"What, exactly, did Isao Takahata do between 1968 and 1971?" This has long been one of my great questions on the life of the great director. After Horus, Prince of the Sun failed at the Japanese box office in 1968, Takahata was sacked from the director's chair at Toei Doga, never to helm another feature at the studio. His period of exile wouldn't end until the early 1970s, with Lupin III and Panda Kopanda and, ultimately, to Heidi, Girl of the Alps. So what happened to him at Toei?
Now we have an answer: Takahata was moved back to television. His directorial career began as an assistant director on a few Toei features, but he really cut his teeth on the early TV anime series, Hustle Punch and Ken the Wolf Boy. After Horus, he was sent back to the small screen, as a "director-for-hire" on a number of series. Some work here, a little work there, nothing really steady, and no real creative input. One can understand why Paku-san would quickly grow tired, and begin to plot his revenge with his friends Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe.
One such television show was 1971's Apache Yakyuugun, or Apache Baseball Academy. This short-lived series (it ran for 26 episodes), about an athlete who rejects a professional baseball career to become a high school coach in a small village, has plenty of comic book action and melodrama to go around. In 2002, a DVD set was released in Japan, and it's currently out of print.
By sheer luck, I found a copy of Apache's second episode, which was directed by Isao Takahata. Subtitles are not included in these videos, but Japanese transcripts are included, so a fan translation is easily doable. I will admit that I haven't yet watched this episode, so I'll be enjoying it along with you. This may be a good opportunity to study the young Takahata's directorial style, his sense of timing and compositional skill. It's always thrilling to see a master at work, even if it's just a work-for-hire. Admit it, you'd pay good money to watch Martin Scorcese make sandwiches. So would I. Enjoy.
daniel thomas Categories: takahata, toei doga, video