Studio Ghibli forever changed the way Japanese animation would be viewed in the world, but Yasuo Otsuka forever changed how its founders—Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata—would view animation. The groundbreaking animator and educator has died at age 89.
Announced by Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, Otsuka died of a heart attack on Monday. The animator, who started his career working for what would become Toei Animation, was present at a turning point for Japanese animation. Working first on Japan’s first-ever color animated feature, 1958’s The White Snake Enchantress, Otsuka’s style developed a realism he’d pass on to his junior coworkers Miyazaki and Takahata.
Working on films like Magic Boy and series like an early attempt at a Moomin anime, Otsuka would start making larger contributions to pop culture with his sway over Lupin III Part I and how the series was adapted into animation in general. The gentleman thief and his charming misadventures wouldn’t be the same—lacking the slapstick gained with strict animated detail—without his work. Contributing to other Lupin projects like Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, the animator also worked on the early films and shows of his protégés. Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan series and Takahata’s feature debut Hols: Prince of the Sun counted Otsuka as their animation director.
While Otsuka would only ever direct a single feature, 1978’s Lupin the 3rd: The Mystery of Mamo, his influence continues to be felt in the franchise’s current iteration and in the very Ghibli style that animation lovers take for granted. A master of monsters, vehicles and the observation of physics, Otsuka helped create crumbling architecture and scrambling heroes familiar to the modern eye.
His work became the subject of a Ghibli documentary, 2004’s Yasuo Otsuka’s Joy of Motion, and a book, Sweating over Animation.