The Directors of Ghibli

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.

Spirited AwayPrincess MononokeMy Neighbor Totoro

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 FirefliespompokoMy 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).

Only YesterdayWhile 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 miyazaki

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!

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32 thoughts on “The Directors of Ghibli

  1. Novroz

    Wow, you’ve done a great research on this post. I love reading every bit of it.

    I agree with tour opinion on Takahata, he sure put a lot of heart in his works, But I like Miyazaki more because his works are always superb

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Novroz, I actually did very little research for this post apart from a couple of googling to confirm what I already have in my head :). As you can see, I’m a big fan of Ghibli. I have watched almost all their movies (and rewatch them once in a while) and couple of interviews with Miyazaki and Takahata, so I picked up all these information along the way.

      Reply
  2. sakura

    Grave of the Fireflies is such a beautiful film. It always make me cry. They always show it in August in Japan when they commemorate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I haven’t seen all of the Studio Ghibli films but I think so far Totoro is my favourite.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      sakura, I know, Grave of the Fireflies is amazing. I didn’t know they always show it in Japan in August. Good to know it’s an important film for them. It’s really a special movie, isn’t it?!

      I think the only Ghibli film I haven’t watched is the newest ones, e.g. Ponyo. Totoro is my top favorite from Miyazaki too! Love! :D

      Reply
  3. Suko

    Mee, you’ve given me some new movie titles and directors to keep an eye out for. I have enjoyed Japanese films in the past, and expect to do so in the future as well. Nice post!

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Suko, hope my post informs and inspires you to try some of the movies. They’re really worth a try. I’m sure you’ll love them!

      Reply
  4. pipo

    How about Miyazaki’s son, who directed ‘tales from earthsea’? And what do you think about Ponyo and Ghibli’s latest movie ‘Arietty’ ?

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      pipo, thanks for visiting! I watched Tales from the Earthsea a few weeks back, but didn’t quite like it. It didn’t have the magic and heart that Miyazaki and Takahata’s films have. I have not watched Ponyo and Arietty. In fact, I just heard about Arietty from you! Apparently it was just out in Japan and not yet overseas. Looks very interesting, but it’s not directed by Miyazaki or Takahata, so I’m a bit apprehensive. Talking about other Ghibli directors, my favorite so far is The Cat Returns. It definitely has the Ghibli spirit!

      Reply
    2. Novroz

      Tales from the earthsea is considered as not good critics too. I have the dvd but haven’t watched it yet.

      I wrote an anime review earlier about Toki o Kakeru Shoujo (The girl who leapt through time), this anime defeated Tales in Japan most prestigious anime award

      Reply
      1. mee Post author

        Novroz, I read your review on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Been meaning to watch that one for a long time!

        Tales of the Earthsea was nothing special I thought, even though I don’t wanna be too harsh at a debut director. I guess there’s too much pressure for being a Miyazaki’s son!

        Reply
        1. Michelle (su[shu])

          I really need to check and see why my reader is not showing your posts as they are being posted.. I always get here late!

          I agree, Tales From Earthsea was not as good as I had expected it to be, left me quite disappointed. I was expecting more from Ponyo as well, maybe because the trailer was quite good, and I thought the drawing was fantastic. But yet another disappointment, that one.

          The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is awesome Di! Watch that one.

          Reply
          1. mee Post author

            Michelle, do you use google reader? I use that and it’s showing up fine for me!

            Argh sounds like I shouldn’t have high expectation of Ponyo. Too bad. The consensus is that I should watch The Girl Who Leapt Through Time! Where did that come from? It’s not even Ghibli’s lol.

            Reply
  5. Cher8

    I love both directors’ works of art. I saw both their creations and even visited the museum with my children years ago. I hope that they both continue to produce brilliant works for generations to see…

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Cher8, thanks for visiting! Lucky you, I’ve been dreaming to go to Ghibli museum! Hopefully I can in the next couple of years.

      Reply
  6. yuliana

    you’ve watched grave of fireflies many times???? I watched it once, and bawled like crazy at the end.
    It’s a beautiful movie, but I don’t have the heart to watch it again :P

    Love pretty much all of Ghibli’s movies. Haven’t watched the yamadas and only yesterday. Will find them once I go back home.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      yuliana, oh yea I watch most animated movies more than once. Grave of the Fireflies is sad, so you have to be in the right mood for it I guess ;).

