The Tale of Princess Kaguya (reviews - page 1)

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Ain't It Cool News

19 September 2014

#FantasticFest 2014! Nordling Reviews Studio Ghibli's THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA!

By Nordling

Nordling here.

Studio Ghibli's THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is directed by Isao Takahata. I knew the name, but when my friend Samantha reminded me that he was also the director of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough, fifteen minutes in, the tears came, and they didn't really stop until about fifteen minutes after I left the movie. KAGUYA is yet another masterpiece by perhaps the greatest animated studio on the planet, but it's also one that rewards patience and attention. It's a beautifully animated film, full of the watercolor style of MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS (also directed by Takahata) but it's such a gorgeous color palette that the animation looks nothing but simple. The look, the score (by longtime Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi), the emotion, and the rich characters pull you in in the way that only a Studio Ghibli movie can.

KAGUYA is based on a well-known (and well-adapted) Japanese fairy tale, but Takahata builds upon the deceptively simple story to weave a tapestry that is intimate yet as large as life. When a bamboo cutter comes across a glowing bamboo stalk in the woods, a blooming plant opens up to reveal a forest spirit. When he brings it home to his wife, the wife takes it in her hands and it transforms to a human baby. The couple realize that the child is a special princess, sent straight from the gods, and as the child quickly grows, the bamboo cutter vows to give her the life of a princess, the life he feels she deserves. He finds more treasures in the bamboo - gold, cloth for sewing, and soon the bamboo cutter has created a name for himself and his family in the capital city. The princess misses her simpler life, and as she grows older, the freedom to do as she wishes clashes with her responsibilities as a princess and her gender role in Japan.

KAGUYA feels, oddly enough, more timely than ever. It's a very feminist movie, but it arrives at its message through empathy and its relationships, and not through blunt force. Our children are gifts, the film suggests, but we can misuse our gifts, or refuse to share them with the world. The princess is not a prize to be won, hidden away as tradition would suggest, and Kaguya chafes at her assigned role, yearning for the freedom she experienced as a child, when her family was poor. Her father, now rich and with influence (although the true aristocracy recognizes him as a Johnny-come-lately) truly believes he is doing the best he can for his daughter, even as the vise around her slowly tightens and takes away her dignity and her special nature. When her father realizes what he has done, it is one of the most emotionally powerful moments in the film, and it left me in tears. As a parent, I know what we think is best for our children may not coincide with what they wish to be, and what they wish to become. Kaguya's father realizes too late what he has done, and it affected me deeply.

THE TAKE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is a long film, and it takes its time. It luxuriates in its beautiful images, and spends time with its characters. The Studio Ghibli films have always had the uncanny ability to find goodness and relative commonalities in its characters - there are very few out-and-out villains in a Studio Ghibli movie, and THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is no exception. It's also a very funny movie, especially when Kaguya's suitors attempt to marry her, and her rebuffs, and their attempts to make it right, are very funny moments. There are adorable moments in the film, especially when Princess Kaguya is an infant, and I've always admired how Studio Ghibli's animators simply animate people moving, or walking, or reacting to their world. They tentatively explore their surroundings, and the artistry is present in every frame. It feels both real and magical at the same time, and the sumptuous look of THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA gives the audience something to marvel at during each moment.

There is deep sadness and regret in THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA, a regret that comes from loss and a failure to recognize the beauty around you until after it is gone. My daughter is a fan of many of the Studio Ghibli films, and while I'll happily show her this one, in a way, it will be an apology of sorts, because parents, no matter their intentions, mess up. We all screw up our kids in some way. We don't mean to. What is best and what we think is best are, often enough, not the same. In our fervor to secure something tangible and safe for our children, we can forget to pay attention to their journey as opposed to our own. THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is a wonderful tale for parents and children both, beautiful and sad, and any filmgoer who is a fan of Studio Ghibli should not miss it. This is one of their very best films.

Nordling, out.

Animation Scoop

15 October 2014

REVIEW: "The Tale of Princess Kaguya"

By Charles Solomon

With its delicate lines, understated palette and exquisite water color backgrounds, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya ranks among the loveliest animated features of recent years. The film is based on “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” a Japanese folk story so old, the 11th century novel “The Tale of Genji” cites it as “the ancestor of all romances.”

