A scene from Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988).
A scene from Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988).

Rafu Staff Report

Japanese anime director Isao Takahata received a juried award for lifetime achievement during the 43rd annual Annie Awards ceremony, held Feb. 6 at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Presented by the International Animated Film Society (ASIFA-Hollywood), the Annies honor overall excellence as well as individual achievement in 36 categories for film and TV productions.

Takahata, who did not attend, was introduced by animation historian, writer and critic Charles Solomon, who opened by saying, “Takahata-san wa subarashii anime no kantoku desu.” (Mr. Takahata is a wonderful animation director.)

“In any language, Isao Takahata is an extraordinary filmmaker,” Solomon continued. “He’s been many things in his life and career — a student of French literature, an animator, a television director, a screenwriter, a documentarian, a producer, and co-founder of the celebrated Ghibli Studio.

“But he’s best known as the award-winning director of theatrical features and a director with an extraordinary versatility who can move from the poignancy of ‘The Grave of the Fireflies’ to the social satire of ‘My Neighbors the Yamadas’; from the nostalgic charm of ‘Only Yesterday’ to the fragile beauty of ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.’ …

“Three characteristics mark Takahata’s work. The first is the humanity of his characters. Of course, we weep for the innocent Seita and Setsuko in ‘Grave of the Fireflies,’ but we also understand the ineffectual Takashi Yamada …

“Second is a celebration of Japanese culture and tradition. From the monster parade in ‘Pom Poko’ that evokes 19th-century woodblock prints, to the new life he breathed into the ancient folk tale of the Moon Princess in ‘Princess Kaguya.’

“Finally, there is his concern for the ecology and the planet. In ‘Only Yesterday,’ Taeko learns the country landscape is largely a human creation, yet she loves it nonetheless. And beneath the slapstick humor of ‘Pom Poko,’ we sense the loss of the forest the tanuki once inherited.

“In recognition of his long, distinguished career directing powerful animated features, I’m honored to present the Winsor McCay Award to Isao Takahata.”

Geoffrey Wexler, head of international releases for Studio Ghibli, read a statement from Takahata: “Winsor McKay. The very name evokes memories of a man I greatly revere and adore. What a wonderful award, with a host of glittering stars and awardees that I deeply respect. That I have the distinct honor of becoming a humble member of this constellation gives me immense joy. I accept this award with delight, and I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude ASIFA-Hollywood for presenting this award to me.

“I am not one who draws pictures. My career has been built entirely on the splendid collaboration of the many talented artists who have worked with me over the years. To my true artist colleagues, I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

The award is named for Winsor McKay (1869-1934), an American cartoonist and animator best known for the comic strip “Little Nemo” and the film “Gertie the Dinosaur.” The other recipients were Phil Roman, founder of Film Roman, and the late Disney/Pixar animator and voice actor Joe Ranft.

Japanese animation did not fare well in other categories. Studio Ghibli’s “When Marnie Was There” and Studio Chizu’s “The Boy and the Beast” were nominated for Best Animated Feature-Independent — a new category — but the award went to “Boy and the World.” Also nominated was “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.”

Hiromasa Yonebayashi, director of “When Marnie Was There,” was nominated for Outstanding Achievement, Directing in an Animated Feature Production. The award went to Pete Docter for “Inside Out.” Also nominated: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson for “Anomalisa,” Raul Garcia for “Extraordinary Tales,” Roger Allers for “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” Mark Burton and Richard Starzak for “Shaun the Sheep The Movie,” Steve Martino for “The Peanuts Movie.”

Yonebayashi and “When Marnie Was There” co-writers Keiko Niwa and Masashi Ando were nominated for Outstanding Achievement, Writing in an Animated Feature Production. The award went to Docter, Meg Lefauve and Josh Cooley for “Inside Out.” Also nominated: Burton and Starzak for “Shaun the Sheep The Movie.”

The award for Outstanding Achievement, Character Design in an Animated Feature Production went to character art director Albert Lozano and character artist Chris Sasaki for Pixar’s “Inside Out.” Also nominated: “Hotel Transylvania 2,” “Minions,” “The Good Dinosaur.”

Pixar was the big winner of the evening with 12 awards, including Best Animated Feature, Outstanding Music (Michael Giacchino), Outstanding Voice Acting (Phyllis Smith as Sadness), Outstanding Production Design (Ralph Eggleston) and Outstanding Editing (Kevin Nolting).

Other winners included “He Named Me Malala” for Best Animated Special Production, “Wander Over Yonder” for Best Animated TV/Broadcast Production for Children, “The Simpsons” for Best Animated TV/Broadcast Production for a General Audience, and “The Revenant” for Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in a Live Action Production (for the CGI bear).

Presenters included Edward James Olmos (“El Americano: The Movie”), Rita Moreno (“Nina’s World”), Kristen Schaal (Outstanding Achievement, Voice Acting in an Animated TV/Broadcast Production winner for “Bob’s Burgers”), Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob Squarepants”), Laraine Newman (“Dawn of the Croods”) and, from “The Peanuts Movie,” Alexander Garfin (Linus) and Hadley Belle Miller (Lucy).

For a complete list of winners, visit www.annieawards.org.

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