      The Yamadas is quite an obscure Ghibli movie. Not many people know about it at all. It was a nice surprise to find how funny it was when I watched it. Brilliant film!
      Only Yesterday on the other hand, has very nostalgic feeling. If you like that one, I also recommend Whisper of the Heart (by another different director).

      Reply
  7. mrdes

    I will always remember when I was watching “Spirited Away” at the theatre, I was like a kid again for the whole 2 hours:) I followed that up with “Howl’s Moving Castle”, which was pretty good I thought and “Ponyo”, which I thought the magic had gone. Then, there was “Grave of the Fireflies”, which I borrowed from the library twice, and twice I cried. I have to agree the two director’s genres are pretty different, based on what I watched. Thanks for the information on other Takahata’s films:)

    Btw, this is the first time I saw their photos, and I thought that Miyazaki is more likely to be the one on the left, with that rubbery, kiddish face…the other one looks much too serious:P

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      mrdes, I haven’t watched Ponyo and am now curious. I do agree that the older Ghibli movies have more magic than the recent ones.

      I thought Miyazaki looks exactly like I imagined him to be. He has the face of a creative genius. Takahata on the other hand, looks more normal and reserved. Your ‘rubbery’ definition is funny haha.

      Reply
      1. Johnny

        The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a great movie must watch. If you finish that one go watch the director’s next movie Summer Wars. I heard its pretty good.

        Reply
          1. mee Post author

            Okay I will note down Summer Wars too. I’m mighty curious now. Everybody seems to have watched either of these 2 movies.

            Reply
  8. tanabata

    I was just looking at Grave of the Fireflies the other day. I haven’t seen it but see now that I really must. As well as Takahata’s other films. Great post, thanks for taking part in Hello Japan!

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      tanabata, thanks for hosting. It was fun. Can’t believe you haven’t watched Grave of the Fireflies. You must rectify that soon! :)

      Reply
  9. Michelle (su[shu])

    Mee, just to share with you, I’ve just bought for myself a DVD collection of Studio Ghibli’s animations!! Yay for me! It’s got the popular ones, of course, like Totoro and Princess Mononoke, but it’s also got Pompoko, Grave of the Fireflies etc. All in 17 movies. =D

    Thanks for sharing all that information. To be honest, I’ve thought of Studio Ghibli as sort of a “team” of people, never really just Miyazaki-san alone. But it’s always good to know more about something I love so much, like that fact that there are two people behind Studio Ghibli. No wonder some of the animations have such different auras.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Michelle, that’s fantastic! I’ve been meaning to buy Ghibli DVD collection but have not found the one that I want. I saw one last time in Singapore, but they weren’t complete and I didn’t want the Chinese characters on the covers. Anyway, you MUST watch my favorites if you haven’t because they’re amazing ;). I’ve told you my favorites from Takahata above. From Miyazaki my favorites are Kiki’s Delivery Service and Totoro! From other directors: Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns (both are tiny bit connected).

      Reply
  10. Lu

    I love everything that comes out of Studio Ghibli and have since I was a child. My Neighbor Totoro was one of those movies that I stumbled on in the Video Rental store (remember those?) and I eventually rented it so often, my mom finally bought it for me. That copy has since worn out and I’ve bought the most recent DVD version. I love Kiki’s Delivery Service and Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. I’m less familiar with Takahata’s work, but I have seen Grave of the Fireflies and it was such a sad, but beautiful movie, I definitely need to watch more. Thanks for writing this article! I hope more people will watch these movies.

    Reply
    1. mee Post author

      Lu, so pleased to know your love for Ghibli! My introduction to Ghibli was somewhat late. I only got to know it since Princess Mononoke in 1998 and only became a fan years later. Can’t remember the exact point, but it was possibly because of Grave of the Fireflies, that’s why I always have soft spot for Takahata, see. But anyway I’ve watched all Ghibli’s back catalogue since. Lucky you to find Totoro so early in life! :D

      Reply
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