One day, Sanuki no Miyatsuko, a gentle old man who cuts bamboo to make into utensils, finds a tiny infant concealed in a bamboo shoot. He and his more level-headed wife lovingly care for the baby, who quickly grows into a young beauty. Using the gold he found in another bamboo shoot, Sanuki moves his family to the capitol. He’s convinced the girl is a princess who needs a formal name--Princess Kaguya (“Bamboo Princess”)--and a noble husband.

But Kaguya hates the mannered, artificial life of a noblewoman of the Heian period (794-1185 C.E.). She rebels against the tutoring of Lady Sagami, who attempts to teach her to walk, stand and sit formally, and to pluck her eyebrows and blacken her teeth (which was fashionable at the time). Instead of the simple cotton clothes that allowed her to run and climb in her native hamlet, she’s weighted down in layers of silk and brocade kimonos. She also misses Sutemaru, a character Takahata added to the story. A handsome, good-natured young peasant, he and Kaguya shared adventures and friendship in their rural village.

Although she fulfills her adopted father’s dream by attracting noble suitors, Kaguya rejects their offers of marriage, recognizing the flawed characters their exquisite manners conceal. Despite the efforts of Sanuki and the other mortals, Kaguya must eventually fulfill her destiny by returning to her true home, the moon. In the court of the Moon King, she will forget everyone and everything she knew on Earth.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a ravishingly beautiful film. The characters, who look like they were drawn with traditional ink brushes, are colored in delicate pastels. Instead of hyper realistic CG landscapes or fully realized paintings, the backgrounds suggest minimal watercolor sketches. A small of area of lavender may suggest the crest of a distant mountain or the petals of a flower, framed by empty white paper. Tale of Princess Kaguya

Like the other recent Studio Ghibli features, the animation is more polished than most Japanese films. Kaguya initially moves with the delightful clumsiness of a real infant. But as she learns aristocratic postures, she subtly swings her long sleeves to keep the layers of fabric correctly positioned. The grace of the animation makes the news about restructuring at Ghibli all the more worrisome: to break up the talented crew they’ve assembled would be a loss to the Studio and to the art of animation.

Princess Kaguya moves at a deliberate pace, very different from the whizz-bang tempo of American animation. Takahata breaks that measured rhythm once: When her frustration with the formal sterility of urban life overcomes her, Kaguya escapes to the village where she grew up, leaving a trail of torn finery in her wake. The animation is rougher, faster and more dynamic, reflecting the wretched Kaguya’s sense of imprisonment. Like a real-time gesture in a hypnotically slow Noh play, the escape sequence seems more exciting in contrast to the quieter movements surrounding it.

US audiences may grow impatient with the stately rhythm of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. But viewers who accept the film on its own terms will enjoy a rewarding viewing experience that reminds them just how protean and beautiful the art of animation can be.

Arizona Republic

23 October 2014

Review: 'Princess Kaguya' all that fairy tales should be

Isao Takahata's film is beautiful, tough and meaningful, everything a real fairy tale ought to be.

By Bill Goodykoontz

In a just world, stores would be stocking Princess Kaguya swag, and little girls would be wearing the T-shirts and toting the lunch boxes and playing the inevitable video game.

"The Tale of Princess Kaguya" certainly deserves that kind of attention. It's the best kind of fairy tale — tough, deep and meaningful, with a heroine who stays true to herself in spite of shallow temptations.

Man, she's never going to be a Disney Channel star.

The film is directed by Isao Takahata, who co-founded the legendary Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki. It is gorgeous, hand-drawn, like a watercolor come to glorious life.

The story is based on "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," a 10th-century Japanese folk tale. It begins with the bamboo cutter in the forest, doing his job, when a light shoots up from a plant. There he finds a tiny girl, so small he can hold her in his palm. He takes her home to his wife, and immediately the girl begins to grow. She's a baby for a time, then a toddler, then a young girl. Obviously, there is something special about her.

The neighbor kids nickname her "Little Bamboo," but her father calls her princess. And one day, back in the woods, he gets a chance to make the name fit. He cuts a bamboo stalk and gold pours out. Fabric falls from the sky. He takes this to mean that he must move his family to the city, where Kaguya, as she's now called, can become a real princess.

The problem is Kaguya is at home in the woods, not surprisingly. She loves it there, and loves the children she romps around with. She is the freest of spirits, and the idea of moving to the city is suffocating.

But move they do, and she sabotages comically inept attempts to turn her into a proper lady. But she is truly magical — she can horse around while she's supposed to be learning to play a musical instrument, then frustrate her teacher by picking it up and playing it perfectly.

