The Tale of Princess Kaguya (reviews - page 3)

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

Reviews (continued)

Film School Rejects

20 September 2014

‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ is Studio Ghibli at Its Sweet, Epic Best

By Scott Beggs

One of the most impressive things about The Tale of Princess Kaguya is its dual nature as a delicate epic and a powerful slower burn that’s never dull. It’s like watching a feather turn to stone over two hours before being knocked down by it (and those who know Grave of the Fireflies won’t be surprised that Kaguya has that kind of strength). This is a fine followup for Isao Takahata, who brings a half-century of animated storytelling and the tearfully hopeful Fireflies legacy to this ancient folktale.

As the cultural ambassador for Japan, it’s fitting that Studio Ghibli is the one sharing “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” — the country’s oldest surviving narrative — on this scale with the rest of the world. The story features an older man who discovers a tiny princess growing out of a bamboo stalk, who he takes home and raises as his own daughter. He also finds a hefty amount of gold, which allows him and his wife to bring the little bambina to the city to grow up in a mansion as a proper lady. The princess, who spent her earliest days skinning her knees and climbing trees with close friends in the country, rebels at every turn.

Kaguya is never in a rush to tell its story, yet every scene is imbued with engaging interactions and mesmerizing artwork. Mixing watercolor and ink pad styles, it doesn’t look like the Ghibli movies that have become world renowned thanks to Miyazaki. It also doesn’t have the pressure point adventure that movies like Spirited Away feature, and if those Ghibli projects are basted in magical realism, Kaguya is only lightly, joyously peppered with it. All of that to say that this is a different brand of masterpiece — one that shares common themes with its studio siblings (nature vs industrialization; appreciation of sorrow and happiness as equal constituent parts of life) while offering a change of pace that proves we still have a lot to learn from the aging masters.

A major key to falling in love with the film is falling in love with Kaguya. She’s a gift from Heaven and a tourist who revels in fresh discovery, whether it’s stealing from the melon farmer with her childhood friends or torturing high class suitors as a young woman whose loveliness has become the stuff of rumor-passed legend. The heartbreak of caring so deeply for her is the recognition that her life is never her own, the her victories are carved out of a small corner of the room even when she’s subverting social expectations like a pro.

There’s nothing new or particularly fresh about the treatment of individual freedom as a virtue far surpassing social status, but [i]Kaguya[/i] (and Kaguya) approaches it with a pristine balance of tongue-in-cheek humor, rousing determinism and flourishing sadness. In that sense, this is the story of one life that’s told with all life in mind. It’s the embrace of the full spectrum of experiences that allows for the death of a nobleman to be curtly hilarious and a daughter hugging her mother to be rock-in-the-gut devastating. Kaguya’s adopted father can never see beyond his own dreams of wealth and the assumption that plucked eyebrows and courtly life are the height of satisfaction for “every” young woman, but she doesn’t want blackened teeth; she wants to smile.

As excellent as it is, I have to assume that parents will find it even more affecting. Kaguya is walking within the first days of her birth and standing as tall as her adolescent friends within a few months — giving a literal treatment to how fast kids grow up in the eyes of their moms and dads. Embedded in that fantasy, and in the story itself, is the great tragedy and triumph of our lives. Children don’t stay children forever.

Kaguya is born from classical elements, but it also cleverly shifts animation styles alongside its tones. When the princess furiously runs away from home, the soft focus gives way to raw, frantic line work. When we’re in the country, the visuals are practically dreamlike compared to the clarity of the expensive city.

This is a glorious film that shows the restraint and confidence of a veteran filmmaker. Sweet, sour and consistently entertaining, it’s a rare movie that only announces its presence in your heart once it has access to the strings.

The Upside: Beautiful, varied animation; a stirring look at every emotion; ridiculously lovable main character

The Downside: Slight drag once we get to the city

On the Side: Its 10th century source material is an example of proto-science fiction.

The Film Stage

23 May 2014

(Cannes 2014 Review) The Tale of Princess Kaguya

By Peter Labuza

In an era where the aesthetics of animation uphold the crafting of a stunning amount of detail into the image, one of the most genuine pleasures to be found in The Tale of Princess Kaguya — the first film by Studio Ghibli auteur Isao Takahata in fourteen years, and likely his last — is not that each frame bursts with multitudes of details, but with barely the minimum. It is often as if the colors of the background are unfinished, every shot like a brief sketch than something meticulously worked over. In an era where anime films seem to blend into each other aesthetically, Takahata’s impressions seems marvelously alive — its modesty in images makes them feel as if they’re being created before our very eyes.

