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Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata dies

April 6, 2018

Japanese anime master Isao Takahata has passed away at a Tokyo hospital after battling lung cancer. He was best known for his works "Grave of the Fireflies" and "Heidi, Girl of the Alps."

Isao Takahata, japanischer Regisseur von Animefilmen
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun/N. Sasaki

Renowned Japanese anime director Isao Takahata died on Friday at the age of 82, said Studio Ghibli in a statement.

Takahata co-founded the renowned Studio Ghibli with long-term collaborator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. Best known for his film "Grave of the Fireflies," Takahata employed hand-drawn techniques in his works in the face of growing digitalization of the anime industry.

The Oscar-nominated director was born in Japan's Mie prefecture in 1935. During an interview with The Japan Times, Takahata described how he fled his hometown with his sister barefoot and still wearing pajamas after US forces bombed it.

A firestorm consumed most of his town after the bombing. "We were lucky to make it out alive," he said. "Many TV shows and movies that feature incendiary bombs are not accurate. They include no sparks or explosions. I was there and I experienced it, so I know what it was like."

Heidi: 'Ideal image' of a child

In Europe, Takahata is likely best-known for directing the animated series "Heidi, Girl of the Alps." It was translated into German, Italian and Spanish, and was considered a major success, most notably in Italy.

"Heidi's carefree nature stems from my ideal image of what a child should be like — something I couldn't be," Takahata said. "I've since realized that adults shouldn't try to determine a child's personality and so I now ensure my characters are more realistic."

Anti-war views

His seminal work "Grave of the Fireflies" is about two orphans during World War II and is believed to have drawn from some of the director's experiences.

Although he has refused to describe the work as an anti-war film, others have done so, with famed film critic Roger Ebert saying in 2000 that it "belong on any list of the greatest war films ever made."

Despite his reluctance to characterize his films as "anti-war," Takahata was critical of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push to recast the country's pacifist nature.

"You cannot keep the peace by picking up a weapon," Takahata told The Japan Times. "It must be achieved through diplomacy, which had in fact been Japan's position until recently. Now, however, Abe wants to turn Japan into a country that can go to war."

'An end in death'

Takahata won several awards and honors for his work, including an Oscar nomination for his last film, "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya." He also received awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Lorcano International Film Festival.

Even at the age of 82, Takahata had wanted to continue his work in animation. "There was so much more he wanted to do, it must be heartbreaking, said Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki.

Prior to his death, he had described his films as carrying a message urging people to live life to the fullest and not be dragged down by the pursuit of prestige or money.

"This earth is a good place, not because there is eternity," Takahata 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."

A screenshot from "Only Yesterday"
His film "Only Yesterday" dealt with themes such as adulthood and nostalgiaImage: Imago/EntertainmentPictures

ls/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)

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