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Isao Takahata

Isao Takahata
File:Isao Takahata.jpg
Born (1935-10-29) October 29, 1935 (age 80)
Ujiyamada (now Ise), Mie prefecture, Japan
Occupation Film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active 1961–present

Isao Takahata (高畑 勲 Takahata Isao?, born October 29, 1935) is a Japanese film director, animator, screenwriter and producer who has earned critical international acclaim for his work as a director of anime films. Takahata is the co-founder of Studio Ghibli along with long-time collaborative partner Hayao Miyazaki. He has directed films such as the grim, war-themed Grave of the Fireflies, the romantic drama Only Yesterday, the ecological adventure Pom Poko, and the comedy My Neighbors the Yamadas. Unlike most anime directors, Takahata does not draw and never worked as an animator before becoming a full-fledged director. Takahata's most recent film is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category Best Animated Feature Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

According to Hayao Miyazaki, "Music and study are his hobbies". He was born in the same town as fellow director Kon Ichikawa, while Japanese film giant Yasujiro Ozu was raised by his father in nearby Matsusaka.

Life and career

Takahata was born in Ujiyamada (now Ise), Mie prefecture, Japan. He graduated from the University of Tokyo French literature course in 1959.

Takahata was originally intrigued by animation after having seen the French animated cartoon feature Le Roi et l'Oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird) based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. He was impressed by the film, asking "Can these kind of things be done by animation?"

While he was job hunting at his university, Takahata was tempted to join Toei Animation by a friend who knew the company wanted an assistant director. For fun he took the company's entrance examination as he had been originally interested in animation. When he was notified of the informal decision, he joined the company.

The reason he decided to join the company was his thought that "If it was animation, I can be something interesting, too." However, there were more than ten people joining the company that same year, two recruited by Toei Animation and the surplus workers sent by Toei head office. Because of the competition, he had a hard time achieving the status of director.

Takahata finally directed his first film after he was recommended for the position by Yasuo Ōtsuka, who was both his and Hayao Miyazaki's instructor. His directorial debut was Hols: Prince of the Sun. Hols was a commercial failure. He was a member of the production team deemed responsible for the failure and was accordingly demoted. He also had difficulty making a new film since the remaining staff members who had not been demoted for the failure of Hols were working on a different Toei film.

In 1971, to make the animated feature Pippi Longstocking, Takahata left Toei Animation along with Yoichi Kotabe and Hayao Miyazaki and transferred to "A Production" (present: Shin-Ei Animation), an animation studio founded by his former superior, Daikichiro Kusube (楠部大吉郎 くすべ だいきちろう?). They travelled to Sweden to acquire the animation rights and to hunt for locations, only to be turned away at the door by author Astrid Lindgren. Though their plan was frustrated, Miyazaki found inspiration in the fortified town of Visby and would later set both Stockholm and Visby as the stage of Kiki's Delivery Service.

In 1971, Takahata and Miyazaki requested to direct episodes seven and onward of the first Lupin III TV series anime,[1] due to the low ratings and, for the time, exceptionally high levels of sex and violence in the initial episodes directed by Masaaki Osumi.[2] Since the animation director was Yasuo Ōtsuka, an old acquaintance, they accepted the offer under the condition that "the names of the two people were not released, and direction was credited only to 'A production directors group.'" Unlike Miyazaki, he did not participate in the second series, though his directing in the original was well received.

Later in 1971 Zuiyo Enterprise invited Takahata, Kotabe and Miyazaki to direct an animated series of the novel Heidi and all three took the offer. The result was Heidi, Girl of the Alps. Afterwards, when the production section of Zuiyo was established as a subsidiary company of the animated cartoon production of Zuiyo Eizo (present: Nippon Animation), they both joined the company. On the picture side, animators drew carefully the nature of Europe and a change of season, and the everyday life of people on location in Switzerland. On the other hand, on the story side, Takahata made the animation version easy to accept by thinning a Christian element of the original besides the earnest Christian (especially, in the latter half).

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother generally followed the original story it was based on, but because the story was less than 100 pages, Takahata himself created many additional episodes and characters. He portrayed the protagonist Marco as an independent child who did not care to flatter adults, and the adults as the ones who committed the crime even if they were relatively good people. In so doing, he brought the world of the anime closer to reality.

Takahata directed Anne of Green Gables along the lines of the original story, but he gave it further depth by portraying the relationship between Marilla and Anne as para-parenthood, something not suggested by the original.

In Jarinko Chie, じゃりん子チエ (meaning Chie the Brat) in 1981, Yasuo Otsuka who belonged to Tokyo Movie Shinsha/Telecom Animation Film Co., Ltd. offered Miyazaki, a Telecom colleague, to turn this comic into an animated cartoon, but he refused. Therefore, Otsuka consulted Takahata, but he also expressed disapproval first. However, Takahata who had visited Osaka (which was the stage for the story) felt that the world drawn in the comic was actually there. He took the request, left Nippon Animation, and moved to Telecom. This work, which paired Yasuo Otsuka and Yoichi Kotabe, was praised and settled for a TV animation series because it got a favorable reception, and Takahata became the chief director.

