One of last week's questions from the question box was "What exactly is the relationship between Miyazaki and Takahata? Who is who's sempai? Who is cooler?" The CJAS executive board has so kindly given me the permission to attempt to answer this question, so I'll do my best. Effort and Will! Aim for the Top!
A little bit of background first for those of you who might not be well acquainted with the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Miyazaki is widely known as the man responsible for such anime classics as Nausicaš, Porco Rosso, Laputa, Totoro, The Castle of Cagliostro, and my personal favorite, Kiki's Delivery Service. People also associate him with the Lupin TV series and Future Boy Conan. Miyazaki is considered among many to be "the Walt Disney of Japan" due to the consistently high quality of the anime he is involved with, which he is often the director.
Isao Takahata is perhaps less well-known than Miyazaki, but his works are also considered to be anime classics. Among his more famous works are Omoide Poro Poro, Ponpoko, and Grave of the Fireflies. Takahata's movies are generally considered to be more serious and introspective than the average Miyazaki movie. Personally, I think Takahata's films are often "deeper" than those of Miyazaki. It's their personal styles, I guess. Miyazaki has a story of a boy and a girl in search of a castle in the sky, whereas Takahata has a story of a boy and his sister trying desperately to survive in wartime Japan.
Many American anime fans seem to have the misconception that Miyazaki is Takahata's sempai (senior). Others even believe that Miyazaki is Takahata's sensei (teacher). Well, the question is now answered. Miyazaki is not Takahata's sensei nor sempai. The best way to describe their relationship is that they are contemporaries. In the strictest sense, however, Takahata is Miyazaki's sempai.
Takahata has been in the anime business since 1961, working as an assistant director of several TV anime shows. He had his first job as a full director in 1964, when he directed several episodes of Wolf Boy Ken. Miyazaki began his work in anime in 1963 as an in-betweener. Like Takahata, he started off doing TV anime. Miyazaki is also credited with being in charge of key animation for several series between 1964 and 1971. Miyazaki met Takahata in 1965, when they both worked on Prince of the Sun, a feature film. Miyazaki was in charge of key animation. Takahata was the director. The two became friends at this time. In 1971, Takahata and Miyazaki co-directed about a dozen episodes of the Lupin III TV series.
Takahata directed many of the anime that Miyazaki worked on in a lesser capacity, especially during the 60's and 70's, including such shows as Panda Cub (considered the precursor to Totoro) and Heidi: Girl of the Alps.
Takahata and Miyazaki became partners and have often worked together since then. Takahata produced both Nausicaš and Laputa. In turn, Miyazaki produced Omoide Poro Poro and Ponpoko. Studio Ghibli is often associated with the works of both men. Studio Ghibli was created to produce Laputa, but has continued to put out movies by Miyazaki, Takahata, and others. Studio Ghibli is not exclusively "Miyazaki's studio," as some believe.
These two anime greats are good friends, and their company (in which they are partners) is called Nibariki (Two Horse Powers). Both together and independently, they have created some of the most memorable anime ever. As to who is cooler, that all depends on your personal taste. I'm partial to Takahata because I think Omoide Poro Poro is the greatest [I do too -Ed.], but Miyazaki is cool, too. It doesn't really matter too much, though. With this pair, you can't go wrong.
[12/2/04 Update: For further articles by Lawrence Eng, see his anime page.]