To her father's delight, five princes arrive, seeking her hand in marriage. Kaguya will have none of it. But, knowing that to refuse them will shame her family, she outsmarts them (and everyone else).

Occasionally the pressure of being a princess proves too much, and she sneaks back to the forest she came from. There is a longing in her, to be free of the shackles of proper society, to live her life as she sees fit, that she finds impossible to satisfy in a place she knows she doesn't fit in.

The film is decidedly patient (and long); some might find the length and pacing boring. But stick with it. Takahata trusts his young audience enough to handle an ending that is definitely not Disney-fied, and the tale is so much richer for it. Maybe it is a just world after all. Kids outgrow T-shirts and get tired of video games. But this story has lived for centuries, and if "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" is any indication, it will continue to.

Arts Hub

6 October 2014

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Splendour springs from simplicity as the latest animated feature from Studio Ghibli evokes empathy, elegance and earnestness.

By Sarah Ward

With delicate pencil-thin lines and careful splashes of pastel watercolour, The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguyahime no monogatari) comes to the screen as the sum of humble parts. Absent the glossy computer-generated sheen that marks most modern animated efforts, it transforms the unassuming into the affecting, one hand-drawn frame after another. In Isao Takahata’s first Studio Ghibli effort since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas, it is the elemental and earthy that echoes. Splendour springs from simplicity as the film evokes empathy, elegance and earnestness.

It is The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter that The Tale of Princess Kaguya adapts, dating back to the 10th century to be considered the oldest Japanese story still in existence. The material’s two titles give rise to its main characters: the plant-felling farmer, Okina (Takeo Chii, TV’s Kansatsui Shinomiya Hazuki), toiling away in the forest to provide for his wife, Ona (Nobuko Miyamoto, Amachan), and the diminutive girl he finds secreted away in a shining stalk of bamboo. Okina dubs the child Princess (Aki Asakura, Nemureru mori no jukujo), and under his care she blossoms so fast that it defies belief. Maturing into a kind, caring young woman, she is at home in her rural surroundings and never happier than when frolicking with youthful hunter, Sutemaru (Kengo Kora, Roommate), and his friends.

When Okina stumbles upon a bounty of gold and silk in the same section of the forest, he becomes convinced that his adopted daughter is destined for bigger and better things. Determined to lift her fortunes as well as his own, he arranges her training in the mannerisms needed to be deemed a noblewoman, seeks five suitors to take her hand in marriage, and anoints her with the name Kaguya. Word spreads of the Princess’ loveliness, yet the life before her is not the one she covets. Her efforts are spent defying duty and resisting the restrictions enforced by the men in her orbit.

From its endearing opening, The Tale of Princess Kaguya’s aesthetic discretion quickly proves breathtakingly appropriate: for its company of origin, even if the feature looks little like other Ghibli works, and for a film steeped in finding fulfilment by following the plainest, purest path. As conveyed through expressive animation, the feature actively immerses viewers into the mindset of its protagonist, from her relishing of an ordinary life she loves, to her rallying against the enforcement of social-climbing luxury – and including spectacular dream sequences that speak to her inner vibrancy.

Wrestling with a passion project so engrained that Takahata once worked on an aborted version over half a century ago, the writer/director and his co-scribe Riko Sakaguchi (The Little Maestro) revel in an oft-told narrative not of outlandish occurrences but of accepting one’s true nature. From Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina to family fantasy feature The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the impact of children sprouted from non-traditional sources is a common narrative – and though The Tale of Princess Kaguya tells of the lessons learned by those she touches, it is never anything other than the rebellious titular character’s story.

Despite magical flourishes that seem headed for standard fairytale territory, it is the subversion of typical depictions that the soft and dreamy film celebrates. The movie’s muse, the girl of its moniker, is more than just a catalyst for change in those around her, fighting against the compliance traditionally required of her gender and station. Her independence and influence within the world of the story is unmistakable, but it is her symbolism that engages as much as the details of the glacially paced, episodic account of her life. Reflectively and with resonance, she challenges the prevailing view that her status as a woman from rural surroundings is anything other than desirable, in keeping with Studio Ghibli’s favoured feminist and environmentalist themes.

