The Tale of Princess Kaguya (impressions)

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This page lists information about reviews and articles related to the film The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

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Asahi Shimbun

20 November 2013

Takahata says his latest anime movie pushes boundaries

By Atsushi Ohara

Studio Ghibli Inc.'s remaining anime giant Isao Takahata says his latest and possibly last movie pushes the boundaries of animation technique.

"Kaguyahime no Monogatari" (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) took the 78-year-old Takahata eight years to make. It will be released in theaters across Japan on Nov. 23.

It comes on the heels of the recent announcement by Hayao Miyazaki, 72, the other master animator who made Studio Ghibli internationally famous, that he was retiring from full-length film making.

What differentiates "Kaguyahime no Monogatari" from other of Takahata's works is his reliance on incorporating some of the rough pencil sketch lines in the final animation cels. It is his first feature-length movie in 14 years.

"I believe we have been able to achieve our goal of trying out a new form of expression," Takahata said. "I feel that this work pushes animation forward."

Unlike past animation movies that had uniform outlines and colors, the lines occasionally become blurred and some spaces are not colored in his latest work. Takahata explored a similar approach in his previous feature-length film "My Neighbors the Yamadas."

"I wanted to create illustrations that had the feel of a quick sketch that incorporated the coloring schemes that first came to my mind (when drawing them)," Takahata explained. "I wanted to take advantage of the power of the vigorous lines drawn by animators and felt that reality would be better expressed through rough sketches rather than detailed drawings. I think viewers will be able to feel the 'authenticity' that lies beyond the lines by stimulating their imaginations and stirring their memories."

Takahata has always been known for the amount of thought he puts into expressing his visions on screen. That may be one reason it took so long to complete "Kaguyahime no Monogatari."

Considering his age and the time needed to complete the feature-length work, the film may turn out to be Takahata's final piece.

The script for the movie was based on the classic Japanese folk tale "Taketori Monogatari" (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter). It is about a girl born from a bamboo tree who grows up to become a beautiful princess. However, she rejects all marriage proposals and in the end decides to return to the moon with an escort who has been tasked with bringing her home.

While the animation movie follows the general plot of the original folk tale, it also includes Takahata's own take on why the princess came to Earth in the first place.

He said he originally came up with the idea in his 20s, and made it the starting point for the movie.

"The moon is a problem-free world that is too perfect," Takahata said. "But for the princess, the Earth is an even more attractive place due to its imperfections and the fact it is full of life and color."

Like his past works, such as "Heidi, Girl of the Alps" and "Omoide Poroporo," which went by the English title "Only Yesterday," Takahata once again stressed the landscapes and lifestyle found in rural settings in his latest movie.

However, the illustrations in "Kaguyahime" are drawn in light colors. The characters in the movie are sketched in a similar manner.

"Kaguyahime no Monogatari" cost 5 billion yen ($50 million) to make, an unheard-of figure for a Japanese movie, be it animated or live action.

"While I do not think about money when I am actually producing a work, the only problem that remains after completion is how to recover all the costs," Takahata said.

As for his younger colleague's retirement announcement, Takahata said he is not completely convinced:

"I hold no responsibility for the future of Ghibli and do not know how things will turn out," Takahata said. "However, although Hayao Miyazaki said he was retiring, I feel there is the possibility that could change. I feel that way because I have worked with him for a very long time. So I don't want people to be surprised if that is what happens."

Los Angeles Times

21 October 2014

Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli surfaces with 'Tale of Princess Kaguya'

By Mark Olsen

For many fans of Japanese animation, the name Studio Ghibli has become synonymous with the fantastic worlds and deeply felt emotions of director Hayao Miyazaki. This is, in part, because Miyazaki's founding partner in the studio, Isao Takahata, went 14 years without making a feature film.

With "The Tale of Princess Kaguya," playing now in Los Angeles, Takahata, who turns 79 on Oct. 29, has returned with a film both light and heavy, with its delicate, painterly look supporting an emotional intensity.

In the time since his previous film, Takahata has not simply sat still. Among other projects, he has published numerous books, including a survey of historical animation and one on fine art.

"I'm quite a dilettante," he during a recent phone call from Tokyo. "I like all kinds of things."

Takahata first had the idea for the film decades ago, and that exacting, unhurried sense of curiosity and exploration comes through in the film. The project took eight years of recent work from start to finish with its hand-drawn images by the Studio Ghibli team and assistance from computers for backgrounds and animation.

"In order to really understand where Studio Ghibli is coming from, I think you really have to be familiar with Takahata's films as well as Miyazaki's," said Dave Jesteadt, director of distribution at GKIDS, which is releasing "Princess Kaguya." The company has put out numerous Studio Ghibli titles and will also be releasing "The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness," a documentary on the making of Miyazaki's recent "The Wind Rises," by the end of the year.

"If Studio Ghibli is your favorite band, then Takahata has the deep cuts from the back catalog," Jesteadt said. "And it presents a really interesting contrast to some of the films people are familiar with when they think of Ghibli."

