Outside of anime circles, Takahata Isao is a relative unknown. All he has done to get his name out there is collaborate for nearly half a century with the great Miyazaki Hayao in producing and directing some of the finest anime known to man. He’s also the only person in the world that can say with any confidence that he is Miyazaki’s equal, if not even senpai. He was also the man behind the helm of what many consider to be the greatest anime of all time, Grave of the Fireflies. If those aren’t solid credentials, then I don’t know what are.
Born in 1935, Takahata Isao seemed to possess a director’s megaphone in his hands as an infant. Having graduated from the elite Tokyo University, the young Takahata joined the newly-formed anime production company Toei Douga in 1959, which would eventually become one of the largest such companies in Japan. Shortly after the arrival of a young, brash animator named Miyazaki Hayao, the two worked together (Takahata made his directorial debut) on The Adventure of Hols, Prince of the Sun. Though a critical success, Hols was the lowest grossing film Toei Douga has ever produced, and subsequently Takahata was banned from ever directing another Toei production. Hurt by being made the scapegoat for financial matters beyond his control, he and Miyazaki took their talents elsewhere.
This legendary director/animator tandem would provide the backbone behind many anime classics: Lupin III (co-directed by both), Heidi, Girl of the Alps, Panda! Go Panda and 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. Proving he doesn’t need his prodigious colleague to create exceptional anime, Takahata directed solo on Gauche the Cellist and Chie the Brat. The two would be linked again when Miyazaki was offered the directorial position for a new movie titled Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind. He accepted the job on one condition: Takahata Isao be made the producer. The unmitigated success of Nausicaä would catapult the two as leading men in a fledgling anime company known as Studio Ghibli.
Their first Ghibli conglomeration would be in the form of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (which also reunited them with Nausicaä composer Hisaishi Jo). With a burning desire to return to the director’s chair, Takahata dealt the entire anime community a stunning blow by releasing Grave of the Fireflies, an unabashed look at the victims of World War II based on Nosaka Akiyuki’s book “Hotaru no Haka”. From then his name would become synonymous with personable anime based strongly in realism: Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, Ocean Waves and My Neighbors the Yamadas.
Today, the old man is taking it easy. Don’t take that as a sign of the end to his anime career; if history is any indication, he is too versatile to not find other avenues through which he can express himself. Even if his career were to end today, there would be no argument as to where he stands in the grand scheme of things: among the most influential people in anime history.
3000 Leagues in Search of Mother
The Adventures of Hols, Prince of the Sun
Anne of Green Gables
Apache Baseball Team
Chie the Brat
Dog of Flanders
Future Boy Conan
Gauche the Cellist
Grave of the Fireflies
Heidi, Girl of the Alps
Himitsu no Akko-chan
Ken the Wolf Boy
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kouya no Shounen Isamu
Laputa: Castle in the Sky
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind
New Spooky Kitaro
Panda! Go Panda
Panda! Go Panda: The Circus in the Rain
Whisper of the Heart
The Wicked Prince’s Hunt of the Big Snake