Thursday, April 05, 2018

co-founder of Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata dead at 82

The co-founder of Studio Ghibli and the director of such films as Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya has died at 82.

For want of a better way to put this, Takahata made films that were like the earth to Miyazaki's sky.  His films aren't suffused with quite the same apocalyptic fantasy as Miyazaki's works but they seem no less stepped in folklore, most obviously in the case of Kaguya

His films don't soar, they plod, but they plod with purpose.  Obviously that sort of film-making is not going to be for everyone.  Grave of the Fireflies is a harrowing, numbing vignette of two children who basically starve to death in the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo after being ostracized by their surviving relatives and neighbors for failing to do what is expected of them to contribute to the war effort.  It's a bleak and desolate film that is in many respects far easier to respect than to love, and even among makers of anime not everyone has had nice things to say about it (Oshii comes to mind).

Only Yesterday is, in a word, about farming, about the relationship of humans to the land in Japan during the 1980s.  It's a rumination on how urban life and its sprawl can lead people to set aside traditional agricultural life but with a twist in the last third observing how this dissociation is sufficiently complete that the woman who is the central character of the film goes out to work on a farm for a while, thinking she's going to be in touch with nature, only to slowly and steadily learn how everything around her has been cultivated by farmers.  The relationship between people and the land is more symbiotic and constant than it is in the imagination of city-dwellers who think they can go somewhere and be some place that is somehow "untouched" by human toil.  This is a quotidian film and it's jarring if you're used to Studio Ghibli films that more literally and figuratively soar (i.e. Nausicaa, for instance, or Porco Rosso)

Kaguya was, if memory serves, the last film Takahata directed and the whole work is like a giant David Lean-style epic conveyed through water color.  It's a placid and slow-moving film even by Takahata's standards and there was simply no way that the film was going to get any notice at all from the Academy in comparison to entries from Disney/Pixar. 

I'm afraid I can't commend the last project he was connected with that I can recall, The Red Turtle, though he didn't direct that film.  While he's hardly as well known as his colleague Hayao Miyazaki his work is worth checking out if you haven't already.   

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