Past Exhibition Special Exhibition

Takahata Isao: A Legend in Japanese Animation



Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery

Takahata Isao (1935-2018) was a pioneering director in Japanese animation whose career spanned a half century, dating to the 1960s.

Born in Mie Prefecture and raised in Okayama Prefecture, Takahata joined Toei Doga (now Toei Animation) in 1959 after completing a degree in French literature at the University of Tokyo. In his first full-length theatrical film, Little Norse Prince Valiant (1968), Takahata realized a visual world with a grand scale that went so far as to attract adult viewers. He went on to develop a succession of new realms of expression. In his outstanding TV series of the ’70s, including Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974) and Anne of Green Gables (1979), Takahata created rich human dramas that were distinctly different from typical fantasies, using a directorial method based on careful depictions of everyday life. In the ’80s, Takahata shifted the setting for his narratives to Japan. In films such as Downtown Story (1981), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), and Pom Poko (1994), he vividly portrayed the country’s regional climate and culture, and the reality of ordinary people’s lives while also producing a series of powerful works that reexamined Japanese people’s experiences during and after World War II from a contemporary perspective. In the posthumous work The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), Takahata set himself the new challenge of bringing sketches to life in order to create an expressive technique that transcended traditional cel-based animation.

Takahata was an innovator who constantly searched for contemporary themes and pursued new means of expression that suited these subjects. The trajectory of his creative work established a foundation for postwar Japanese animation while also exerting a tremendous influence on other artists, both in Japan and abroad. In this exhibition, we focus on Takahata’s directorial artistry by presenting previously unreleased production notes and storyboards, and closely examining the fertile world of his works. We hope that this will provide viewers with an opportunity to reconsider the significance of Takahata’s animation, which is based on a deep understanding and love of people.

Organization of the exhibition

Chapter 1: Starting Out: A Passion for Animated Films

In 1959, Takahata Isao joined Toei Doga (now Toei Animation) with the aim of becoming an animation director. In this section, we analyze the scenes the young Takahata made with the newly invented storyboard method for The Orphan Brother (1961), for which he served as assistant director. His technique and sensibility, developed far beyond his years, were also amply displayed in the TV series KEN, THE WILD BOY (1963-1965). Takahata’s first full-length theatrical film, Little Norse Prince Valiant (1968), sheds light on the group production approach adopted by the director and his colleagues, and the process they used to create a complex animated world. This clearly conveys why the film is an epochal work in the history of Japanese animation.

Chapter 2: Everyday Pleasures: Developing New Fields of Animated Expression

Following his work with Toei Doga, Takahata explored new frontiers in a number of TV series including Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), From The Apennines to The Andes (1976), and Anne of Green Gables (1979). Despite the time constraints involved in having to complete an episode every week, Takahata created lively human dramas, which unfolded in a total of 52 stories per year, by devising ingenious artistic expressions and carefully depicting aspects of everyday life such as food, clothing, shelter, and nature. The storyboards, layouts, and backgrounds, made with a team that consisted of Miyazaki Hayao, Kotabe Yoichi, Kondo Yoshifumi, Ioka Masahiro, and Mukuo Takamura, provide us with important insights into Takahata’s directorial approach.

Chapter 3: Looking at Japanese Culture: A Dialogue between the Past and the Present

Beginning with films such as Downtown Story (1981) and Gauche the Cellist (1982), Takahata came to specialize in works set in Japan, vividly depicting the country’s regional climate and culture, and the reality of ordinary people’s lives. This approach came to fruition in works that focused on contemporary Japanese history such as Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991), and Pom Poko (1994), produced by Studio Ghibli, the company that Takahata helped form in 1985. Here, we focus on the use of narratives that recount Japanese people’s experiences during and after World War II within the context of the contemporary era, and the development of the theme of the satoyama (semi-natural rural areas where people and nature form interdependent relationships).

Chapter 4: Lively Sketches: The Challenge to Make New Forms of Animation

Takahata was an insatiable explorer of animation as a form of expression. Immersing himself in researching picture scrolls and uncovering the Japanese tradition of visual culture in the 1990s, Takahata continued to investigate new styles of animated expression, marked by a unification of human figures and backgrounds. This resulted in works such as My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999) and The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013). Setting himself new challenges by adopting a watercolor style of depiction, which was realized through the use of digital technology to accentuate hand-drawn lines, Takahata developed an approach that was distinctly different from traditional cel-based animation. These efforts provide insight into the alchemy of Takahata’s imagery, bolstered by his extensive knowledge of art.

Exhibition Catalogue

Hours & Admissions


Art Museum Special Exhibition Gallery


July 2 – October 6, 2019


10:00-17:00 ( Fridays and Saturdays open until 21:00 )
*Last admission : 30 minutes before closing.


Mondays ( except July 15, August 12, September 16, 23); July 16, August 13, September 17, 24


Adults: ¥1,500( 1,300 )
College / University students: ¥1,100( 900 )
High school students ¥600 (¥400 )

  • Including the admission fee for MOMAT Collection.
  • The price in brackets is for the group of 20 persons or more.
  • All prices include tax.
  • Junior High school age and under are free of charge.
  • Persons with disability and one person accompanying them are admitted free of charge.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
NHK Promotion Inc.

Special Cooperation



The Tokuma Memorial Cultural Foundation for Animation


SEIBU Landscape Co.,LTD.

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