TOKYO: Oscar-nominated Japanese anime director Isao Takahata, who co-founded Studio Ghibli and was best known for his work “Grave of the Fireflies”, has died aged 82, the studio said on Friday.
The winner of many awards domestically and internationally, Takahata was considered one of the greats of Japanese animated film and is often linked with long-term Studio Ghibli collaborator Hayao Miyazaki.
He enjoyed a career spanning several decades, producing both films and work for the small screen and his latest production, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”, earned him an Academy nomination for best animated feature.
An adaptation of a popular tale from the 10th century — considered one of the founding texts of Japanese literature — the film was also selected for a slot in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar to the main Cannes film competition in 2014.
It also won rave reviews, with the New York Times in 2014 describing it as “exquisitely drawn with both watercolour delicacy and a brisk sense of line.”
However, most consider Takahata’s 1988 film “Grave of the Fireflies”, a moving tale of two orphans during World War II, to be his best work.
In 2000, famed reviewer Roger Ebert wrote that the movie “belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made.”
– Friends and rivals –
Born in 1935 in Mie prefecture in central Japan, his early life was marked with violence when US forces bombed his hometown in June 1945 as World War II was coming to a close.
In an interview with the Japan Times, he described fleeing with his sister barefoot and still in his pyjamas.
On his way back to the family house, he recalled seeing piles of bodies in the street. “We were lucky to get out alive,” he told the newspaper.
Takahata started his career in animation at the Toei studio in 1959, where he eventually met long-term collaborator and rival Miyazaki.
With Miyazaki, he co-founded in 1985 the Japanese animation Studio Ghibli, which went on to produce several blockbusters.
With more complex and occasionally more violent plots than depicted in the average Disney cartoon film, these films have at times confused audiences outside Japan, who largely consider animation to be primarily for young children.
However, this has not stopped the films being lucrative box-office smashes.
Takahata and Miyazaki were often described as friends and rivals at the same time.
“We would never criticise each other face-to-face because it would just cause a fight. However, I know he has criticised my work,” Takahata told the Japan Times.
Over a long and distinguished career, Takahata produced around 20 films, including “Only Yesterday” (1991) and “Pom Poko” (1994).
He also produced the Miyazaki-directed 1984 film “Kaze no Tani no Naushika” (“The Valley of the Wind”), a science fantasy adventure that describes the relationship between nature and human beings.
He is also well-known for animation series “Alps no Shojo Heidi” (“Heidi, Girl of the Alps”) and “Lupin Sansei” (“Lupin the Third”).
Perhaps inspired by his early trauma, he was an avid anti-war campaigner and in 2013 co-signed with around 250 other film celebrities a petition against a controversial state secrets law.
According to a statement from Studio Ghibli, he died in the early hours of Thursday in a Tokyo hospital after a battle with lung cancer.
“We pray that he rests in peace,” the studio said, adding that he would be buried in a private ceremony attended by close family.
After studying French literature at university, Takahata enjoyed a long relationship with France and was awarded the Order of Arts and Letters honour in recognition of his work in 2015.
“France is the country I have travelled in most and I am extremely happy to have been decorated by the nation to which I feel closest,” he said in his acceptance speech.