Michiyo Yasuda dead: Veteran Studio Ghibli animator spirited away at 77

The acclaimed artist was integral to the inception of Studio Ghibli and worked on some of its most iconic and treasured films

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The Independent Online

Veteran Studio Ghibli animator and accomplished colour designer Michiyo Yasuda has died at the age of 77.

While the Tokyo-born artist might not be as well known as the founder of Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki, she played an integral role in the creation of some of the Japanese powerhouse’s most famous works in her five-decade long career.

The head of the Studio Ghibli colour department since its genesis, Yasuda worked on some of the studio’s best-loved and most iconic works, including everything from Spirited Away to Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo. Her crisply colourful depictions and meticulous detail brought characters such as Totoro, Chihiro and Kiki to life on the big screen.

Yasuda's hard work played an imperative role in Spirited Away winning an Oscar in 2003 and becoming the highest-grossing film in Japanese history. She won an Animation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 from the Japan Movie Critics Awards. 

Yasuda worked closely with Miyazaki for 40 years, spanning the length of the studio's history and working on everything their first animation Castle in the Sky back in 1986 to their last Miyazaki film The Wind Rises which came out just three years ago. Despite retiring in 2008 she returned to work on the last film.

Ghibli is widely commended for its use of hand-drawn animation in a world in which other studios have steadily moved further and further towards digital animation.

“What I like best is when I am building up the colours in my head,” Yasuda reflected in an interview with the LA Times back in 2009. “Thinking of how to get the tone worked out. Colour has a meaning, and it makes the film more easily understood. Colours and pictures can enhance what the situation is on screen.”