Accordingly, The Tale of Princess Kaguya assembles its modest components – leisurely yet lively animation, a mixture of myth and meditation in narrative, and a suitably sweet and wistful score from Joe Hisaishi (The Wind Rises) – into an equally touching and thoughtful filmic fable. The feature is rumoured to be Takahata’s last after a career that has also wrought Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko, and if that proves true, by adding yet another gorgeous, graceful and gentle allegory to his oeuvre, he ends in fine fashion.

Austin Chronicle - Marjorie Baumgarten

31 October 2014

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

By Marjorie Baumgarten

Stunningly beautiful, the latest animated film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli is a real work of art. The hand-drawn film by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbors the Yamadas), the legendary studio’s co-founder with Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), is based on a well-known 10th century Japanese folk story, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” This folk tale about a magical child has even been cited by some scholars as an early and elegant work of science fiction. However, it’s also possible to bypass all this baggage and just approach The Tale of Princess Kaguya as the gorgeous and expressive film that it is.

Using minimal lines and a visual style and coloring modeled after Japanese watercolors, the film reaches its greatest glory when capturing motion. The motions appear lifelike and emotionally charged, and the pastels present a stark contrast to the harder look we associate with the majority of modern anime. Almost any frame of the movie can be excised and placed on a wall for continual viewing pleasure: It’s that lovely.

The story opens as an aging bamboo cutter discovers a miniature princess in a glowing bamboo stalk and, cupping the strange creature in his hands, brings her home to his wife, whereupon the tiny figure morphs into a human baby they call Kaguya. From there, the infant grows in rapid, unearthly spurts, while playing with her friends (who call her “L’il Bamboo”) and remaining the apple of her adopted parents’ eyes. When the bamboo cutter later finds gold coins and exquisite cloths in the base of another bamboo shoot, it’s little wonder that he takes it as a sign he should move the family to the city and raise little Kaguya as a princess. At first resistant, the spritely young woman eventually kowtows to her lessons in restrictive womanhood, and multiple suitors come courting. Eventually, Kaguya discovers what she was meant to do with her life, even though it takes her away from the people she loves.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is screening in a kid-friendly dubbed version during the daytime and the subtitled original in the evenings. Although I’ve only seen the subtitled version, I can recommend the film’s suitability for young viewers, but do note that its themes and uncompromising ending render it a hard PG. It’s a little too complex for the littler tots, and even the older ones might get a bit squirmy due to the two-hour-plus run time, but girls, especially, should be receptive to the story’s fairy-tale qualities in which a child grows to young womanhood while discovering the reasons why she rejects all her suitors and has always had a nagging sense of not belonging to her surroundings. Princess Kaguya belongs in the film-princess pantheon.

Austin Chronicle - Marc Savlov

21 September 2014

Fantastic Fest 2014: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

From the bamboo grove to the moon

By Marc Savlov

Coming of age stories are all over Fantastic Fest this year but only this breathtakingly lovely offering from Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli (My Neighbor Totoro) is fit for both hardcore anime fans and family viewing.

But that’s the norm for Ghibli’s co-founder and animation godhead Hayao Miyazaki. If anything, this film, based on an ancient Japanese legend, is gentler and more subdued than the frenetic delights of Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and last year’s controversialThe Wind Rises. That may have something to do with the fact that the now-retired Miyazaki isn’t the one directing here. Instead, Studio Ghibli’s other co-founder, Isao Takahata, has the helm, and the result is a whimsical tale shot through with elements of girl power, Japanese patriarchy versus the (female) individual, and parenting gone wild. It’s also by far the finest example of traditional animation you’re likely to see this year.

Aki Asakura voices the titular princess, who is discovered one day hiding in a magical — or holy, maybe — bamboo shoot by a lowly woodcutter. Naturally the old man sees the tiny nymph as a blessing from heaven and promptly, carefully, carries her out of the woods and back home in his cupped hands. His wife is as astonished as he is, but when she takes the tiny thing into her arms, the princess suddenly transforms into a real, live baby. The hardworking oldsters then proceed to raise the infant as their own, with the woodcutter always bearing in mind that the little thing was born to be a woman of great nobility — any nobility will do, apparently — one day. With an assist from the magical bamboo grove, the woodcutter discovers yet another miracle: a river of gold sap flows out of a matured bamboo tree when he swings his ax. Presto, this heroic (sort of) trio are off to the city, and before long the princess is pining for the peasant boy she used to frolic with and dreading the day she will be married off to the highest bidding, noble born scalawag. It’s enough to make a girl cry.

