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A Public Farewell to Isao Takahata at the Ghibli Museum

posted on 2018-05-16 12:45 EDT by Kim Morrissy

On May 15, Studio Ghibli held a farewell ceremony for Isao Takahata at the Ghibli museum, where Hayao Miyazaki and other close friends of Takahata shared their eulogies.

As a thoughtful gesture to the fans, the Ghibli Museum opened its doors to the fans between 2 to 5pm that day. Although there were no regular activities that day as the museum is usually closed on Tuesdays, fans wishing to pay their respects could put white chrysanthemum flowers in front of a small shrine erected in memory of Takahata.

I attended this part of the memorial service myself and was pleasantly surprised at how much regard Studio Ghibli extended towards their fans. It was a sweltering hot day, especially for people wearing black funeral clothes, but the museum staff was kind enough to give visitors a place to sit in tents behind the building until the museum was opened to the public.

During the wait, a 10-minute documentary depicting the life of Isao Takahata was shown to audiences, covering Takahata's early childhood, career, and the works he directed at Studio Ghibli.

At 2pm, the museum staff led the visitors inside the building. (Entry was free that day and did not require prior reservation.) Each visitor was given a booklet with a short biography for Takahata. It also listed the anime he was involved in and the main books he wrote.

The shrine was the first thing I saw inside the main entrance. People stood in a row in front a portrait of Takahata, paid their respects for about 10-20 seconds, and then left in file. When it was my turn to pray, I lay down a flower and closed my eyes, feeling unsure about how to pray. All I could do was hope that my feelings could get across somehow.

I was then led through the permanent exhibit room, which is normally used to showcase the craft and history of animation. All of these exhibits were shut off for the day. Instead, there was a glass case near the exit with a selection of books Takahata has written, including both volumes of Thoughts While Making Movies, which details the stories behind all the films Takahata has ever worked on.

Finally, I was led outside into the atrium, where there were photos from throughout Takahata's entire life posted on two walls. Looking at these photos, I was surprised at how little the man's appearance changed over the years - his bright and cheerful smile was always instantly recognizable.

On one of the walls, there was a portion of the museum's 2005 exhibition about Heidi - A Girl of the Alps, one of the first anime collaborations between Takahata and Miyazaki. This series had some of the highest ratings for a TV anime in its time, and is still well-loved in Japan. There was even a comic strip drawn by Miyazaki sharing some amusing anecdotes from the time of Heidi's production, which many visitors stopped to peruse in detail. The usherers had to keep reminding everyone to move along, but few people seemed eager to leave those photos behind. Perhaps it would have felt like saying goodbye to Takahata for good.

For my part, I feel truly touched and grateful toward the Ghibli Museum staff for allowing the public to pay their respects. Even now, I feel that it is hard to accept that Takahata is really gone; it feels like the beginning of the end of an era. But I also sensed a kind of optimism from the memorial, as if I was being gently reminded to look forward into the future. In particular, that poster on Heidi which talked about how it introduced the layout stage between storyboards and key animation sticks with me. Heidi changed the way anime production works forever. He may be remembered most for his Ghibli films, but having been woven into the fabric of Japanese animation, Takahata's work will never be forgotten.


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