It’s a shame, then, that a film created with such passion can also feel so impenetrable. Kaguya is based on a 10th-century folk story best known as “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” and it’s very much still a folktale. The film opens on a woodcutter who, one day, finds a tiny princess hidden inside a bamboo stalk. He takes it home to his wife, the tiny sleeping princess suddenly grows into a baby, and the wife’s breasts are suddenly ready for milking (the film can be surprisingly frank in its sexuality). Soon, they find gorgeous golden robes, realizing that this young child is destined to become a princess.

This is fascinating material for a director who has been labeled “the neo-realist of Anime” — a very peculiar phrase, if you think about it — with films like Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday to his name. It’s also very tricky in a way common to many folktales: the character of the princess — who goes from her young adventures in the forest to the rigorous world of the feudal city — remains psychologically cryptic. Her motivations appear to violently shift from scene to scene in many way. She hates the rigidity, but she’s excellent at it; she misses nature, but rejects it as soon as she return to it.

As a folktale, it’s easy to imagine “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” being a fantastically orated story. But, as a psychological medium, The Tale of Princess Kaguya has a narrative that moves without logical motivations, making it somewhat tough to find an entry point. The final third, which suddenly re-inserts the film’s more fantastical elements without any preparation, seems so divorced from the action which preceded it that I can only compare this film’s narrative to poetry, though not in a way resembling the Japanese Golden Age masters. (Some have compared Kaguya to the works of Mikio Naruse, however.)

Yet this is a picture with a style so rapturous that it’s hard to find the images pleasurable in and of themselves — even when depicting the faces of two characters, a quiet temple, or a forrest of bamboo, Takahata chooses images that are striking for their simplicity, not density. This can be as simple as the movement of a body; seeing them dance through the forest, jump up and down the beautiful mansions of the city, and, by the end, fly through the air can be a magical experience.

It’s hard to know what to make of The Tale of Princess Kaguya — just in terms of distribution, it seems even more inaccessible to the American market than The Wind Rises. It’s a film that creates a hypnotic power with each individual image, be it the popping of cherry blossoms or a parade of magical creatures raining down to the Earth on a cloud. But those images seem to richoet off each other instead of build into something a magnificent climax. Is it, at the end, a tragedy? A tale of homecomings and homegoings? To the distant observer, it is hard to grasp.

The Hollywood Reporter

25 May 2014

‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ (‘Kaguya-hime no monogatari’): Cannes Review

An ancient Japanese folk tale is brought to life by director Isao Takahata, who made "Grave of the Fireflies" and co-founded Studio Ghibli with the better known Hayao Miyazaki.

By Leslie Felperin

The director Isao Takahata, who co-founded with Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) the storied Studio Ghibli brand, is no slouch with a pen. Unfortunately though, apart from Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999), his work is not especially well-known outside of Japan and animation fan circles. The screening in Cannes in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar of his latest, the delicate and fetching episodic period-piece The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no monogatari), may remedy that neglect a little by exposing the film to international acquisitions executives as well as festival and rep house programmers, but the film remains a tricky a commercial proposition for offshore territories. Even back home in Japan it underperformed, earning a relatively paltry $22m compared to the $122m haul for Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

So resolutely old school in every way, from its 10th century source material and setting to its use of hand-drawn frames that self-consciously recall the watercolor and ink art of ancient Japanese art, Princess Kaguya almost looks experimental compared to most anime films these days, with their sci-fi settings, goggle-eyed cartoony characters, and heavy reliance on CGI. It’s not even easy to see to which audiences this would appeal beyond hardcore animation buffs, especially since the feisty female protagonist is neither the sexy bombshell type adolescent males like in the usual adult-skewed anime, nor the kind of simpering kawaii cutie typical in kids-targeted fare. Indeed, with its 137-minute running time and sad, heartbreaking denoument, it would be a tough watch for the family market, who largely expect happy endings and bedtime-friendly proportions.