The story is ancient and the animation is, too, beautifully and evocatively so. Takahata and Ghibli’s animation wizards conjure up an entire world seemingly torn from a children’s hand-painted picture book. The artwork is muted and pastoral, all soothing brushstrokes and long-ago imagery. Virtually every frame could be snipped out of the film, enlarged, and hung on a wall. It’s that gorgeous.

Only in one decidedly awesome sequence does Takahata resort to the kind of wild, hellbent, speed-lined animation style of more contemporary anime. Appropriately, it’s as the princess escapes from her palace and flees headlong across the screen, running at full speed, as she attempts to outrun her future and escape into the relative normalcy of her old bamboo grove. For the most part, however, the Ghibli team are content to let their more painterly ways set the tone. It’s nothing like what you might be expecting from the studio that gave us Kiki’s Delivery Service, and because of that the The Tale of Princess Kaguya is even more resplendent and affecting than ninety-nine percent of any other animation out there right now.

Boston Globe

13 November 2014

The glowing ‘Tale of the Princess Kaguya’

By Ty Burr

Even casual fans of animation know that Hayao Miyazaki is the wizard of Japan’s Studio Ghibli and one of the all-time masters of his art. Fewer are aware of his long-time colleague Isao Takahata, cofounder of Ghibli, whose films tend toward realism while Miyazaki’s bend toward the surreal. Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988), a startlingly harsh tale of childhood suffering during World War II, is a little-seen classic that may be the most somber animated film ever made.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” then, comes as a surprise from this filmmaker. It’s a gentle epic, based on a 10th-century Japanese folk tale, that uses pencils, ink, and impressionistic washes of color to convey a glowing visual otherworld, one that stands in contrast both to Takahata’s earlier work and the hard-edged lines and bright tones of much anime.

An elderly bamboo cutter (voiced by Takeo Chii) discovers a magic baby in a stalk of bamboo and brings her home to his wife (Nobuku Miyamoto), who raises her as their own. The girl grows quickly — a fresh spurt each time she laughs or cries — and soon has a gaggle of friends with whom she runs wild, the eldest (and most handsome) of which is Sutemaru (Kenji Koru). But the bamboo cutter has ambitions and brings his wild child to the capital, where he has her made over into a lady, dubs her Princess Kaguya (Aki Asakura), and offers her up to the noble class as a bride. The girl resists but soon has her eyebrows plucked and teeth blackened in the accepted fashion. An array of princes and ministers praise her looks and offer rare and mythical treasures. Fine, she says, go bring them to me.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” has moments of wry humor but mostly it is about beauty, nature, and loss. A mysterious song occasionally bubbles up in the princess, about birds, beasts, and bugs, trees, flowers, and plants, and the feeling is that wherever she came from is a place far more in tune with the rhythms of the universe than our worldly sphere. Toward the end, after she has spurned the callow young emperor himself (Nakamura Schichinosuke II), she sadly tells her adopted father “The happiness you wished for me was hard to bear.”

If there’s a message here about the foolhardiness of parental expectations, it fades away in the face of the film’s rapturous visuals. Takahata is one of the few animation directors who’s not an artist himself, so “Princess Kaguya” owes much to longtime Ghibli animators Osamu Tanabe (who drew the characters) and Kazuo Oga (who handles the art). They create a surpassingly delicate landscape full of space and light, with debts to classic Japanese printmaking and watercolors and a background hum of Buddhist art that becomes more pronounced in the final scenes.

Yet the film’s tone — the sense of characters grasping to hold on to innocence as the civilized world whisks it away — is all Takahata. At 2 hours and 17 minutes, none of them boring, “Princess Kaguya” may be too lengthy for the youngest audiences, and the lack of a Disneyesque happy ending may cause long silences, if not tears, when the lights come up. On the other hand, this is one of those rare children’s stories that acknowledges emotions — sorrow, melancholy, yearning — the grown-ups are usually too scared to bring up. It’s the sort of incandescent experience that may bloom in a child’s mind for the rest of his or her life.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is showing at the Apple Cinemas in Cambridge in two versions. The Japanese-language original with English subtitles plays in the evenings, while an English-language dub, featuring the voices of Chlöe Moretz as Kaguya, and James Caan and Mary Steenburgen as the bamboo cutter and his wife, screens during the daytime. Only the subtitled version was available for review. Either is among the most transporting visual experiences you will have this year.


