Isao Takahata
高畑 勲
Isao Takahata.jpg
Born(1935-10-29)October 29, 1935
Ise, Japan
DiedApril 5, 2018(2018-04-05) (aged 82)
Tokyo, Japan
Other namesTakemoto Tetsu (武元 哲)
EducationUniversity of Tokyo
Occupation(s)Film director, animation director, producer
Years active1961–2018
RelativesAsajirō Takahata (father)
Shunji Iwai (relative)

Isao Takahata (高畑 勲, Takahata Isao, October 29, 1935 – April 5, 2018) was a Japanese director, screenwriter and producer. A co-founder of Studio Ghibli, he earned international critical acclaim for his work as a director of Japanese animated feature films. Born in Ujiyamada, Mie Prefecture, Takahata joined Toei Animation after graduating from the University of Tokyo in 1959. He worked as an assistant director, holding various positions over the years and collaborating with colleague Hayao Miyazaki, eventually directing his own film, The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968). He continued his partnership with Miyazaki, and under Nippon Animation directed the television series Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (1976), and Anne of Green Gables (1979). Takahata, Miyazaki and others formed Studio Ghibli in 1985, where he would direct Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991), Pom Poko (1994), and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999). His last film as director was The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), which was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Animated Feature Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

Life and career

Early career

Takahata was born in Ujiyamada (now Ise), Mie Prefecture, Japan, on October 29, 1935, as the youngest of seven siblings and third son in the family.[1][2][3] His father, Asajirō Takahata (1888–1984),[4] was a junior high school principal, who became the education chief of Okayama prefecture after the war.[3] On June 29, 1945, when Takahata was nine years old, he and his family survived a major United States air raid on Okayama City.[5][6]

Takahata graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1959 with a degree in French literature. During this time at the school, he had seen the French film Le Roi et l'Oiseau (The King and the Mockingbird), which led him to become interested in animation.[7] Takahata was more interested in animation as a medium, and wanted to write and direct for animated works rather than create animations himself.[8] A friend suggested he apply for a directing job at Toei Animation; Takahata passed their entrance exam, and was hired as an assistant director for several of Toei's animated television shows and films—including Wolf Boy Ken, on which he was mentored by Yasuo Ōtsuka.[7][9] Ōtsuka eventually asked Takahata to direct an animated feature film of his own; his directorial debut was The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968). Ōtsuka served as Animation Director on the film, while another Toei employee, Hayao Miyazaki, served as key animator.[7] Though it would later be recognized as one of the first defining works of modern Japanese animation,[8] the film was a commercial failure, and Takahata was demoted.[5][7]

Unable to further improve his standing at Toei, Takahata left the studio in 1971, along with Miyazaki and Yōichi Kotabe. Takahata and Miyazaki came up with the idea of creating an animated feature film based on the stories of Pippi Longstocking. They developed the idea along with "A Production", an animated studio formed by another former Toei animator, Daikichiro Kusube (the company became Shin-Ei Animation). Takahata and Miyazaki had developed a number of storyboards and had flown out to Sweden for location shots, to meet with the books' author, Astrid Lindgren, and secure the rights for the character. However they could not reach an agreement with the rightsholders, and were forced to drop the project.[10][11] Takahata and Miyazaki remained collaborators in several other animation projects through the 1970s, including taking over production of the anime series Lupin III at Ōtsuka's request, due to its poor ratings.[10] They also made Panda! Go, Panda! for TMS around this time, which utilized some of the designs and concepts developed for the Longstocking project.

Not long afterward, Takahata, Kotabe, and Miyazaki were approached by the studio Zuiyo Enterprise to create an animated series based on the novel Heidi, which resulted in Heidi, Girl of the Alps (this also incorporated some of their work from the Pippi Longstocking concept).[10] The animation production section of Zuiyo was established as a subsidiary company named Zuiyo Eizo, later becoming Nippon Animation, which Takahata and Miyazaki joined.[7] Takahata continued to work at Nippon for about a decade; his work there included a World Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Anne of Green Gables in 1979, another project which had thematic similarities with the Pippi Longstocking concept.[12]

