Isao Takahata, who co-founded Studio Ghibli and directed the award-winning animation "Grave of the Fireflies," has died of lung cancer at a Tokyo hospital, people close to him said Friday. He was 82.
Takahata co-founded Ghibli with renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985 and produced a number of films that earned widespread acclaim.
"Grave of the Fireflies," a 1988 film based on Akiyuki Nosaka's novel of the same name, depicted the struggles of a young boy and his sister in the final months of World War II and won many accolades, including the Animation Jury Award and Rights of the Child Award at the 1994 Chicago International Children's Film Festival.
A native of Mie Prefecture, Takahata is also known for producing Miyazaki's film "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" in 1984, a story about a princess involved in a war on a post-apocalyptic Earth where humankind is threatened by environmental disaster.
The animation movie director, known for his composition of layers of well thought-out shots, shed light on social issues including war and the environment in a number of works based on extensive research.
(File photo taken in November 1990 showing Isao Takahata (R) and Hayao Miyazaki at an interview)
His animated films also include "Only Yesterday" about a woman in her 20s who takes a break from her life in the big city and travels to the countryside, "Pom Poko" about raccoon dogs struggling to protect their forest home from destruction and urban development, and the comedy drama "My Neighbors the Yamadas."
In 2014, a year after he released "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," Takahata received an honorary award at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France. The following year, he was made an Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters for his filmmaking as well as his translations of French poems into Japanese.
"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," based on an ancient Japanese folklore tale about the life of a mysterious girl who was discovered as a baby inside a bamboo forest, was known for its sketchy hand-written drawings considered ground-breaking at a time when three-dimensional computer graphics had gained traction in the animation world.
Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki called Takahata's death "regrettable," saying he felt the director "must still have had many things he wanted to do."
Takahata's war film "Grave of the Fireflies" was based on his own experience of fleeing a U.S. air raid in the city of Okayama in western Japan in 1945 that killed some 1,700 people. He grew up in the city between 1943 and 1954.
He once recalled how, as a 9-year-old boy, he fled the raid barefoot in pajamas and witnessed piles of dead bodies. The memory was reflected in the air raid scene in the film.
(A stone monument in Kobe inscribed with an image from "Grave of the Fireflies")
Takahata said he was inspired to follow his career after watching French film director Paul Grimault's "The King and Mister Bird," released in 1955.
He said he was captivated by the allegorical nature of the work and felt "the possibilities of animation" to touch on people's beliefs and social issues.
After graduating from the University of Tokyo, Takahata began his career at what is now called Toei Animation Co. and directed his first long animated film, "Horus: Prince of the Sun," in 1968.
In the 1970s, he worked on TV series "Heidi a Girl of the Alps" on the childhood adventures of a girl named Heidi and "3,000 Leagues in Search of Mother" about a boy who travels to locate his mother.