5 September 2014

The Twilight Of Studio Ghibli Births Two New Films

Hayao Miyazaki may have retired, but a new doc about his company offers an unprecedented look at how he worked. Meanwhile, Ghibli’s latest animated release turns an old folktale into something truly epic.

By Alison Willmore

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

In August, rumors swirled that Studio Ghibli, the seminal Japanese animation studio responsible for classics like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away, was shutting down its feature film department. The world mourned, but it wasn’t actually true. Co-founder Toshio Suzuki later clarified that the company was only planning on taking a pause in production, but the more dramatic version of this news had already spread like wildfire. It was an announcement plenty of Ghibli followers had been expecting since the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki last year.

Studio Ghibli has produced movies from other directors, but for most people the name is inextricably tied to Miyazaki, to My Neighbor Totoro, to Princess Mononoke, to a landmark career in making animation that, while mostly aimed at children, has thrilled adults as well. In 2013, Miyazaki premiered what he labeled his last feature, The Wind Rises, a pensive movie about a conflicted aircraft designer whose planes are used during World War II. It received plenty of acclaim, but also felt like an end — what was Ghibli without the creative genius at its core, and without a successor to take his place?

The two Ghibli movies playing at the Toronto International Film Festival this year don’t answer that question, but present evidence that the studio’s key figures are far more caught up in contemplating this pivotal and possibly last phase in the existence of the studio than anyone in the audience. One is a documentary about the production of The Wind Rises that gives an unprecedented look into Miyazaki’s process, and the other is the final film from Isao Takahata, Ghibli’s third co-founder and a man even more reclusive than his better-known collaborator.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a geekily in-depth but not overly reverential doc that will probably bore non-Ghibli acolytes silly. But for fans, Mami Sunada’s film is like getting ushered backstage during a show by a legendary magician. The movie, which has been picked up for a yet-unspecified U.S. release by GKIDS, peers into the studio’s headquarters, located in a suburb of Tokyo, as if it’s an enchanted realm. That’s the way it’s first shot — in glimpses of carved wood, an atrium with floor-to-ceiling windows, stained glass, vines curling around the side of the building, and a lounging cat. But past that is the cluttered, highly trafficked space in which the animators, producers, lawyers, and marketers actually work, and Sunada doesn’t romanticize the creative process at the expense of also showing Ghibli as a business that’s kept afloat by hard work and financial maneuvering.

Miyazaki, who’s 72 years old at the time of filming, is almost never seen without his trusty apron. Twinkly and energetic, he resembles Geppetto presiding over his workshop — but that grandfatherly demeanor belies the frequently devastating observations he lets fly. He casually refers to animation and designing airplanes as “cursed dreams,” saying moviemaking is basically just a “grand hobby.” “Maybe there was a time when you could make films that mattered, but now?” he muses. Discussing broadcasting partner NHK’s increasing restrictions on what they’re able to do, he claims, “The days of creative freedom are ending… In a sense, what we managed to do for 50 years is all coming to an end.”

There’s no need to be apocalyptic about Ghibli’s future, or Japan’s — Miyazaki has enough of a resigned sense of doom for anyone. Asked while standing on the greened roof that’s his frequent retreat whether he’s worried about the studio’s future, he calmly states, “The future is clear. It’s going to fall apart. I can already see it. What’s the use worrying? It’s inevitable. ‘Ghibli’ is just a random name I got from an airplane. It’s only a name.” Despite the fascinating details about the history of the company, the look at the process of the film getting made — from storyboarding to voice acting to press conference — and the intense glimpse of a meeting with son and reluctant animator Goro, Miyazaki remains a vibrant but enigmatic figure, a tattered idealist standing at the edge of a cliff he’s sure is crumbling.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

We only see Isao Takahata for a few minutes toward the end of The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, though his presence is felt throughout the doc — he’s working on his own final film, which Ghibli initially planned to release at the same time as The Wind Rises. It didn’t quite work out, Takahata being terrible with budgets and schedules, but the resulting feature, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is finally getting released in U.S. theaters on Oct. 17. Takahata, who’s best known for Grave of the Fireflies and who produced Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, hasn’t made a feature since 1999. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one hell of a swan song, the kind of film that’s beautiful and whimsical and then just eviscerates you, and its themes of reluctantly letting go feel all the more powerful in light of Sunada’s doc.