Nevertheless, putting all those commercial considerations aside, it’s a lovely piece of work. Adapted from the well-known (in Japan) folk tale, “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” (considered by some to be one of the very first works of science fiction in world literature), it tells the story of a magical child who’s found by a peasant in a shining bamboo shoot one day and grows up to be an independent-minded princess, something of a feminist before her time.

At one self-reflexive point in the film, the princess (who’s voiced as an adult by Aki Asakura) is shown a precious illustrated scroll that depicts an epic tale in one long continuous strip, and it’s not hard to see there’s a parallel intended with the movie’s own episodic but flowing construction. Princess Kaguya is all thoughtfully rendered set pieces melded together, which means it doesn’t have the same bell-curve-like arcs to its narrative that we’ve come to expect in most mainstream films. Each moment is just as momentous or trivial as the other.

Standout sequences which show off Takahata and his team’s tremendous flair for expressing movement include a sequence where the baby princess goes from struggling to crawl to learning to walk in literally a few steps, and a terrific, stylized sequence where -- all smeary speed lines dramatic key frames -- where she dreams as an adult of escape from the life of lady-like behavior and courtly manners her father tries to establish for her in the city. The tension between obeisance to family and social norms versus self-expression rings resonantly throughout as a major theme.

Music, ranging from traditional koto plucking to the obligatory pop song over the end credits, adds emotional depth and is deployed organically throughout the story. Likewise, the spare backgrounds and economically drawn foreground characters feel entirely and pleasingly of a piece, marking another difference between the usual run-of-the-mill anime, with its hyper-detailed backgrounds and limited-movement characters.


8 September 2014

A Work of Art Come to Life

By Matt Patches

This review is part of IGN's coverage of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

CG animation dominates American theaters. For the most part, it's gorgeous — crisp, kinetic, and mind-bogglingly photo-realistic. It's hard to know what we're missing... until something like Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya enters view. Rendering a 10th century Japanese folktale in bustling watercolors, Takahata's fifth film for Studio Ghibli is a painterly meditation on youth, maturity, and death.

The film stands apart from the crowd, compared even to Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki's acclaimed slate, in both artistry and narrative. After clearing tears from your eyes, you'll see the bar for homegrown cartooning set to a new height. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a pinnacle of animation in the new millennium.

While walking through a bamboo grove, Okina discovers a magical shoot bearing a baby girl. Believing her to be a gift from the gods, a princess in need of nurturing, the bamboo cutter returns home to raise Kaguya with his wife. Her magic is evident: In only a few short days, the girl grows from a Thumbelina-sized babe to an infant to a agile young sprite. Kaguya takes to the flora and fauna of the Earthly world, palling around with fellow farm kids and taking a special liking to the oldest boy, Sutemaru. It's clear she's not one of them — when the scamps launch into a traditional nursery rhyme, Kaguya enters a trance, extrapolating the song with ancient words — but she's at peace. Everything is perfect.

Still, Okina sees room for improvement. Returning to the grove, the cutter is gifted once again with a life-changing stash of gold. With the lottery win, Okina uproots his family to the capital, showering Kaguya with fine linens, musical instruments, and a etiquette coach who will transform her into a proper princess. Kaguya is devastated. She rapidly matures into a teenager, trying to adjust to the new lifestyle, but it's no use. Depression sets in, compounded by Okina insisting she find a husband. Forced on to a regal path, Kaguya's demise is written in the stars.

By abandoning realism for impressionism, lush illustrations that bleed on and off the screen, Takahata manifests a more realistic reflection of the human experience. Kaguya's afternoons spent playing in overgrown forests of pale greens and yellows, brush strokes apparent by design. The picture book design amplifies Kaguya's innocence. It's so tangible, we just know it could be ripped away by cynicism or harsh reality.

Characters have the same dreamy, hand-crafted life to them. Later in the film, as aggressive suitors and her demanding father chip away at Kaguya's inner strength, close-ups of the princess' face quiver with a fearful chill. It's not an illusion; With each frame sketched over the next, the charcoal lines literally tremble. A computer could recreate them with precision. Takahata embraces imperfection.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya's expressive style allows Takahata to keep tight control over his canvas, heightening detail or exploding the illustrations into colorful chaos depending on what the scene demands. A tumbling baby, a goofy reaction shot, or a frantic prince wildly stomping out a fire are filled in with lines and curves to land laugh out loud comedic moments (that play, even for Americans whose eyes drift to subtitles).

