Japanese news site Mainichi reported that Studio Ghibli colour designer Michiyo Yasuda passed away from an undisclosed illness on October 5th. She was 77. Yasuda spent a long career with Ghibli as chief of the ink and paint division, joining for pre-Ghibli feature Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Before that she worked at Toei Doga, which became Toei Animation in 1998, where she first met Ghibli co-founders Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki and worked with them on the 1968 film Horus, Prince of the Sun (The Little Norse Prince).
Yasuda would come to work for Ghibli for 30 years, contributing to classics such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl‘s Moving Castle. Though she retired after Ponyo was completed in 2008, she returned for 2013’s The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s final directorial work for Ghibli.
The Japan Movie Critics Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award-winner for 2011 was profiled by the LA Times when Ponyo was released in the US. “When I first saw Ponyo, I felt it was an attractive picture and also thought that Mr. Miyazaki was embarking on a new challenge in making this film,” Yasuda said. “I always get nervous and excited when a movie is finished, but I get happy too.”
Yasuda also describes her view of colour as an essential and powerful storytelling tool. “What I like best is when I am building up the colours in my head, thinking of how to get the tone worked out,” she says. “Colour has a meaning, and it makes the film more easily understood. Colours and pictures can enhance what the situation is on screen.” For Ponyo, when she chose her colours for the sea, she hoped “that the character of Ponyo, her true love, Sosuke, and the viewers would all see and feel the beauty of nature in the film.”
Yasuda’s husband, Mikio, and her close relatives will be holding a funeral service soon. May she rest in peace, and her loved ones find comfort in all the creations that put her wonderful gift on display.