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Isao Takahata (1935-2018)

It is with great sadness that this week the world learned of the passing of Isao Takahata, legendary animation director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli at the age of 82. He had been suffering from lung cancer, it has been confirmed. A statement from Ghibli announced that his funeral would be a private affair, but there would be a public day of remembrance held on May 15.

While Takahata's films weren't quite the box-office phenomena at home that Hayo Miyazaki's films were, or as widely known overseas, they were widely beloved by many animation fans and film lovers. Although not exactly prolific in later years, he leaves behind an impeccable body of work, including many regarded as classics.

Takahata had a long career in animation, landing a job at Toei Animation (or Toei Doga as it was then) in 1959, straight out of university. He worked on a long list of television series including  Ken The Wolf Boy, Lupin III, Sherlock Hound, Heidi and many more. In pretty short order he worked his way up to director positions- directing episodes or in some cases acting as chief series director.

In features, he started off as animation director but made his debut as overall director with 1968's Horus Prince of The Sun (also known as Little Norse Prince or Little Prince Valiant). It was during his time at Toei that he met Hayao Miyazaki, and the two worked together on numerous projects. Their first major collaboration, however, came with the theatrical shorts Panda! Go Panda!(released in 1972/1973) which were directed by Takahata and written by Miyazaki.

This working relationship and friendship would last for the rest of his life, and Takahata went on to serve as producer on Miyazaki's Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984). The breakout success of that film led to the establishing of Ghibli the following year, with the two men joined by Toshio Suzuki as co-founders.

Takahata's first film as director at Ghibli would be 1988's Grave Of Fireflies, the devastating wartime drama, released on a double feature with Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro. Only Yesterday followed in 1991, Pom Poko in 1994 and My Neighbours The Yamadas in 1999. His fifth and final film at the studio The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya wouldn't be released until 2013- but many would consider it his great masterpiece.

These five films are perhaps the most distinctive in Ghibli's catalogue- as different from each other as they are from the rest of the Studio's output. Takahata's films had no unifying visual style- unlike a Miyazaki film, it's not possible to recognise his work at a glance. He was a wonderfully versatile filmmaker, as comfortable with reality as with fantasy- and able to make them both equally relatable and believable. His films are also often very moving- Grave Of Fireflies isn't known as one of the saddest films ever made for nothing.  It's not hard to see his fingerprints on Ghibli's first international co-production, The Red Turtle, on which he is credited as artistic producer. Takahata wasn't intending on Kaguya being his final film and had hoped to work on more projects, but unfortunately, it wasn't to be.

Takahata was respected the world over and was given numerous accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Princess Kaguya, and a lifetime achievement award at The Annies.

The loss of such an influential figure is always a sad time, but we can take comfort in that Takahata's legacy will last for generations to come. The outpouring of love and respect that has followed the news of his passing will likely lead many more to discover his work for the first time.

So farewell, Mr Takahata. Rest in peace.

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