultimate aim is a universal understanding of the often unreported toll of warfare.” And in 2000, Roger Ebert wrote: “Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation.”

“The protagonist of Only Yesterday is Taeko, a twentysomething career office-worker in modern (well, 1991) Tokyo, who takes a holiday to visit the countryside of her youth, which in turn triggers long-buried memories of Taeko’s turbulent teenage years,” wrote Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle in 2016. “As in most other films from Studio Ghibli, there’s a none-too-subtle relationship between the human characters and the natural world outside of the towering Tokyo cityscape. And, of course, there’s also Studio Ghibli’s other recurring theme: that of a strong female character confronting (and usually overcoming) societal obstacles—in this case, the dull toil of the big-city office slog versus all that should have been and may yet well be.”

“For all its goodhearted cheer,” wrote Tasha Robinson at the A.V. Club in 2005, “Pom Poko is a glum indictment of modern Japan's disjunction from the natural and spiritual world. But it strikes a positive final note by implying that those worlds still exist, just out of sight, waiting and flourishing.”

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is both very simple and head-spinningly confounding, a thing of endless visual beauty that seems to partake in a kind of pictorial minimalism but finds staggering possibilities for beautiful variation within its ineluctable modality,” wrote Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com in 2014. “It’s a true work of art.”

Updates, 4/6: Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi is collecting tweeted tributes from animation directors around the world, starting with Lee Unkrich (Coco).

At RogerEbert.com, Peter Sobczynski has written up a fairly detailed account of the life and, towards the end, notes that “American audiences will have a chance to see Pom Poko and Grave of the Fireflies on the big screen, where they truly belong, as part of a monthly program of Ghibli films appearing in theaters across the country this summer—the former screens June 17, 18, and 20 while the latter plays on August 12, 13, and 15. There can be no greater tribute to Takahata and his work than to go and see these films and experience the magic that he created so effortlessly through his work.”

As a followup to his piece for the August 2015 issue of Sight & Sound, Nick Bradshaw had a few questions for Takahata: “When I am asked to write a message for children, I often write ‘Live full of life in a lively way!’”

Updates, 4/7: Sight & Sound has now posted Bradshaw’s article on the making of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, “a lamentation for time’s hasty passage—animated in a fleet brushstroke style that exudes spontaneity and swiftness. It’s a radical look—at least for studio-produced feature animation—that harks back to Japanese woodblock and scroll art, here used to animate Takahata’s version of Japan’s oldest-recorded folk tale, which dates back at least a millennium.”

Writing for Slate, Sam Adams notes that “where Miyazaki circled around the same set of obsessions—flight, ecological catastrophe, childhood—Takahata’s films were each singular, so visually and thematically distinct they might have been created by a different person.”

From the Japan Times: “Mitaka Mayor Keiko Kiyohara, who worked with Takahata on the operation of the Ghibli Museum in the western Tokyo city, said in a statement: ‘I believe he will direct an animation film filled with love for humanity even in heaven.’”

Update, 4/9: “After graduating from Okayama prefectural high school, where his father was the headteacher, he enrolled at the University of Tokyo in 1954 to study French literature,” writes Jasper Sharp for the Guardian. “It was at this time that he encountered the work of Jacques Prévert and, more crucially, a film that would change the course of his life, Paul Grimault’s animation Le Roi et l’Oiseau (1952; released in Japan in 1955), for which the French poet had written the screenplay. In 2006, Studio Ghibli would distribute Grimault’s extended director’s cut of the original film, while Takahata published a collection of his own translations of Prévert’s poetry into Japanese in 2006.”

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