Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Art & Art History

First Advisor

Melinda Barlow

Second Advisor

Erin Espelie

Third Advisor

Kelly Sears

Abstract

The films of Japanese animation director Isao Takahata are notable for their vivid and complex characters, deep engagement with Japanese history and culture, and for their increasingly bold visual innovation and experimentation over Takahata’s half-century spanning career. Yet these are also films replete with loss, nearly all of Takahata’s theatrical works emotionally and thematically constructed upon foundations of death, transience, and grief. Children dying in the fire-bombings of the Japanese countryside during the Pacific War; a woman reflecting on lost parts of herself as she wanders through distant memories; a celestial daughter born to experience the joy and sorrow of mankind’s transient plane; these are the kinds of stories Takahata tells, and this study is primarily concerned with exploring the heart of absence that exists within each of them. Through close readings of three Takahata features in particular – Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991), and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) – and other films around the periphery, alongside engagement with texts about Japanese spirituality and broader works about the human experience of loss and wandering, this study aims to both trace the core themes of one filmmaker’s career, and to analyze loss as a dynamic and fluid ethereal force. With the animated canvas of Takahata’s films offering a perfect medium upon which to study loss, its hand-crafted, transient form enhancing and challenging the ways in which loss is cinematically analyzed, this study asks readers to reconsider their relationship not only to the moving image, but also to the emotional forces of absence, wonder, and grief. Guided by a series of short interstitial personal remembrances from the author, this study is as much an exploration of emotion and human processing as it is an examination of film and form, crafted with the implicit goal of demonstrating how closely aligned these typically disparate fields of study are within the human mind and heart.

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