In 1982, Takahata was elected the director of Little Nemo — the work that tried to be produced so that Telecom could move to the United States. With Miyazaki and Otsuka, who started at Telecom earlier, Takahata went to America, but the discord between in the Japan-U.S. difference in production technique, meant Takahata resigned and left Telecom. Miyazaki and others followed him. On the other hand, the cultural exchange was born between Japanese animator and seniors of Disney who had been cooperating in this project.

Afterward, Takahata was invited by Miyazaki to join his animation production company Studio Ghibli after the success of Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The first movie directed by Takahata for Ghibli was Grave of the Fireflies. The film was widely acclaimed by film critics, like prominent and influential film critic Roger Ebert who considered it "one of the greatest war films ever made".[3]

In Kiki's Delivery Service, Takahata did the music direction for Miyazaki.

Takahata was awarded the Special Award at the Kobe Animation Awards on November 4, 2007.[4]

After more than ten years in November 2013 his latest movie Kaguya-hime no Monogatari was released, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Influences and style

Takahata has been influenced by Italian neorealism, Jacques Prévert, and French New Wave films during the 1960s. Bicycle Thieves has been cited as specifically influencing 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. These influences make Takahata's work different from most animation, which focus on fantasy. His films, by contrast, are realistic with expressionistic overtones.

Neo-realism's influence on his film is evident in the amount of attention to detail he takes in displaying everyday mundane events. Entire episodes of his early TV shows were devoted to looking at events such as going to church every week, having a job cleaning out bottles, or detailing the work farmers do out in fields. All of these events are shown in meticulous detail and often form a major part of his work. With the exception of Horus: Prince of the Sun (a Disney-esque musical with darker and more political overtones), Pom Poko (an environmentalist film about magical tanuki trying to save their land), and Gauche the Cellist (a film about a struggling cellist who is helped by talking forest animals), the majority of his works are dramas set in mostly realistic environments.

One of Takahatas' most praised films is Omohide Poro Poro (literally, 'Memories Like Falling Raindrops'). The film was released in 1991 in Japan to critical acclaim, and was re-titled as Only Yesterday for release to English-speaking audiences. A film aimed squarely at an adult audience, Omohide Poro Poro revolves around Taeko, a single woman working a desk job in Tokyo, who takes her annual vacation in the countryside with the family of her brother-in-law to work as a farmhand. During her holiday, Taeko finds herself looking back nostalgically at her youth as a schoolgirl growing up in 1966, while simultaneously attempting to resolve her current issues with love and career.

The expressionistic influences in Takahata's work are usually marked by scenes where a character's imagination comes to life on screen. For instance, in Omohide Poro Poro, after Taeko encounters her first love she, defying gravity, runs up into and floats through the red-colored sky. The scene ends with her slowly gliding into bed and then cuts to an outside shot of her house where a giant heart emerges from her window. These expressionistic sequences run counter to Takahata's realistic storyline and animation, but are consciously used by the director to transition back and forth from realism to the unreal world of animated fantasy, thereby further enhancing the character. These scenes can be found to some degree in all of Takahata's work, beginning with the "forest of delusion" sequence in Horus: Prince of the Sun.

Takahata's films have had a major influence on Hayao Miyazaki, prompting animator Yasuo Ōtsuka to say that Miyazaki gets his sense of social responsibility from Takahata and that without Takahata, Miyazaki would probably just be interested in comic book stuff.[5]

As with Miyazaki, Takahata and Michel Ocelot are great admirers of each other's work. Ocelot names Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko among his favourite films,[6] while Takahata has used Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress as a key example of objectivity used to a positive effect,[7] as well as adapting and directing the Japanese dubs of his films.

