Getting to know the works of Isao Takahata


For the last 40 years, directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have dominated Japanese animation. Miyazaki is known for his “Princess Mononoke” and the Oscar-winning “Spirited Away.”

The co-founder of the illustrious Studio Ghibli, Takahata is revered in Japan but less well known here. Here are some of his best known works:

“Grave of the Fireflies.” Seita and his sister Setsuko, orphaned by the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo during WWII, have to find ways to survive amid destruction, famine and misery. They bear witness to the very savagery that society is designed to supplant.


“Only Yesterday.” A woman reflects back on 1966, the year she came of age, fell in love and went gaga at the news the Beatles were coming to Japan. Unmarried and dispossessed, the woman discovers that nostalgia focuses her life, but it also raises questions too.

“Pom Poko.” Raccoon-like animals, armed with an almost-tribal magic, take a stand against the sprawling Tokyo suburbs.

“My Neighbors the Yamadas.” Rendered in Japanese ink wash, it is a surreal look at nuclear family dynamics. A wedding cake transforms into a metaphorical mountain down which the bride and groom tear in a bobsled, which, in turn, becomes a ship sailing through a metaphorical storm — all while a matriarch delivers a wedding speech about the trials and tribulations of married life.