Remembering Isao Takahata

The passing of Isao Takahata (1935-2018) is more than a loss to Japanese and global animation. To many who have grown up with his Lupin the Third (1971) or Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), it’s the loss of a dear friend who has brought laughter and tears for half a century.

Setting his sights beyond traditional children’s fare, Takahata joined Toei Animation and spent three years on his feature directorial debut Little Norse Prince Valiant (1968), which was a groundbreaking entry in Japanese animation. The innovator has never ceased exploring a diverse range of themes and aesthetic styles – through a world of realism infused with fantastical imagery, he brought before our eyes war atrocities in Grave of the Fireflies (1988), regarded as one of the best anti-war films of all time, and critical environmental issues in Pom Poko (1994).

One of the co-founders of the renowned Studio Ghibli, Takahata has produced some of the most celebrated works of Hayao Miyazaki, including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Castle in the Sky (1986), the success of which earned Ghibli global recognition. His final masterpiece, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), and his final artistic involvement in Ghibli’s first international co-production, The Red Turtle (2016), both received Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature Film. The Leopard of Honor award at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2009 was a celebration of his lifetime achievement.

His sophisticated, character-driven animations always find their mystical way into our hearts. From a girl’s nostalgic recollections of her childhood in Only Yesterday (1991); an ordinary family’s whimsical vignettes of mundane life in My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999); to the delicate moon princess confronting her fate in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Takahata seemed effortless in inspiring our empathy for his characters. Drawn in minimalist, fluid strokes and evocative watercolors, his films are stunning and whimsical, speaking to the deepest parts of our imagination and our soul.

Leaving behind a legacy of amazing works, Takahata will forever stay with us.