The opposite is often more impressive: When Kaguya overhears a group of men salivating over her beauty, she's so disgusted that she retreats to the woods, bursting through doors like a rocket. As she propels forward, Takahata's animation crackles into a fury of jagged black lines, transferring Kaguya's rage to our eyes. It's a moment of horrific beauty.

The Verdict

Backed by another whimsical score by Joe Hisashi (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away), The Tale of Princess Kaguya transcends mere eye candy by delving into tragedy. The knowledge that Kaguya will one day return to her home on the moon (go with it) lingers in the background of every scene. When Takahata confronts the possibility, he treats it with the same meditative care he did for war in Grave of the Fireflies. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a love letter to the sounds and images of the world, and an admission that losing them is a terrifying notion.


26 May 2014

The Playlist - Cannes Review: Studio Ghibli's 'The Tale Of Princess Kaguya' Is An Artful Return For Isao Takahata

By Oliver Lyttleton

Studio Ghibli is at a real crossroads in its history. The legendary Japanese animation studio has become a respected name even in the West, thanks to a string of classics that trump even Pixar, but last year, the legendary Hayao Miyazaki debuted "The Wind Rises," the film he claims will be his final one (and certainly feels like it's putting a period at the end of a career).

The better news is that Miyazaki's Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, the sort of George Harrison to Miyazaki's Lennon & McCartney, and director of the astonishing "Grave Of The Fireflies," has returned with "The Tale Of Princess Kaguya," his first film since "My Neighbors The Yamadas" in 1999. Given that he's 78, and not hugely prolific, it's possible that this turns out to be Takahata's final film too, and if that's the case, it's just as fitting a finale as "The Wind Rises" was. In fact, it might be even better.

Based on a famous Japanese folklore story, the film begins in the countryside at some time in the past, as a bamboo cutter discovers one magical glowing stalk, which splits open to reveal a tiny creature. He takes it home to his wife, at which point it turns into a human, or at least human-looking baby. Immediately nicknamed 'Princess' by the childless couple, and later officially christened Kaguya, which translates as 'Shining Light,' it begins growing at a remarkably fast rate, and soon grows into a beautiful young woman.

Amazed by their miracle child, and also finding stalks full of gold and beautiful robes, the bamboo cutter decides that his princess is their ticket to high society, uprooting the family from their simple rural community to the big city, forcing his daughter to say goodbye to her friends, including the handsome Sutemaru. After lessons in how to be a noblewoman, word soon spreads about her luminous beauty and wonderful musicianship, and she soon has a string of suitors. Miserably secluded and pining for the countryside, she sets them each seemingly unsolvable tasks in order to win her hand, but soon has much bigger things to worry about, when the Emperor takes a fancy to her.

Yes, it sounds a little bit like "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green." And it's certainly not an event-packed tale, given the two-hour-plus running time. But while it's probably too meditatively paced for the giant robot anime crowd, it doesn't overstay its welcome, and you're pretty happy to sit back and let the film soak over you.

And that's because it's a remarkably gorgeous piece of work, even by Ghibli's high standards. From the off, it's strikingly different to the bulk of the company's output, with a more impressionistic, hand-drawn storybook feel than we're used, reminiscent more of British cartoonist Raymond Briggs ("The Snowman," "When The Wind Blows") than "My Neighbor Totoro."

It takes a moment or two to adjust to the look, but before long, you're completely charmed by it. And crucially, the additional distance from the real world allows Takahata to get weird and experimental in places: one sequence, just about the most beautiful thing we saw at Cannes this year, sees an upset Kaguya flee the family's mansion, transforming into a blur as the landscape becomes black-on-white pencil drawings behind her. It's not just a stunning coup-de-cinema from the director, it's also a brilliant way of getting inside the head of his heroine.

What a heroine, too. Though the environmental themes so often found in Ghibli pictures are here in force, it's the strong feminist tone that really makes it fly. Kaguya is, like most other women in the city, objectified by the men around her, even her father, who uses her as his pass to the aristocracy, and essentially locks her up in a room away from prying eyes (he's not a two-dimensional villain though: what he does he does from love for his daughter to some degree).