Based on a 10th century Japanese folktale, The Tale of Princess Kaguya looks little like other Ghibli fare. Its designs are simple, like line drawings filled in with watercolors, giving it an unusual but gorgeously old-fashioned look. The story is one of a bamboo cutter who finds a girl in the forest he believes is a gift from heaven. He and his wife raise her in the country, until similarly discovered caches of gold and fine robes convince him his adoptive daughter’s intended for a fine existence in the capital.

The film slows in the middle, but the early sequences of the fast-growing princess going from giggling baby to irrepressible toddler to lithe young girl (to the delight and bemusement of her adoring parents) are joyous, a glimmering dream of a country life. It’s a feeling that’s revisited later with building urgency as Kaguya’s origins become clear, all of it summed up in an ecstatic sequence panning over the countryside that’s a whirlwind of love and regret, and one of the year’s cinematic high points.

The story of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, like most folktales, has its share of tragedy, but its final emotions are so much more complicated — ones about wasted time, about happiness, about controlling your own destiny. And it’s appropriate that, like The Wind Rises, The Tale of Princess Kaguya summons an indescribable mixture of emotions, some of them mournful. How do you top off a lifetime of work in animation? For Takahata, and for Miyazaki, it’s with films that are as wistful as they are beautiful.

Chicago Tribune

4 December 2014

Review: 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya'

By Michael Phillips

"Heaven must have sent her to me as a blessing," says the awestruck woodcutter who finds a sparrow-size infant nestled in a bamboo sprout in "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya."

The movie, too, feels heaven sent, or near enough. It is a commercial entity of huge appeal, yet it is the opposite of slam-bang entertainment on the order of "Frozen." Its appreciation of subtle earthly wonders — plum blossoms, birdsong, a child's laughter — has a way of resetting a moviegoer's internal rhythm to a calmer, more contemplative beat.

It comes from Japan's Studio Ghibli, makers of "Howl's Moving Castle" and so many other plaintive animated wonders. Studio Ghibli was co-founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and in his first directorial effort of the 21st century, the 79-year-old Takahata has adapted a 10th-century folk tale generally translated as "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."

The animation is a careful blend of pencil, ink, watercolorlike washes and splashes of color. When someone runs at top speed in a red kimono, the background is rendered in black and white and shades of gray; the kimono fluttering in the breeze captures your eye and holds it.

The magical wee infant becomes the adopted daughter of the old woodcutter (voiced by Takeo Chii) and his wife (Nobuku Miyamoto). When someone observes that the little girl grows "like bamboo," it's no joke: Her growth spurts are sudden, remarkable, magical events, brought on by laughter or tears.

The woodcutter brings his daughter (Aki Asakura), whom he calls Princess Kaguya, to the city, where she becomes the dream date for a series of bride-seeking noblemen. In turn, each praises the princess to the skies, likening her beauty to treasures and riches of various extravagances. The men receive assignments to find the rare treasures they speak of so flamboyantly. May the best man win. And yet it's clear none of these poseurs deserves her.

Shakespeare used that one, too, in "The Merchant of Venice." What makes "Princess Kaguya" stick in emotional terms? Its depiction of an extraordinary girl, learning for herself that a life without real joy and spontaneity is only a shadow of a life. The film's devotion to the cycle of the seasons, the birth and death of us all, guides the story to its transporting conclusion. It's a bit attenuated, and some segments of the American audience (which has proved relatively cool to the Ghibli output) may not take to Takahata's dreamy style.

Animator Osamu Tanabe was responsible for the character design; the overall art direction was executed by Kazuo Oga. Theirs is a shimmering pastel world, not a DayGlo experience. It's good for the soul, and composer Joe Hisaishi's themes are so right they sound as if they came straight out of the ground with the girl in the bamboo.

Christian Science Monitor

21 November 2014

'The Tale of Princess Kaguya' is a near masterpiece

'Kaguya,' an animated film from Japan's Studio Ghibli, is a marvel that is lyrical and heartbreaking in ways that most live-action movies never approach.

By Peter Rainer

The finest animated movies in the world consistently come from Japan’s Studio Ghibli, cofounded by the great Hayao Miyazaki and the far lesser-known (in the West) Isao Takahata, whose new film, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” is a near masterpiece.

Based on a venerable Japanese folk tale about a magical baby, found by a peasant in a bamboo shoot, who grows into a headstrong princess, this delicate, hand-drawn marvel is lyrical and heartbreaking in ways that most live-action movies never approach. Grade: A (Rated PG for thematic elements, some violent action, and partial nudity.)