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[ANIMATION] Isao Takahata - A Giant in Animation

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  • madchinaman
    Animator s originality revealed in bold strokes Screenings to showcase the restless curiosity and creative energy of Isao Takahata, a longtime collaborator of
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 28, 2004
      Animator's originality revealed in bold strokes
      Screenings to showcase the restless curiosity and creative energy of
      Isao Takahata, a longtime collaborator of Hayao Miyazaki.
      By Luis Reyes, Special to The Times

      For the last 30 years, directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata
      have dominated Japanese animation, and their film and TV work has
      been easily among the most-watched screen entertainment in Japan.

      Miyazaki, if not exactly a household name here, has at least gained
      some recognition in the United States through his "Princess
      Mononoke" and the Oscar-winning "Spirited Away."

      Less clearly imprinted on the American consciousness, however, is
      Miyazaki's longtime partner and co-founder of the illustrious Studio
      Ghibli, Isao Takahata, who will be in town this weekend as the
      keynote speaker Saturday at a USC symposium on "Animation and the
      Contemporary Japanese Imagination." As an addendum to that
      symposium, the organizers have arranged screenings today and
      Saturday of four seminal Takahata films.

      A curious and inquisitive man, Takahata's adventurous canon spans
      vastly different styles and themes, seldom if ever treading the same
      terrain twice. The four films screening this weekend represent the
      divergent and myriad art of this Japanese animation legend.

      His most famous work, "Grave of the Fireflies," is a chilling
      portrait of firebombed Tokyo at the end of World War II. Seita and
      his younger sister Setsuko, both orphaned by the American
      bombardment, have to find ways to survive amid catastrophic
      destruction, famine and pervasive misery. Their homes obliterated,
      and abandoned by their community, the children bear witness to the
      very savagery that society was designed to supplant.

      By contrast, "Only Yesterday" — which will screen Saturday at the
      Ron Howard Screening Room at the Zemeckis Center, separate from the
      other films in the event — features a 27-year-old Tokyo woman in the
      1980s reflecting on 1966, the year she came of age, fell in love and
      went into ecstasy at the news that the Beatles were going to tour
      Japan. Unmarried, uninspired and dispossessed, the woman discovers
      this nostalgia brings her life into focus, but it raises more
      questions about herself than she knew she even had.

      Raccoon-like animals called Tanuki, armed with an almost tribal
      magic, take a stand against the sprawling Tokyo suburbs in "Pom
      Poko." More than a sociopolitical slap in the face to the industries
      of runaway urbanism, Takahata's film brings to life a whole society
      of creatures trapped in the perilous divide between mankind and
      Mother Nature, driving that society to desperate and horrifying
      measures to preserve its way of life — while maintaining a delicate
      comic tone throughout.

      Probably the most stylized piece in the Takahata canon is "My
      Neighbors the Yamadas." Rendered in Japanese ink wash and designed
      to look like the etchings of a child, it is a surreal look at
      nuclear family dynamics.

      Though the narrative is very much anchored to a realistic filial
      unit, the storytelling technique goes the way of dreamscape logic; 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.

      Save for a few monumental pieces, Japanese animation has become
      popular in the U.S. only over the last 10 years, getting a boost
      from the success of television franchises such as Pokémon and the
      cavalcade of like products that followed it. In that wake, Japanese
      animated films are only beginning to enjoy popular appeal. In light
      of this, superficial comparisons are nearly unavoidable, primarily
      to Disney but also to a smattering of offerings from Fox,
      DreamWorks, Warner Bros. and others.

      Much of how each country conceives of animated films has a lot to do
      with the societal connotation of animated films. In this country —
      and there are magnificent exceptions — animated films are
      intrinsically understood to be youth entertainment, whereas in
      Japan, animation has avoided such a label and is avidly watched and
      appreciated by the public en masse.

      Yet even though animation attracts adults and kids of both genders
      in Japan, individual films are still made for specific markets —
      teenage boys or girls, young or mature adults, and for the most part
      don't appeal to broader audiences. Takahata and Miyazaki's work
      reaches beyond those boundaries, and their films are as commercially
      successful as big action films from the U.S., or even more so.

      Takahata's films have an ability to appeal to a universal audience,
      and he earnestly aims to reach everyone. Although his films contain
      mature subject material that can be construed as offensive, Takahata
      speaks a kind of cinematic language that is at once compelling to an
      8-year-old and an 80-year old. He is not afraid to give children a
      glimpse of emotional gravity, despair or horror, while also
      enchanting them with magic, curiosity and wonder. Nor does he eschew
      dishing to adults youthful giddiness while engaging them in his
      brand of serious discourse. And in this way Takahata transcends, as
      does Miyazaki, the niche dilemma in which most American animation
      finds itself stuck.


      Films of Isao Takahata


      Where: Pacific Theatre, 6433 Hollywood Blvd.

      "Grave of the Fireflies," 2 p.m.

      "My Neighbors the Yamadas,"

      4 p.m.

      "Pom Poko," 6:30 p.m.

      Q&A with Takahata, 8:30 p.m.


      Where: Zemeckis Center, 3131 S. Figueroa St.

      "Only Yesterday," 1:15 p.m.

      Price: Free, but reservation required for Saturday screening

      Info: www.annenberg.edu/anime
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