And yet Kaguya continually resists being put into the boxes she's being forced in and constantly outwits the men around her. There's only so far she can go, given the patriarchal society around her, but the film's plea for a simpler, more equal life is thoroughly moving (some of the stuff about Mother Moon is more heavy-handed, but pays off at the end).

It's also, to a large extent, about mortality. Given her accelerated growth, one would be fairly safe in assuming that Kaguya won't be long for this world, and a heavy note of inevitable tragedy hangs over the third act: it might be a tough watch for younger kids as a result, though there's a real catharsis that comes from it. It's, again like "The Wind Rises," a filmmaker confronting their age, and coming to terms with what's coming down the line, and it fits nicely in with the lower-key, more realistic tone of Takahata's other work, even if we do have the occasional wood nymph or cloud-dragon (in a stunning, show-stopper of a sequence).

It's true that the film does lull in the middle, with a slightly repetitive quality that may be a deliberate attempt to show Kaguya's captivity, but that doesn't make it less watchable. It's a film about tone as much as anything, and the gorgeous, pastoral quality of the work here has lingered long past the film's ending. Not being a brand name in the same way, Takahata's film won't reach the same kind of audience as "The Wind Rises," but animation fans, and basically anyone else, will find something rich and rewarding if they do check it out.

Japan Times

21 November 2013

Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya)

Ghibli's Takahata returns triumphant after 14 years

By Mark Schilling

Isao Takahata has long been overshadowed by longtime colleague and Studio Ghibli cofounder Hayao Miyazaki. The younger man (Takahata is 78, Miyazaki 72) has had more and bigger hits, including his latest, the World War II-themed “Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises),” while Takahata’s last feature animation, the 1999 family comedy “Hohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun (My Neighbors the Yamadas),” was a rare Ghibli box-office disappointment.

And yet Takahata is every bit the anime master that Miyazaki has been widely proclaimed to be, if one with a different style and concerns. His Ghilbi films tend to be more realistic than Miyazaki’s, beginning with 1988′s “Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies),” an unsparing drama about children struggling to survive in the destruction and chaos that enveloped Japan toward the end of WWII. It is the most emotionally devastating Japanese film I have ever seen, while being free of the cloying sentimentality that is a prerequisite for commercial tearjerkers here.

So Takahata’s latest and quite possibly last film, “Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya),” might seem to be a departure, since it is based on the oldest-known Japanese folk tale, which dates to the 10th century. Also, its gestation, eight years by the count of producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, was long even by Ghilbi’s relaxed standards, with Takahata’s reluctance to commit being one factor, production delays another. But far from an uncomfortable fit or a labored effort, “Princess Kaguya” has the feel of a true Takahata film, from its unshrinking emotional fidelity to its sudden, exhilarating leaps into fantasy.

The animation, with its combination of bold, dynamic strokes and delicate, lightly brushed colors, may initially look underdone compared with other Ghibli productions, with their lush backdrops and fine detailing, but as the story progressed, I found this more impressionistic style somehow suggestive of the story’s origin in the most ancient of tales — and our common desires, fears and dreams.

That tale is known to every Japanese, if not to the outside world, though its motifs are also found in Western fairy tales (“Thumbelina,” “King Thrushbeard”). It begins with an old bamboo cutter, Okina (voiced by Takeo Chii), happening upon a strangely glowing bamboo in the forest and finding inside a tiny, perfectly formed girl (Aki Asakura). He takes her, cradled in his palms, to his wife Ouna (Nobuko Miyamoto), but the little creature soon morphs into a baby that the flummoxed couple decides to raise. The strangeness continues as the baby grows far faster than normal (in one brilliant, spooky sequence she quickly progresses from flailing limbs to a hesitant first step), while taking a laughing delight in the world around her.

Okina finds more treasures in the bamboo, including gold nuggets and kimono meant for a princess — that is, for his pretty adopted daughter, who is called Takenoko (Bamboo), and is obviously destined for bigger and better things. Takenoko, however, is happy with the humble places and common people she knows, especially the leader of the neighborhood kids, the rugged, pure-hearted Sutemaru (Kengo Kora).

