Isao Takahata Retrospective at the 2nd Niigata International Animation Festival

Isao Takahata retrospective collage

The 2nd Niigata International Animation Festival  (launching 15 March 2024), a Japanese animation festival dedicated exclusively to feature animation, opens its doors to the celebrated Isao Takahata (1935-2018). The author of 'The Grave of the Fireflies' will be justly celebrated during the second edition of the festival (15-20 March 2024). A series of film screenings (including some of his TV anime work), and retrospective talks with animation professionals to elucidate further Takahata's influence are being programmed.

The retrospective features such early, non-Studio Ghibli works, such as Takahata's debut feature 'Little Norse Prince Valiant' (1968) at Tōei Dōga (now Tōei Animation); the whole programme is a welcome must for the maverick Japanese animation director's enthusiasts. The full lineup below:

Isao Takahata Feature Films Retrospective 

Little Norse Prince Valiant (1968, 82') 

Also known as The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun, this was the feature film debut of Takahata. It is also historically significant as the first animation that he worked on with Hayao Miyazaki. Set in a kingdom in ancient Norway, our young hero Horus (aka Hols) must fight off a pack of wolves armed only with an axe. In so doing he accidentally awakens an ancient stone giant called Mogue (aka Rockor). 

The Adventure of Panda and Friends (1972, 35')
Known in North America as 'Panda! Go, Panda!', this is an historically significant animation as the first production of an original screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki. An orphaned girl called Mimiko has to hold down the fort in her bamboo forest home while her grandmother is away. A baby panda called Pan-chan and her father Papanda come to live with Mimiko, creating a surrogate family for her, until their happy circumstances are threatened by the zookeeper. 

The Adventure of Panda and Friends: The Circus in the Rain (1973, 39')
Known in North America as Panda! Go, Panda!,Rainy Day Circus, we continue to follow Mimiko who is still living with her adopted Panda family in her large house in a bamboo forest. 

Anne of Green Gables (2010, 100')

Since its publication in 1908, the Canadian novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery has touched the hearts of generations of readers. The Nippon Animation 50-episode series in 1979 was widely praised as a faithful adaptation of the original story. In 2010 Takahata supervised this re-edit of the first three episodes into a feature length film for re-release.

Chie the Brat: Downtown Story (1981, 110')
Known as “the most unfortunate girl in Japan”, resilient 10-year-old Chie must help her good-for-nothing, unemployed, gambler father go straight by running a small okonomiyaki joint together near Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka. All the while, Chie is trying to get her separated parents back together. 

Grave of the Fireflies  (1988, 88') 

The tragic tale of a boy called Seita (14) and his younger sister Setsuko (4) as they try to survive in Kobe after the loss of their parents and home in an air raid during WWII. They try to seek shelter with unemphatic relatives and end up trying to make it on their own. A powerful story about the innocent victims of war whose lesson is just as important today as when the film was made. 

Only Yesterday (1991, 119') 
It’s the summer of 1982 and 27-year-old office worker Taeko needs a break from the daily grind of life in Tokyo. She heads off on a 10-day holiday to visit her sister and extended family in Yamagata. Her brother-inlaw’s cousin Toshio picks her up from the station which marks the beginning of a new phase in Taeko’s life. The holiday turns into a soul-searching journey filled with wistful nostalgia in which Taeko is forced to reevaluate her life and relationships. 

Pom Poko  (1994, 119')
The Tokyo suburb of Tama New Town is being developed into much needed affordable housing. Unfortunately, this means the displacement of the natural habitats of many wildlife creatures such as the tanuki, aka raccoon dogs, who fight back against the development with their shapeshifting and other legendary skills.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999, 104')
Based on a four-panel manga, this film is a series of vignettes following the lives of the Yamada family: Dad Takashi, Mom Matsuko, Grandma Shige, son Noboru (13), daughter Nonoko (7), and Pochi, their pet dog. 

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya  (2013, 137')

The pièce de resistance of Takahata’s career, this labor of love took 8 years to make and cost 5 billion yen, making it the most expense Japanese film to date. An adaptation of the 10th century literary classic “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” in which a bamboo cutter discovered a tiny girl inside a glowing bamboo shoot. Nominated for an Oscar.

TV Anime Special Selection

Ken the Wolf Boy ( Directors: Sadao Tsukioka, Isao Takahata, Kimio Yabuki et al.)
Episode 14: The Greatest Operation in the Jungle (dir. Takahata, 1963, 25')
Climate change caused by a comet plunge is wreaking havoc on ecosystems, but the wolves of Africa have an advantage in the form of our hero is Ken, the “two-legged wolf”, a boy who has been raised by wolves in the Himalayan jungle. He helps his wolf pack in their efforts to protect the peace of the jungle. We follow him on his adventures as he looks out for the twin wolf cubs Chichi and Poppo, befriends Jack, the one-eyed wolf, and fends off danger posed by other wild animals and humans. A gem of a series that is not as well known internationally as it should be.

From the Apennines to the Andes (Marco), director: Isao Takahata

Known simply as Marco in the many countries where this series was dubbed for local markets, this adaptation of the Italian novel Heart (Cuore) by Elmondo de Amicis tells the tale of a young boy living with his family in the harbor city of Genoa during 1881.

Schedule of Isao Takahata Retrospective Talks

  • Sunday, March 17 Isao Takahata and 'Gauche the Cellist'
    Takashi Nnuju (producer, historian, Anido chairperson) × Toshitsugu Saida (animator)
  • Sunday, March 17 Isao Takahata’s 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' & Thereafter
    Nozomu Takahasi (MC/animation film producer) × Yoshiaki Nishimura (President of Studio Ponoc) x Hiroki Sakurai (Executive Producer, Netflix Animation Creative Team)
  • Tuesday, March 19
    Sunao  Katabuchi (animation director, screenwriter, storyboard artists) × Masao Yokoto (psychologist, animation expert) 

The 2nd Niigata International Animation Festival launches 15 March 2024 till 20 March 2024.

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