One of anime’s greatest has passed. After fighting cancer, the legendary co-founder of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata, left the Earth and travelled to an alternate domain. His effect on the anime culture and millions of people will, however, continue to live on with everyone who adores classic Japanese tales and unique animation – both representative characteristics of his works.
Isao Takahata co-founded Studio Ghibli alongside Hayao Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma, the latter will eventually leave the reins entirely into the six able hands of Suzuki, Miyazaki and Takahata. Starting a bit before that, but officially in 1985, the three of them would eventually bring the western world into Japanese anime and vice-versa. The magic with which tales he directed such as Lupin III, Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), Omoide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday), Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko (Pom Poko), Hohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun (My Neighbours the Yamadas), and Oscar-nominated Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) affected the world throughout his career is the symbol of a true legend at work. There is hardly any anime lover who has not watched any of his works. If you are such, though, do care to take a look at those adaptations of literary masterpieces and ideas – it is worth it.
Apart from his classic works, Takahata-sensei also helps many other famous, influential titles to come to life, be it as a screenwriter, storyboard director or producer. Included are the Ghibli projects Tenkuu no Shiro Rapyuta (Laputa: Castle in the Sky), Kaze no Tani no Nausicaa (Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), as well as the 2016 co-project The Red Turtle (Reddo Tatoru: Aru Shima no Monogatari) with Dutch non-Ghibli director Michaël Dudok de Wit which is for now known to be Takahata’s last completed project.
Even when he was diagnosed, Takahata stayed with Ghibli, although he withdrew a bit from active work almost at the same time as Miyazaki’s official resignation in 2013, Takahata continued to work on projects and help the team advance, even without the full force of the founding team. His works included many personalisations inside the stories such as scenes from his own memories which we incorporated in the notable war-drama Grave of the Fireflies (his hometown was bombarded by the U.S. during the War). Although similar in directing and art to some, there is a huge difference between the works of Miyazaki and Takahata – while the first concerns himself with the fantastical, the latter likes to bring us home, to the beautiful everyday life and the charming family settings many of us would crave for.
This is an article of celebration of the work of one of anime’s best, but also expressing concerns about the future of Studio Ghibli and the hand-drawn animation styles used in Ghibli. What will become of the ages-old tradition and how will Takahata’s death influence the industry we will have to wait and witness ourselves. One thing I would like to advise on is to go and buy all Takahata movies, be it online or hard copies, and enjoy them with your family (note: Grave of the Fireflies is not for children and people who are easily traumatised).
Rest in peace, Takahata-sensei. We will watch your works with joy and pride that we were able to be part of the same timeline.
To the Ghibli team: You guys have one hell of a big pair of shoes to fill in. Don’t ruin it.