Instead, her newly rich parents install her in a mansion, surround her with servants and have her trained in the ways of the aristocracy, from playing the koto to painting her teeth black. (The former she masters, the latter she indignantly rejects). This beautiful, accomplished, fully grown girl, now called Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya), attracts five well-born, ridiculously self-important suitors, but she rejects them all, even when they make seemingly miraculous efforts to meet her absurd demands. Finally the emperor, who is young, handsome and the most arrogant of all, tries to win her hand, but she spurns him as well — and reveals that she is from the moon and must soon return to the land of her birth.

This is all pretty much from the folk tale, which raises the question of what, beyond their way of telling it, Takahata and his collaborators have brought to it. The film’s tag line, “A princess’ crime and punishment,” offers a clue, while Takahata himself has said he wanted to explore what “crime” Princess Kaguya might have committed, since the original story is silent on that point.

His exploration, though, has little to do with plot, everything to do with his heroine’s emotional and spiritual journey — and the way it ends. Not to enter spoiler territory, but the climax is a haunting, wrenching evocation of mono no aware — or as it is literally translated, the pathos of things. The basis of Japanese aesthetics since time immemorial, mono no aware is hard to define, but “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” brilliantly illuminates it with images of life at its transient loveliest, of parting in its terrible finality.

There is a deep wisdom in this film, but a deep sadness too. If it is Takahata’s farewell, it’s one that will have a long echo, just like his 1,000-year-old source.

Fun fact: Hayao Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi supplied the soundtrack, his first-ever for a Takahata film. The theme song, “Inochi no Kioku (Memory of Life),” is sung by Kazumi Nikaido.


26 November 2013

Studio Ghibli’s Newest is a Beautiful, Heart-Wrenching Film

By Richard Eisenbeis

It was only four months ago that The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli’s previous film, hit theaters across Japan. But Hayao Miyazaki is not the only director over at the studio to have a movie out this year. Isao Takahata (of Grave of the Fireflies fame) released his own film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, this past weekend.

Good – A Fairytale from the Princess’ Point of View

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫の物語) is based on The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter—the oldest known Japanese folktale. In said folktale, a bamboo woodcutter finds a baby in a bamboo tree, and raises it as his own. After she grows up into a beautiful woman, princes—and eventually the Emperor himself—vie for her affection. In the end of the story, however, she returns to her home on the moon—leaving the Emperor alone and heartbroken.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya takes this simple fantasy tale and makes it a human story. The Princess is not just a prize for the men in the story that must be won. Rather, Kaguya is a normal person—a girl with her own wants and dreams. When she sends her suitors on seemingly impossible tasks, she thinks herself clever in avoiding marriage to a stranger she doesn’t love. When some come back claiming success she finds herself panic stricken—fearful that her plan has backfired. And when some of the suitors meet with unforeseen consequences, she indulges in a hefty helping of self loathing as she blames herself for what her “cleverness” has wrought.

Good – A Battle of “Wants”

When it comes down to it, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a battle of “wants.” Kaguya herself wants to live like she did as a child: poor as dirt and running through the fields with her friends. Her father wants her to be treated like the princess she truly is—and is hell bent on making her into a “proper lady.” The Emperor and the rest of her suitors want her as a prize—the one accessory that they can’t buy with all their money and power. And looming behind all this is what the people of the moon want—why they sent her to earth (and if they are coming to take her back).

All these “wants” collide in this story—making for a tale with no good or evil, but simply one with truly human characters facing ordinary (and extraordinary) problems caused by their conflicting desires.

Good – Watercolors and Colored Pencils

Visually, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an amazingly beautiful film. Unlike the majority of Ghibli’s films (which have a uniform visual style), The Tale of Princess Kaguya has a look all its own. The film is animated as if it were made with nothing but colored pencils and watercolors—making literally every frame of the movie feel like something that could be hung up in a gallery.

But what is really special about the animation in The Tale of Princess Kaguya is how it interacts with the story and the way in which it is told. In the film’s more tense and panic filled moments, the pencil lines become more jagged—the images more indistinct. The colors in turn mute toward blacks and grays. The opposite can be said for the surreal moments of the film where colors become brighter and the images sharper.

In other words, the film is pure eye candy from start to finish.