Around 1981, Takahata left Nippon to join Telecom Animation Film Co., Ltd. (a subsidiary of Tokyo Movie Shinsha or TMS Entertainment), where he led production of an animated feature based on the manga Jarinko Chie, and a subsequent television spinoff.[7] Around 1982, Telecom came up with the idea of an animated feature film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland which adapted the Little Nemo comic, which was to feature joint direction between Japanese and American animation techniques. While both Takahata and Miyazaki were originally involved, they opted to leave the project and Telecom itself due to discord between the Japanese and American project directions.[12]

Studio Ghibli

Concurrent to these events, Miyazaki had made his own directorial debut in the Lupin III feature film The Castle of Cagliostro in 1979, which was a critical success.[10] Inspired by this, Miyazaki then began developing his own manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and directing its 1984 film adaption, which also was commercially and critically successful.[10] Miyazaki approached Takahata with the idea of co-founding their own animation studio based on the success of Nausicaä; Studio Ghibli was subsequently formed in 1985 by Miyazaki, Takahata, and Miyazaki's collaborators Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma.[10]

The studio primarily released animated feature films that were directed by Miyazaki, with Takahata serving as producer or in other roles. Takahata did direct several Studio Ghibli films as well. His first, Grave of the Fireflies, released in 1988, was based on the semi-autobiographical short story of the same name written by Akiyuki Nosaka, but Takahata was also partially inspired by his own experiences from the bombing of Okayama City.[12] Grave of the Fireflies received critical acclaim for its emotional impact and anti-war themes, and is considered the film that established the international esteem of Studio Ghibli.[13] Other Ghibli films which Takahata served as director included Only Yesterday (1991), Pom Poko (1994) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999). In addition to directing and producing, he also served as music director for Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service (1989).[12]

Later life and death

Takahata announced that he would direct one last film for Studio Ghibli, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari, 2013), around the same time that Miyazaki also announced his plans to retire from the studio. "Someday we should make a Japanese Heidi", Takahata and Miyazaki had both agreed after making Heidi noting its similarities to the Princess Kaguya story. Heidi's carefree depiction, Takahata had told one journalist, "stems from my ideal image of what a child should be like".[14][15][9][16] When the film arrived in Western markets the following year, it was nominated for the Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards.[17] Takahata continued to work at Ghibli, serving as an artistic producer for The Red Turtle (2016), the first feature film of Dutch animator and director Michaël Dudok de Wit in collaboration with Ghibli. The film premiered in September 2016.[18][19]

Takahata had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and died on April 5, 2018, at a hospital in Tokyo, at the age of 82.[20][21][1] On May 15, 2018, a farewell ceremony for Takahata was held at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Hayao Miyazaki publicly spoke for the first time about Takahata's death, saying "I was convinced that Paku-san [Takahata's nickname] would live to be 95 years old, but he unfortunately passed away. It makes me think my time is also limited...Thank you, Paku-san."[22][23]

Influences and style

Takahata was influenced by the works of Paul Grimault, a French animator, as well as French New Wave directors, including Jean-Luc Godard.[9] He was also influenced by French-born Canadian director Frédéric Back, including his works Crac and The Man Who Planted Trees.[16] He felt it was important to be able to achieve trompe-l'œil, the illusion of three dimensions using a two-dimensional medium.[16]

Takahata's films had a major influence on Hayao Miyazaki, prompting animator Yasuo Ōtsuka to suggest that Miyazaki learned his sense of social responsibility from Takahata and that without him, Miyazaki would probably have been interested in comic book material.[24] As with Miyazaki, Takahata and Michel Ocelot were great admirers of each other's work. Ocelot names Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko among his favorite films.[25][26]

