One anime legend looks back on 50 years of friendship with another in memorial service held at Studio Ghibli museum.
Last month, Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, director of theatrical anime including Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, passed away at the age of 82, succumbing to lung cancer. On Tuesday, friends and colleagues gathered at the Ghibli Museum to say their farewells, with Hayao Miyazaki delivering a eulogy, pausing repeatedly as emotion overwhelmed him and tears filled his eyes.
▼ The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
It’s customary to display a photograph of the deceased at memorial services in Japan, and Takahata’s was surrounded by some 2,000 flowers, an idea Miyazaki himself proposed so that Takahata would be surrounded by the scent of a warm flower field. However, during his speech, Miyazaki told the audience of a time he subjected Takahata to a very different smell.
Miyazaki and Takahata share the same personal physician, and nine years ago, the doctor called Miyazaki on the phone. “If you’re Isao Takahata’s friend, make him quit smoking,” the doctor gravely commanded. Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki (the remaining member of Studio Ghibli’s group of three founding fathers) then sat Takahata down and implored their friend and coworker to give up the habit, with Miyazaki straightforwardly saying “Please stop smoking,” and Suzuki asking him to quit so that he could continue creating animation.
“We thought he’d get angry, making excuses and protesting,” Miyazaki recalls, “but he humbly said ‘Thank you. I’ll quit.’ And he really did. After that, I made a point of going to stand right next to him when I smoked, and he’d say ‘That smells nice, but I no longer have any desire to smoke.” Miyazaki is skeptical about the last part, though, saying “Takahata was always a better actor than me.”
▼ Grave of the Fireflies
Miyazaki (a long-documented smoker) made no mention of whether or not Takahata’s death was prompting him to reconsider his own nicotine consumption, but addiction/temptation wasn’t the only topic he spoke about, He also explained the origin of “Paku-san,” his personal nickname for Takahata. “He always hated mornings, and when we worked at Toei Doga, he’d come barreling into the office barely on time. After punching his time card, he’d start scarfing down the bread he’d brought for breakfast, making paku paku (the Japanese onomatopoeia for quickly eating) noises.”
More flattering was Miyazaki’s recollection of the first time he and Takahata spoke with one another, when Takahata (six years Miyazaki’s senior) struck up a conversation as the pair were waiting for a bus at twilight, with puddles on the road following a just-ended rain shower. “He seemed like a kind, wise young man,” Miyazaki remembers, an impression keeping with the soft, relaxed tone of many of Takahata’s films.
Miyazaki also spoke of a time when he’d grown dissatisfied with the work he was doing at Toei Doga. He and Takahata were both officers in the company’s employee union, and during an overnight session in the organization’s office, Miyazaki opened up about his desire to go beyond what he’d done in animation so far, to tell deeper, more meaningful stories, and the two discussed how to achieve those dreams. Given how rarely Miyazaki has kind words for anyone else in the anime industry, the fact that he’d engage with Takahata in such a conversation shows the deep admiration and trust he had in his colleague.
“Paku-san, in those days we did our best, and we were truly alive,” Miyazaki said while bringing his speech to a close. “You never gave up. Thank you, Paku-san. Thank you for talking to me 55 years ago at that bus stop after the rain, and I’ll never forget you.”
At multiple points of his speech, Miyazaki mentioned that he’d always assumed Takahata would live until the age of 95, and no doubt his grief is all the greater for losing his friend 13 years earlier than he’d expected. Judging by Miyazaki’s words, though, Takahata’s presence and influence will never fade from Miyazaki’s heart.