Random Thoughts – Be Prepared for a Sad Tale

While nowhere near as depression-inducing as Grave of the Fireflies, suffice it to say The Tale of Princess Kaguya is not a happy story. It is filled to the brim with personal conflict and tragedy. If you see the Studio Ghibli logo and think you are in for a happy family adventure like My Neighbor Totoro or Spirited Away you are going to be cursing yourself through a river of tears. Consider yourself warned.

Final Thoughts

All in all, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a film that is just a joy to watch. By focusing on Kaguya as a person instead of an object, the film turns Japan’s oldest folktale into a story about normal people trying to find happiness. Add to that the most beautiful, unique animation in years and you have an instant classic. If you are looking for a fairytale that you can identify with on a personal level—or just want to see something breathtaking—The Tale of Princess Kaguya is right up your alley.

In other words, if you are going to watch only one Ghibli movie this year, make it this one.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya was released in Japanese theaters on November 23, 2013. There is currently no word on a Western release.

Los Angeles Times

16 October 2014

Review - In 'Princess Kaguya,' a wondrous parable about what matters

By Kenneth Turan

"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" is a marvel of Japanese animation, a hand-drawn, painterly epic that submerges us in a world of beauty. While almost everything about it bespeaks its origins in a culture very different from the West, the delicacy and grace of its sublime imagery create an impact that couldn't be stronger.

This feature is the first work in 14 years by venerable 78-year-old Isao Takahata, the co-founder, along with the great Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli. Takahata has had this film, a parable about what matters in life and what does not, on his mind for 55 years, and its antecedents go back further. Much further.

"Princess Kaguya" is based on a 10th century Japanese folk tale, "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," that is considered perhaps that country's oldest surviving narrative. Which is why so much about this film, from its cultural references to its leisurely 2 hour and 17 minute pacing, takes us on a journey to a different time and place.

What is universal about "Princess Kaguya" is the stunning way it looks, as if it were a watercolor sketchbook come to life. Takahata and his team have focused on transporting nature imagery, things like rushing streams, joyous birds, the wind moving through a stand of bamboo. Whether experienced in the version dubbed by American actors like Chloë Grace Moretz and James Caan or (much preferably) the Japanese original, this is animation intended for adults as much if not more than children, the kind of film you need to give yourself up to without looking back.

That gorgeous imagery not only looks good, it has thematic importance as well. For one of the things "Princess Kaguya," the person as well as the film, believes is that the natural world offers the kind of deep satisfactions that the nominally more sophisticated urban landscape can't hope to match.

Given those folk tale origins, "Princess Kaguya" not surprisingly begins with that hard-working bamboo cutter chopping away in the forest he lives in. Suddenly he spies a bright light emanating from a stalk and, drawing near, sees a tiny, fully formed and carefully dressed individual inside, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand.

The woodcutter brings this miniature being home to his wife, and it promptly turns into a conventional-looking baby girl. "This is strange," the bamboo cutter says, and that is not the half of it.

For almost everything about this new creature turns out to be magical, including the speed with which she grows. A group of rowdy kids, the children of a neighboring bowl maker, nickname her "Little Bamboo" for that rapid growth. That mightily offends the bamboo cutter, who is so deeply enamored of the creature he discovered that he calls her princess.

This strange girl turns out to be something of a wood sprite, a wild child of nature who finds her greatest pleasure running through the outdoors with the neighborhood gang headed by handsome Sutemaru. Still, even at her happiest, an air of unexplained melancholy hangs over her, a sensibility the film itself shares.

As in many folk tales, the good is fated not to last. One day the bamboo cutter makes another epic discovery in the woods, a bamboo stalk filled with gold, a find that leads him to assume that the gods are mandating a very different life for his charge. She must, he decides, become a wealthy princess in the capital, but even with untold wealth that transition proves problematic.

Forced to leave the only earthly life she's known, the princess has her hands full remaining her own person as she transitions to a world of empty ritual and hollow tradition. In one stunning sequence, the princess tries to flee this stifling world so rapidly that she outruns her outer clothes and the landscape around her blurs into single brush strokes. This young woman can outrun almost everything except, as it turns out, the destiny written on the wind.

