321 Great Directors: Isao Takahata

“I chose this style because I didn’t want people to forget this. The lines drawn here are not just the contours of the real things, but rather ways to instantaneously capture the expression of those things. And if there is movement, then they are the “pictures” that vividly capture the force of the movement.”

Why This Director?: Just plain old Ghibli love and needing to get to know the main non-Miyazaki contributor.

My Last Experience Was…: N/A.

What Did I Watch: Only Yesterday (because its ban makes it fascinating) and Pom Poko (because its raccoon balls make it fascinating).

Where Does He Fit: So, let’s first talk about the long time Disney ban for Only Yesterday because of the fact that it had menstruation in it. I had imagined something like a scene with a little bit of blood or something along those lines, but even that is no reason to prevent a DVD release. Disney’s sexuality problems become even more embarrassing when you watch Only Yesterday and realize that there is nothing remotely resembling a period and it is…recognized in conversation among prepubescent girls who are worried about it. That is it. Disgraceful, but at least they eventually rectified it.

Taeko, the protagonist of the story, lives in three different worlds of sorts throughout the course of the story. Her past is remembered in a bone white, stark aesthetic where the colors are most noticeable during a scene where she has a fantasy of flying through the air because of her crush. Her life in Tokyo is colored, but monotonous. When she goes to the country for a holiday, it is as beautiful as can be, with the flowers she is picking being the kind used for rogue and fabric dye and adding a level more color to this world to boot. Her memories that keep troubling her are disjointed and episodic, ranging from the puberty talks to her problems in academics, specifically her mother and sisters being a bit unintentionally cruel to her due to her troubles with fractions in math. This is nothing compared to her silent, domineering father, who she does not seem to resent, but he acts fairly consistently horribly towards her throughout.

Really, though, very little happens overall. She talks too much regarding her past with some friends in the country, and sort of falls in love with a boy. She finds this hard to acknowledge, and that is it as far as the plot goes. The climax is related to this, although I don’t know if it entirely works for me since it all hinges on someone who was not mentioned or, to my knowledge, even shown in the fifth grade scenes until the last chat with her beau. But then the ending comes along as the ending credits play, and it is so perfect that I do not care to fuss over how iffy the final revelation is. This has made me very excited to get to know the second biggest name in anime, although I’m saving his Big Masterpiece for down the line.


So instead, I went for Pom Poko because the plot hinging on a bunch of raccoon type spirits with enormous, magical testicles is fascinating to me. With Takahata’s reputation as “the realistic one,” his morph into working on something so magical no doubt feels off, but let’s think of it as a trial run for Kaguya, for Pom Poko is not quite as good as Only Yesterday, albeit still pretty enjoyable. Besides, the story is still serious and takes place in the real world, which fits right into his filmography. (It is also about the same two hours in length.)

The former film had the sweep and lackadaisical nature of a great coming of age novel, but this feels more like a strange young adult fantasy of sorts with the fights over territory. We go from realistic looking raccoons to the anthromorphic kind to a sort of doughy Winnie the Pooh type of animal whenever the animals are blissed out from happiness or getting hit in the head. They also happen to have the ability to transform themselves into humans, statues, whatever. It is aggressively strange, with one scene where a raccoon covers a truck windshield with his balls being the stuff of Lovecraft nightmares. This all sounds more fun than the quiet nature of OY, no doubt, and, well, it is…although I certainly found it hard to love for that alone.


Most Valuable Asset: Being so fussy over all the details.
Most Excited For: Grave of the Fireflies. (I intentionally avoided the canon.)

Coming Up Next: Infrequent creator Jonathan Glazer.


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