"The Tale of Princess Kaguya" is drawn from a 10th century Japanese folk tale known as "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter." In the film, a poor rural man who makes his living cutting bamboo discovers a small baby girl growing inside a stalk. Though the girl is said to be from the Kingdom of the Moon, the man and his wife raise her as their child. As she grows, she rebuffs many wealthy suitors, holding out hope to be with a local boy she knows from her youth, until she is eventually torn away from her Earth-bound life and family and forced to return to her otherworldly home.

The film opened in Japan at the end of last year and went on to the Cannes Film Festival before playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, and has been met internationally by near-universal critical acclaim. The Times' Kenneth Turan hailed it as "a parable about what matters in life and what does not." While calling the film "a staggering masterpiece," critic Glenn Kenny, writing at RogerEbert.com, called the film "both very simple and head-spinningly confounding, a thing of endless visual beauty… a true work of art."

The look of the film has generated just as much talk as the storytelling, with an organic flowing quality that is for many reminiscent of the soft colors and fluid, impressionistic images of watercolor painting.

"I wanted to give life to the line," Takahata said regarding the film's distinctively ephemeral look, an extension of techniques he first explored with his previous feature, 1999's "My Neighbors the Yamadas."

"Well, certainly I have no word to describe the style that I use. I don't have a name for it," he added. "Even with watercolors, there are many styles, so I wouldn't want to label it as watercolor.

"Of course it helps to have very well-drawn features, but what I like to have come from the film is the feeling of the moment, the feeling of the characters. So in this film of ours, we used lines and forms that are not maybe completely finished, but my whole intent was to really convey the feeling of that moment, of that story."

Though it may seem unusual that Takahata is dismissive of his own abilities to draw, he is quick to note that Walt Disney did not draw on his most famous films. "If you want to make an animated film from your own drawings, I think you would become very narrow and limited by your own style and abilities. The role of the director is to gather very talented people, and to direct his vision."

In a documentary made for Japanese television on the making of "Princess Kaguya," Takahata is captured barely pausing from his own work to watch a broadcast of the news conference at which Miyazaki, an Oscar winner for "Spirited Away," announced his retirement. Miyazaki may be better known — he is receiving an honorary Oscar at this year's Governors Awards — but it is the push-and-pull of the long relationship between him and Takahata that has allowed them both to achieve greatness.

"I have said that Hayao Miyazaki's retirement announcement shouldn't be a surprise," Takahata said. "I still have hopes for him, that he can perhaps make another film. I really want him to."

Though Miyazaki, 73, declared "The Wind Rises" his last film, the older Takahata feels no such compulsion. Their differing approaches to the twilight of their careers underscore how, even though the pair may be great friends and colleagues — they have known each other more than 50 years — they are very different as filmmakers. Takahata's work is marked by a moodiness that is in contrast to Miyazaki's sense of wonder. There is also perhaps some sense of competition fueling their work.

"I don't want to say that I want to retire or that I have retired," Takahata said. "I still have films that I might want to make, but there's a reality of whether I can make them or not at my age. I'm very fortunate to work with very talented people, and I certainly don't plan on retiring and don't want to say that I am retired."

The fervent fandom around Studio Ghibli could be seen last summer when comments from a news conference in Japan by producer Toshio Suzuki were misunderstood in translation to mean that Studio Ghibli was closing. (It's not.) Yet the outpouring of concern and emotion over the possibility created an uproar.

Now, they have much to cheer with at least this one more film from the quiet master of Takahata. With rave reviews, the film looks to be competitive in the race for the animated feature Oscar.

"If this happens to be his last film," said Jesteadt, "I think everyone involved just feels like this is a wonderful, amazing masterpiece of a film, one of the best films we've been fortunate enough to release. To be involved in any way is incredibly special."

The Wrap

5 September 2014

Toronto Debuts of ‘Song of the Sea and ‘Princess Kaguya’ Heat Up Oscar Animation Race

Two films from American distributor GKIDS showcase novel approaches from Ireland and Japan

By Steve Pond

[...]

But some smaller films are also in the running this year, and American distributor GKIDS brought two of them to Toronto in advance of their qualifying runs. Both have some Oscar pedigree: “Song of the Sea” is from the Irish director Tomm Moore, responsible for the 2010 nominee “The Secret of Kells,” while “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” comes from Studio Ghibli, which has been nominated for two of founder Hayao Miyazaki‘s films and won for “Spirited Away” in 2002.

[...]

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” which premieres Friday, may be a harder sell to voters – not because it isn't worthy, but because its deliberate storytelling rhythms and two-hour-and-17-minute running time could hurt it with animation viewers accustomed to snappier work.

The latest film from Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese animation company headed by recently-named honorary Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki, “Princess Kaguya” comes from director Isao Takahata, whose previous films include “Grave of the Fireflies” and “My Neighbors the Yamadas.” He is now 78, and he has said this will be his final feature film – just as Miyazaki did after making “The Wind Rises” last year.