National Public Radio

16 October 2014

Beauty And Loss In 'The Tale Of Princess Kaguya'

By Ella Taylor

My first encounter with the lovely 10th-century Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was in the Sesame Street special Big Bird Goes to Japan. A kind and beautiful young woman named Kaguya-hime appears out of nowhere to take the Yellow One and his canine pal Barkley on a jaunt to Kyoto. They have fun, and then the mysteriously sad woman reveals that she is royalty in civilian dress and must return to her home on the moon. Bird and Barkley were marginally less inconsolable than were my toddler daughter and I. We all coped, as will every other child large or small when they see the ravishing The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

As the legend goes, the princess was sent to Earth as punishment for an undisclosed transgression. We don't learn what her crime was in The Tale of Princess Kaguya, the latest offering from Hayao Miyazaki's esteemed Studio Ghibli, whose hand-drawn, animated tales of high-spirited rebel girls have delighted countless kids and parents around the world. Aside from their beauty, movies like Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and the hands-down favorite around our house, Kiki's Delivery Service, brought to life a small army of exuberantly disobedient girls (and boys, now and again) bent on running their own experimental show.

The plot is basic fairy-tale fare. A baby drops from the sky and is found cradled inside a bamboo plant by a childless old woodcutter and his wife, voiced in the English-language edition by James Caan and Mary Steenburgen. They raise her as their own, and the cherished sprite (Chloe Grace Moretz) runs wild in the forest with her posse of peasant kids, a normal girl except for the strange growth spurts that bring her to womanhood at a rapid clip. When her beauty and vitality begin to attract attention, the old man, spurred by ambition and greed, moves his daughter to court to marry her up. Pining for home and the handsome peasant boy (Darren Criss) she left behind, the distraught Kaguya-hime spurns her suitors (the Emperor among them) by setting them impossible tasks. Take that, patriarchy.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is not directed by Miyazaki, who recently announced his retirement, but by his longtime collaborator Isao Takahata, who also made the beautiful Grave of the Fireflies. The new movie bears all the hallmarks of Ghibli house style, including the exquisite palette, in this case a delicate watercolor of pastels evoking, with not a hint of cute, a country girl's rapturous harmony with nature. A bamboo forest subtly changes color with the light; a leaf trembles in the breeze; a toddler turns in her sleep and curls her arm around her adoptive mother. Kaguya-hime is a wild thing in perpetual fluid motion, her long black hair flowing in sync with her body. Strapped into royal harness, she grows still and rigid under the heavy ceremonial vestments, the very picture of grief until, at last, she takes charge of her own fate.

Unlike many Studio Ghibli movies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is not a collaboration with the Disney company, which may be one reason why it doesn't pursue a happy ending as we understand it in the West. Like all fairy tales worth their salt, the movie trusts children to take on the big themes of life, death and despair included, and thus removes the sting.

Kaguya takes her leave, as she must, but with a celestial orchestra and a magic mantle to help her through the transition. The moment of her passing is brought off with unsettling candor, but also with a compassion that promises an end to suffering, longing and loss — even, for those who wish it, another future to come. If I were rich, I'd give a boxed set of Studio Ghibli movies to every child on Earth at birth. For the sheer joy of the experience, and to see them through their lives.

The New York Times

16 October 2014

Life, a Royal Pain

‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,’ From Isao Takahata

By Nicolas Rapold

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is the first animated feature in over a decade directed by Isao Takahata, the 78-year-old Studio Ghibli stalwart. Exquisitely drawn with both watercolor delicacy and a brisk sense of line, the film finds a peculiarly moving undertow of feeling in a venerable Japanese folk tale about a foundling country girl who can’t shake a sense of being out of place.

Kaguya enters the world more bewilderingly than most: She’s discovered nestled within a radiant bamboo flower by a woodsman, who raises her with his wife. Her salt-of-the-earth upbringing and friends are normal, but she matures in unearthly leaps and bounds, crawling one moment and walking the next. Then gold and robes magically appear to her father in the forest, leading him to move the family to the capital to raise the girl as a princess.

Kaguya is groomed to join the aristocratic classes and cosseted indoors; a parade of comically obsequious suitors follows. But despite all the attention, wealth and good intentions of her parents, she nurtures a certain despondency, and there’s plenty to recognize in her struggle to find her footing and her need to insist on her independence.

“Princess Kaguya” looks like a departure from Mr. Takahata’s most famous film, “Grave of the Fireflies,” or his last, “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (though that one included a reference to this folk story). But his artistry and his feeling for his main character are just as deeply felt here.