TV works

  • Ōkamishōnen Ken (lit. Ken the Wolf Boy, 1963-65) – Advisor, storyboard, direction of episodes 6, 14, 19, 24, 32, 38, 45, 51, 58, 66, 72, and 80 (episode 6 under the pseudonym "Isao Yamashita")
    • Episodes 14 and 72 later released in theaters as a movie feature
  • Hassuru Panchi (lit. Hustle Punch, 1965) – Direction of the opening theme
  • GeGeGe no Kitarō (lit. Kitaro of GeGeGe, 1968-69) – Storyboard, direction of episode 6
  • Himitsu no Akko-chan (lit. The Secret of Akko-chan, 1969-70) – Assistant director
  • Mōretsu Atarō (lit. Ataro the Workaholic, 1969-70) – Storyboard, direction of episodes 10, 14, 36, 44, 51, 59, 71, 77, and 90, direction of the opening theme for episodes 70-90
    • based on the comedy comics by Fujio Akatsuka
  • Nagakutsushita no Pippi, Sekai Ichi Tsuyoi Onna no Ko (lit. Pippi Longstocking, the Strongest Girl in the World, 1971) – Planned direction for an aborted project
  • GeGeGe no Kitarō – Vol. 2(1971-72) – Storyboard, direction of episode 5, direction of the opening and ending theme
  • Apatchi Yakyūgun (lit. Apache Baseball Team, 1971-72) – Storyboard, direction of episode 2, 12, and 17
    • based on the comics by Kobako Hanato and Sachio Umemoto
  • Lupin III (1971-72) – Cleanup of episodes 4-12, direction of episodes 13-23 along with Hayao Miyazaki
  • Akadō Suzunosuke (lit. Suzunosuke of the Red Cuirass, 1972-73) – Direction
    • based on the jidaigeki comics by Eiichi Fukui and Thunayoshi Takeuchi
  • Kouya no Shounen Isamu (lit. Isamu, Boy of the Wilderness, 1973-74) – Storyboard of episodes 15 and 18, direction of episode 15
  • Heidi, Girl of the Alps – Direction, storyboard of episodes 1-3
  • Dog of Flanders (1975) – Storyboard of episode 15
  • 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976) – Direction, storyboard of episodes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7
    • Excerpts from the series have been released in theaters as a feature film in 1980
  • Arupusu no Ongaku Shoujo Netti no Fushigi na Monogatari (lit. The Wonderful Story of Nettie, Musical Girl of the Alps, 1977, TV Special) – Storyboard and direction, animated sequences only
  • Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac (1977) – Storyboard of episodes 5 and 8
  • The Story of Perrine (1978) – Storyboard of episodes 3 and 6
  • Future Boy Conan (1978) – Storyboard of episodes 7, 13, and 20, storyboard and direction of episodes 9 and 10 along with Hayao Miyazaki
  • Anne of Green Gables (1979) Direction and writing of episodes 1-4, 6, 8, 10, 12-13, 17-18, 20, 23, 25-44, and 47-50, storyboard of episodes 1-4, and 29
    • Excerpts from the series have been released in theaters as a feature film in 1990
  • Jarinko Chie (lit. Chie the Brat, 1981-83) – General direction, storyboard and direction of episodes 2, 6, and 11 under the pseudonym "Tetsu Takemoto" (the name of Chie's father), composition of opening theme

Early film works

  • The Littlest Warrior (Anju to Zushiōmaru, lit. Anju and Zushiomaru, 1961) – Assistant director
  • Tanoshii Bunmeishi Tetsu Monogatari (lit. Interesting History of Civilization, Story of Iron, 1962) – Assistant director, script supervisor
  • Wanpaku Ōji no Orochi Taiji) (lit. The Naughty Prince's Orochi Slaying, 1963) – Assistant director
  • Ankokugai Saidai no Kettō (lit. The Biggest Duel in the Underworld, 1963, live action) – Assistant director for Umetsugu Inoue


Year Title Director Producer Writer Notes
1968 Hols: Prince of the Sun Yes
1972 Panda! Go, Panda! Yes Short film, written by Hayao Miyazaki
1973 Panda! Go, Panda! The Rainy-Day Circus Yes Short film, written by Hayao Miyazaki
1981 Jarinko Chie Yes Yes
1982 Gauche the Cellist Yes Yes
1984 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind Yes directed by Hayao Miyazaki
1986 Castle in the Sky Yes directed by Hayao Miyazaki
1987 The Story of Yanagawa's Canals Yes Yes live-action documentary
1988 Grave of the Fireflies Yes Yes Takahata's first film for Studio Ghibli
1989 Kiki's Delivery Service music direction, directed by Hayao Miyazaki
1991 Only Yesterday Yes Yes
1994 Pom Poko Yes Yes
1999 My Neighbors the Yamadas Yes Yes
2003 Winter Days Yes Yes collaborative movie, Takahata created segment 28
2013 The Tale of Princess Kaguya Yes Yes

Translations and supervisions of Japanese versions for the Ghibli Museum Library


  1. ^ Lupin III //
  2. ^ Conversations on Ghibli: Movie Night - Lupin III 1x01
  3. ^ Roger Ebert (March 19, 2000). "Grave of the Fireflies (1988)". Retrieved 2006-12-26. 
  4. ^ "Kobe Animation Awards Honor "Code Geass," "Gurren Lagann," "Lucky Star"". Akadot News. 2007-10-09. Retrieved 2007-10-09. 
  5. ^ Ōtsuka Yasuo no Ugokasu Yorokobi DVD. Studio Ghibli. 2004.
  6. ^ "Bring Me Beauty". Little White Lies (12: The Tales from Earthsea Issue). 2007. 
  7. ^ De Schrijver, Benjamin (10 March 2006). "Notes Isao Takahata lectures – Anima 2006". Retrieved 2008-05-12. [dead link]

Further reading

  • Odell, Colin, and Michelle Le Blanc. Studio Ghibli: The Films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Harpenden, Hertfordshire, England: Kamera, 2009. ISBN 9781842432792. OCLC 299246656.

External links

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