Friday, April 6, 2018

Obituary: Isao Takahata, Animation Master & Creator of 'Princess Kaguya' Has Passed

I won't forget you. Thank you for the stories, Isao Takahata. (Tribute art by Trungles)
We were very sad to learn of the passing of Animation Master Isao Takahata today (Thursday, April 5, 2018).
May your spirit be free and have peace Takahata-sensei*.
Takahata was best known for his heart wrenching, and beautiful film Grave of the Fireflies, and of course, the Oscar-nominated The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, though many of his other films (eg. My Neighbors the Yamadas**, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) prove him worthy of the title of Animation Master as well.

Our Fairy Tale News Hound, Gypsy, was introduced to his (and Miyazaki's) work at a very young age without even realizing it, through the TV series Heidi - A Girl of the Alps, while she was in Latin America. Takahata was the director, as well as a storyboard artist for the series. He eventually made a Heidi movie too, though the series holds a dear place to Gypsy as the beginnings of that magic Ghibli touch can be seen even then.

After Heidi and some other early films, Takahata became the co-founder of the beloved Studio Ghibli, always pushing the medium of animation as an art form and defying tradition as a true artist does - something clearly present in Princess Kaguya.

"I want to make sure that we don’t forget the great power of paintings drawn by lines on paper to stir our imaginations and memories." (Isao Takahata 2015)
Takahata also had revolutionary ideas about his Princess Kaguya too, something which we will be eternally grateful for in portraying this complex view of the Japanese princess of legend:
An adaptation of a Japanese folk tale about a mysterious princess discovered in a glowing bamboo tree, the Oscar-nominated film follows the princess as she struggles to free herself from both the demeaning customs of a patriarchal society, and the insatiable men who want to control her.  

“I have sought to refrain from projecting onto the young girls who are my main characters any wishful thinking from the male point of view about how women should behave,” Takahata tells us via email. “I also like to put myself in a women’s position as much as I can and think about things. Despite being a man, I love vibrant women, not only to fall in love with, but as friends and human beings.” And Princess Kaguya is certainly a human being. Not only does she cheekily relish the opportunity to set the men vying for her hand in marriage impossible challenges, but she hates the way men talk about her behind her back at her naming ceremony, and her emotions suddenly rush to the surface. 

Takahata uses the scrappy visual style to reflect these emotions in a way that wouldn't be possible in a more traditional animated film. “Rather than paintings that declare ‘I am the real thing’,” he says of his choice of style, “I prefer paintings that say ‘As you can see, I am not the real thing, but please use me as a means to imagine or remember in a vivid way the real thing that is behind me’.” 
“My intent was to have the viewers be there at the moment when the sketches were being drawn and to have them share in the emotions,” he continues. “I want to make sure that we don't forget the great power of paintings drawn by lines on paper to stir our imaginations and memories.”  
(Interview with Takahata by DazedDigitalduring promotion for The Academy Awards, 2015)
We know Takahata still had many plans for projects and stories he wished to tell on film and look forward to seeing what those ideas were, when the family feels able to release them. Even without reaching their final form of a finished film, we know there is still wonder to discover, as seen through his eyes and mind. (He told reporters in 2016 he had a few he was working on simultaneously.)

His love of the history, cultures and tales of Japan always came through in his work and he will be sorely missed, not only in his home country, but in the world over.

Takahata reportedly had some heart issues recently, but even with the wealth of his artistry, his many amazing and multi-award winning films, and his work having been recognized globally, his passing is too soon, especially for a storyteller.
He was only 82 and will be greatly missed.
“Why must fireflies die so young?” — Grave of the Fireflies
(Isao Takahata 1935-2018)

*Here we are using the Japanese honorific 'sensei', to denote the respect we have for him as artist, teacher and recognized expert in his field of storytelling and animation filmmaking.

** In Takahata's 1999 film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, the birth of the Yamada’s second child, Nonoko, is rendered as a scene from the classic story of the Princess Kaguya, who was found in a bamboo stalk. Princess Kaguya was released in Japan in 2013.

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