TV works

Year Title Japanese Name Role Notes
1963–1965 Ken the Wolf Boy[9] Ōkamishōnen Ken Advisor/Director Takahata directed episodes 6, 14, 19, 24, 32, 38, 45, 51, 58, 66, 72, and 80 (episode 6 under the pseudonym "Isao Yamashita").
1965 Hustle Punch[10] Hassuru Panchi Director Director of the opening credits.
1968–1969 Kitaro of GeGeGe[10] GeGeGe no Kitarō Storyboard Director Storyboard director for episode 62.
1969–1970 The Secret of Akko-chan[10] Himitsu no Akko-chan Assistant Director One of Toei's classic magical girl series, based on the comics for girls by Fujio Akatsuka.
1969–1970 Ataro the Workaholic[27] Mōretsu Atarō Storyboard Director Takahata directed episodes 10, 14, 36, 44, 51, 59, 71, 77, and 90. He also directed the opening credits for episodes 70 to 90.
1971–1972 GeGeGe no Kitarō – Vol. 2[10] GeGeGe no Kitarō Storyboard Director Storyboard director for episode 5, direction of the opening and closing credits.
1971–1972 Apache Baseball Team[27] Apatchi Yakyūgun Storyboard Director Storyboard director for episodes 2, 12, and 17.
1971–1972 Lupin III[9] Rupan Sansei Director Takahata did cleanup for episodes 6, 9, and 12, and directed episodes 7, 8, 10, 11, and 13-23 along with Hayao Miyazaki.
1972–1973 Suzunosuke of the Red Cuirass[27] Akadō Suzunosuke Director Based on the jidaigeki comics by Eiichi Fukui and Thunayoshi Takeuchi.
1973–1974 Isamu, Boy of the Wilderness[27] Kōya no Shōnen Isamu Director Storyboard director for episodes 15 and 18, director for episode 15.
1974 Heidi, Girl of the Alps[9] Arupusu no Shōjo Haiji Director Series director, and storyboard for episodes 1 through 3.
1975 Dog of Flanders Furandāsu no Inu Storyboard Storyboard for episode 15.
1976 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother[27] Haha o Tazunete Sanzenri Director Series director, and storyboard for episodes 1, 2, 4, 5, 7.
1977 Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac[27] Seton Doubutsuki: Kuma no Ko Jacky Storyboard Storyboard for episodes 5, and 8.
1978 Future Boy Conan[10] Mirai Shōnen Konan Director Storyboard for episodes 7, 13, and 20. Storyboard and Director for episodes 9, and 10 along with Hayao Miyazaki.
1978 The Story of Perrine[27] Perīnu Monogatari Storyboard Storyboard for episodes 3, and 6.
1979 Anne of Green Gables[9] Akage no An Director Director and writer for episodes 1–4, 6, 8, 10, 12–13, 17–18, 20, 23, 25–44, and 47–50, storyboard for episodes 1–4, and 29
1981–1983 Chie the Brat[7] Jarinko Chie Director Series director, storyboard and director for episodes 2, 6, and 11 under the pseudonym "Tetsu Takemoto".


Year Title Director Writer Producer A. Director Notes
1961 The Littlest Warrior[27] Yes Based upon Mori Ōgai's Sansho the Bailiff
1962 Interesting History of Civilization, Story of Iron Yes Takahata was also a script supervisor
1963 The Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon Yes
1963 The Biggest Duel in the Underworld Yes Directed by Umetsugu Inoue
1968 The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun[7] Yes
1972 Panda! Go, Panda![9] Yes Short film; written by Hayao Miyazaki
1973 Panda! Go, Panda! The Rainy-Day Circus[9] Yes Short film; written by Miyazaki
1981 Jarinko Chie[27] Yes Yes
1982 Gauche the Cellist[27] Yes Yes
1984 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind[7] Yes Directed by Miyazaki
1986 Castle in the Sky[7] Yes Directed by Miyazaki
1987 The Story of Yanagawa's Canals[27] Yes Yes Documentary
1988 Grave of the Fireflies[28] Yes Yes Takahata's first film for Studio Ghibli
1989 Kiki's Delivery Service[12] Directed by Miyazaki; Takahata was musical director
1991 Only Yesterday[29] Yes Yes
1994 Pom Poko[29] Yes Yes
1999 My Neighbors the Yamadas[7] Yes Yes
2003 Winter Days[7] Yes Yes Collaborative movie; Takahata created segment 28
2013 The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness[30] Documentary featuring interviews with Takahata
2013 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya[7] Yes Yes Takahata's final film as director
2016 The Red Turtle[7] Yes Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit; Takahata was artistic producer


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  14. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 2015-09-01. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  15. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 2018-09-18. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
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  25. ^ "Bring Me Beauty". Little White Lies (12: The Tales from Earthsea Issue). 2007.
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Further reading