Like “The Wind Rises,” it is a fitting summation, elegiac and concerned with the passage of time. Based on the Japanese folktale that goes by the name “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” it focuses on a tiny princess found by a cutter when she emerges from a bamboo shoot; she turns into a baby, then matures quickly into a young woman whose beauty attracts a bevy of highborn suitors.

Takahata specializes in watercolors and charcoal drawings, and he initially tells his story in muted colors before the film becomes more vibrant. The look is gorgeous if understated, the rhythms slow, with the film reaching a visual and emotional peak in its final half hour.

The most rapturous sequence involves flying – as “The Wind Rises” showed last year, something about flight brings out the best in Studio Ghibli.

The story eventually circles back to a development we'd seen coming for at least an hour, though Takahata refuses to tidy up his folktale source the way so many American animated features have done. Instead, thankfully, “Princess Kaguya” is a reminder that folklore can be dark and sad and mournful, too.

And while you won't find dark and sad and mournful in the logline of too many Oscar animation nominees, even cartoons could do with a little nicely-drawn tragedy every so often.

Yomiuri Shimbun

29 November 2013

The heart of a moon maiden / Anime auteur takes new look at ancient tale

By Takashi Kondo

What is the truth behind Kaguyahime, or Princess Kaguya?

In his first film in 14 years—“Kaguyahime no Monogatari” (The Tale of Princess Kaguya), director Isao Takahata attempts to uncover the hidden story behind the Japanese fairy tale “Taketori Monogatari” (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter).

Turning his back on the prevailing use of realistic images in films today, the anime film master dared to use more organic freehand forms of visual expression.

Dating back to the Heian period (794-1192), “Taketori Monogatari” is Japan’s oldest narrative literature.

Takahata said he came up with the idea of dramatizing the classic work about 55 years ago, when he was working for Toei Doga (currently Toei Animation Co.). The company proposed the idea of producing an anime film based on the story by master director Tomu Uchida, and all the employees were asked to submit a plan.

The story centers on a baby girl who emerges from a mysterious glowing stalk of bamboo. She grows into a beautiful woman who receives marriage proposals from a number of noblemen but rejects all their advances. Then one day, a special messenger arrives to take her back to the moon, her original home.

The original story’s simplicity made Takahata curious.

He wondered: “Why did Kaguyahime come to Earth and return to the moon?”

In the original story, Kaguyahime talks about a “promise in the past,” suggesting that she came to Earth based on a promise she made while living on the moon.

“I thought I’d be able to depict the true story of Princess Kaguya [if I could explain the reason],” Takahata said.

He didn’t end up submitting his plan, but his determination to “tell the story behind Princess Kaguya” lived on.

“The original story certainly describes Princess Kaguya’s emotions, but its descriptions are not sufficient. She does not seem to have human feelings in most parts of the story, but as she is about to leave Earth to return to the moon, she suddenly reveals her emotions,” Takahata said. “It didn’t sit right with me. I think other people also felt this way, and it might be why they don’t find the story interesting. This is what made me start thinking about producing what I consider the ‘right story’ based on my own interpretation.”

Finally completed more than half a century since the director first came up with the idea, the film depicts a princess “who adores the Earth that is filled with diverse colors and inhabited with various animals and plants” but who is later “unable to fully rejoice in life although she is now living on Earth.”

“The world blesses us with various things, and how wonderful it is to live while rejoicing in such blessings”—the idea Takahata puts in the story of Princess Kaguya has much in common with one of his earlier works, “Heidi, A Girl of the Alps,” a TV anime program first broadcast in 1974.

"Heidi, who grows up surrounded by nature in the Alps, has a hard time after going to the city, but she feels free after returning to the mountains. Similarly, Princess Kaguya has to return to the moon after she moves to the city. Nothing has changed,” Takahata said.

Takahata designed the film to allow the audience to share the process of uncovering the truth behind the well-known story along with the production team. The director chose to use sketch-style images in the film with this intention in mind.

“With sketches, you draw elements you want to add at that moment, but you don’t include other elements you decide you don’t need. So, a sketch has the power to inspire its viewers to imagine a story behind it or interpret the work, in light of their own memories,” the director said.

Takahata believes that the strength and power of roughly drawn lines will produce “real” touches different from the “reality” achieved by the intricacy and stereoscopic effects of 3-D images.

“When you look at children’s pictures, you won’t be displeased even if they are poorly drawn. Rather, you feel encouraged to understand them as you try to find out what the children tried to draw. I’ve long wished to produce a film with such pictures,” Takahata said.

The film is produced by Studio Ghibli, which was cofounded by fellow anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki, who has announced his retirement as a director. But Takahata, who just turned 78, expressed his intention to create more works, saying “[I’ll make more] if there is the opportunity to do so.”

“Unlike Hayao Miyazaki, I don’t draw pictures myself. I’m sneaky because I give others a hard time by letting them draw pictures. As long as I have the energy, I will probably feel like producing more works.”

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