Isao Takahata, the director of contemporary classics like Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, and My Neighbors the Yamadas, was notoriously difficult to work with, and his harsh treatment of film crews “destroyed so many people,” according to new comments made by one of the people who knew him best, Studio Ghibli co-founder and producer Toshio Suzuki.

Suzuki, who produced all of Takahata’s films from Grave of the Fireflies onward, made the comments in a newly published book, The Ghibli Textbook #19: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Ghibli no Kyōkasho 19 Kaguya-hime no Monogatari). The comments were first reported by Anime News Network.

The respected Ghibli producer also suggests that Takahata was indirectly responsible for causing the death of character designer and animation director Yoshifumi Kondō, who died in 1998 at age 47. Kondō told Suzuki after the production of his Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart that Takahata had “tried to kill him,” and he would physically tremble upon hearing Takahata’s name.

More details from the Anime News Network report:

Suzuki, Miyazaki, Takahata, and another animator that Suzuki refers to as “S-san” all attended [Kondō’s] cremation. S-san had worked with Takahata and Miyazaki since their time at Toei Animation. During the cremation, Suzuki says that S-san said aloud, “It was Paku-san [Takahata’s nickname] that killed Kon-chan, wasn’t it?” The air in the room froze until Takahata quietly nodded.

According to Suzuki, Miyazaki has claimed that he’s the only person to survive Takahata. The studio continued to lose potential artistic successors due to Takahata’s work expectations.

“You are overworked and exhausted. You have to prepare for yourself to break,” Suzuki said.

Publisher Shinchosha’s was involved with the production of The Grave of the Fireflies. Its representative Takashi Nitta told Suzuki he had worked with writers like Seichō Matsumoto, Renzaburo Shibata, and Kōbō Abe, but compared to Isao Takahata, they all seem normal. Suzuki also described him as someone who never thanked any of the Ghibli staff for their contributions.

Takahata died last April at the age of 82. His last film was The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013).

The Japanese animation industry is notorious for its demanding and inflexible pace, which leads to health problems – and occasional death – for the artists who work in the business. A few years ago, an American artist who works in Japan described the conditions at some studios as “illegally harsh.”

(Isao Takahata photo © Hubert Niogret)

Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Cartoon Brew's Publisher and Editor-at-large.