When you hear about Studio Ghibli, the first that comes to mind for most people would be Hayao Miyazaki. You recognize his works from Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, and many others. He’s THE Director of Ghibli, a personification of the biggest the most famous Japanese movie studio in the world.
What a lot of people seem to miss though, is another Director, whose works are rather different with Miyazaki’s, but in my opinion, definitely not any less. A long-term colleague of Miyazaki and a co-head of Ghibli, Isao Takahata is Ghibli’s second person. His films are possibly less known to audience outside of Japan, but a couple of them are my absolute favorites, like Grave of the Fireflies, which I have re-watched many time, Pompoko, and My Neighbors The Yamadas.
Grave of the Fireflies is a heartbreaking film about brother and sister struggling to survive in Japan during World War II; Pompoko about shape-shifter racoons (in Japan there’s old belief that racoon can shape-shift into human form) struggling to prevent their forest home being destroyed by human’s urban development; and I would describe My Neighbors The Yamadas as The Simpsons of Japan, only instead of a very American family, it features a very Japanese family. With gentle humour and interesting Japanese daily life bits, you’ll be surprised how much you can relate with them. The Yamadas are your “everyday family”, hence the title My Neighbors (they can be anyone’s).
While Miyazaki generally uses the Wow factor, Takahata painstakingly goes for realism (as seen in Only Yesterday and Grave of the Fireflies). I see Miyazaki as the highly imaginative popular kid, always surrounded by many other kids on the playground, while Takahata as the serious and more reserved kid, working hard at the craft that he believes in among the lesser crowds. The sweet thing is, they believe in each other’s talents.
As you probably know by now, I have a soft spot for Takahata’s works, I do. He’s not a Miyazaki so don’t expect him to be, but his movies are so full of heart I’m sure you’ll fall for them too. If you haven’t watched any of his movies, I encourage you to. Come back when you have and tell me all about it :)
Takahata-san on the left, Miyazaki-san on the right
I have been thinking to post about this for a while, when Tanabata’s Hello Japan August & September mini-challenge came up. I knew then I needed to participate. Thanks for hosting tanabata!