Japanese animation pioneer Isao Takahata dies aged 82

Strong female characters were a Takahata trademark.

Isao Takahata, co-founder of the prestigious Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, has died aged 82.

The studio was famous for sticking to a hand-drawn “manga” look amid the rise of digital film-making.

Takahata started Ghibli with Oscar-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985, hoping to create Japan’s Disney.

He directed Grave Of The Fireflies, a tragic tale about wartime childhood, and produced some of the studio’s films, including Miyazaki’s 1984 Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind,” which tells the horror of environmental disaster through a story about a princess.

Takahata died of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, according to a studio statement on Friday.

He was fully aware how the floating sumie-brush sketches of faint pastel in his works stood as a stylistic challenge to Hollywood’s computer-generated cartoons.

In a 2015 interview, Takahata talked about how Edo-era woodblock-print artists like Hokusai had the understanding of Western-style perspective and the use of light, but they purposely chose to depict reality with lines, and in a flat way, with minimal shading.

That, he said, was at the heart of Japanese “manga,” or comics.

“It is about the essence that’s behind the drawing,” he said at Ghibli’s picturesque office in suburban Tokyo.

“We want to express reality without an overly realistic depiction, and that’s about appealing to the human imagination.”

Takahata confessed to an almost love-hate relationship with Miyazaki because their works were so different.

Isao Takahata, pictured in 2015 (AP)
Isao Takahata, pictured in 2015 (AP)

He said he tries not to talk about Miyazaki’s works because he would have to be honest, and then he would end up getting critical, and he didn’t want conflict with an artist he so respected.

His last film, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, based on a Japanese folktale, was nominated for a 2015 Oscar for best animated feature, although it did not win.

He is also known for the 1970s Japanese TV series Heidi, Girl Of The Alps, based on the book by Swiss author Johanna Spyri.

A native of Mie Prefecture, Takahata was a graduate of the University of Tokyo and initially worked at Toei, one of Japan’s major film and animation studios.

Although he did not win an Oscar, Takahata won many other awards, including those from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Lorcano International Film Festival.

Strong female characters were a Takahata trademark.

He was planning to make a film about exploited girls, forced to work as nannies with infants strapped on their backs.

All his stories, he said, held the message of urging everyone to live life to the fullest, to be all they can be, not bogged down by petty concerns like money and prestige.

“This earth is a good place, not because there is eternity,” he said.

“All must come to an end in death. But in a cycle, repeated over and over, there will always be those who come after us.”

Toshio Suzuki, a producer at Studio Ghibli, said the company was organising a farewell ceremony for Takahata for May 15.

“There was so much more he wanted to do, it must be heartbreaking,” Suzuki said.

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