The Tale of Princess Kaguya (reviews - page 4)
This page lists information about reviews and articles related to the film The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Omaha World Herald
12 December 2014
By Bob Fischbach
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” touted by many as a likely Oscar nominee for best animated film this year, is the first movie in 14 years from Japanese anime master Isao Takahata.
Its exquisite hand drawings combine a strong sense of line with delicate watercolors.
Its story, based on a 1,000-year-old Japanese folk tale, combines strong doses of myth and spirituality with the sensibilities of a fairy tale.
All of that is layered over what is essentially a coming-of-age story about a girl who wants to determine her own fate.
Takahata is a co-founder of Studio Ghibili, along with animation great Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away,” “The Wind Rises”). This is world-class anime. It’s not necessarily an ideal fit for American kids in single digits. In fact, I’m still pondering its deeper meanings a week after watching the film.
In “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” James Caan voices an old bamboo cutter who one day spies a stalk that is lit from within. From out of the bloom pops a tiny, sleeping girl.
She magically grows at an unnaturally rapid rate, and by the time he brings her home to his wife (voice of Mary Steenburgen), she is a gurgling baby.
From infant to toddler to adolescent (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz), they call her princess. Not only were her appearance and growth magical, but the bamboo shoots also provide the old cutter with gold and fine silks.
He decides he must build her a palace in the capital and introduce her to the restrictive life and customs of the aristocracy. Lucy Liu voices the woman hired to train Kaguya in the ways of a noble princess.
But the young girl loves the beauty and freedom of the outdoors, which are the source of her spirit, and the kindness of a handsome teen who saved her from a charging boar in the woods. She misses her home in the country.
So the story becomes Kaguya’s struggle for independence and a sense of belonging. Even as flawed members of the aristocracy compete for her hand in marriage, she becomes more and more unhappy.
Too long at 2 hours and 17 minutes, “Kaguya” nonetheless picks up emotional steam as it reaches its heavenly climax, filled with longing and heartbreak as well as beauty and bliss. I can’t vouch for the voice work, as the version I saw was in Japanese, subtitled. Film Streams will be showing a version dubbed by the above-named American stars.
I loved the animation, and the story evokes a sense of longing and nostalgia mixed with sad and sweet myth. Kids would probably love the beautiful drawings and the princess at the center of the tale as much as I did — even if much of the mystery flies over their heads.
23 October 2014
By Geoff Berkshire
Isao Takahata isn’t as well known in the U.S. as his fellow anime director and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki—partly because Takahata hasn’t made a film in 14 years. That alone is enough to make his latest, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a unique event. But this release is made even more special by the persistent rumor that it may be his last.
The 78-year-old Takahata hasn’t been as definitive on the subject of retirement as the 73-year-old Miyazaki, but with Studio Ghibli on an open-ended hiatus as of this summer, the future is murky to say the least (especially if Takahata plans on waiting another 14 years between films). For now, animation fans can be grateful there’s a new Ghibli to see. And happily, just like the recent The Wind Rises (which served as Miyazaki’s possible swan song), Kaguya is a defiantly idiosyncratic masterwork that amply demonstrates how much the film world has to lose if these virtuoso artists indeed call it quits.
Based on the beloved 10th-century Japanese folk legend The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Kaguya tells the story of an aging bamboo cutter who discovers a mysterious tiny girl, no bigger than the palm of his hand, inside a stalk of bamboo. Things get even more bizarre when he brings the miniature being home to his wife. The itty bitty lady transforms into a baby, whom the couple promptly name Kaguya and decide to raise as their own. As the days go by, Kaguya continues to change, aging at an indeterminate but certainly unusual pace. She wows the local kids in her rural area with her fearless spirit, knowledge of nature and music, and inexplicable growth spurts, while simultaneously attracting the attention of young Sutemaru, who could become the love of her life.
Or maybe he would have, if Kaguya’s father didn’t have other ideas. Returning to the tree of his original discovery, he cuts deeper into the bamboo and discovers a modest fortune of gold and fine clothes. Convinced Kaguya is a princess, he moves the entire family to a lavish dwelling in Kyoto and prepares Kaguya to entertain rich suitors with the help of regal tutor Lady Sagami. Word of Kaguya’s beauty spreads throughout the city and five distinguished gentlemen vie for her hand, but Kaguya cheekily assigns them each impossible tasks to prove their worth. Eventually the Emperor himself makes a play, but Kaguya steadfastly refuses to be treated as a trophy.
A story that’s more than a thousand years old probably doesn’t mandate a spoiler alert, but for Western audiences unfamiliar with the original tale, suffice it to say that Kaguya’s origins in the bamboo stalk are explained in a way that classifies the story as “proto-science fiction.” Takahata is particularly interested in exploring what Kaguya learns during her incredible journey, ensuring the film works as a primal myth that also forwards a timely message of a woman’s right to choose her own path in a male-dominated society.
However, what makes Takahata’s Kaguya really shine is its breathtaking animation—both simple and sophisticated, and worlds apart from the Hollywood CG norm and even the exquisite artistry of Miyazaki. Kaguya’s style achieves a timeless beauty specifically crafted to evoke humble materials: hand drawn, watercolors, charcoal. You’re tempted to pause each frame and savor it as a work of art, and yet the film moves with a brisk polish that only adds to the transporting quality of the elegant visuals. Kaguya is truly something to see, a rare and ravishing film with imagery so powerful that it might be just as affecting with no audio at all.
That said, the version reviewed included the original Japanese audio track, while the U.S. theatrical release will offer an English-language dub featuring the voices of Chloë Grace Moretz as Kaguya, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen as her parents, Darren Criss as Sutemaru and Lucy Liu as Sagami. While I typically find it preferable to experience Ghibli films in Japanese, the quality and attention put toward the English dubs in recent years has been painstaking.
Also worth noting, while Kaguya is nowhere near as emotionally taxing as Takahata’s best-known work—the devastating WWII homefront drama Grave of the Fireflies—the PG-rated film is not ideal viewing for small children. Even some adults will be strained by the leisurely 137-minute running time (something the film generally earns, once you settle into its rhythms), while the themes and issues raised will undoubtedly play better for mature viewers.
That’s one of the primary reasons we’d never stop mourning Ghibli if the animation powerhouse truly closed its doors for good: they’ve proven over and over again that the beauty and transcendence possible in great animation make it an art form far too important to dismiss as mere kid’s stuff.
23 January 2015
By Barbara Vancheri
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” has a dark-haired beauty with five noble suitors who want to marry her, but she is no Disney princess.
She’s the title character of a movie based on a Japanese folk tale, likely written in the late ninth or early 10th century, about a baby discovered inside an illuminated stalk of bamboo by an old bamboo cutter in rural, ancient Japan.
“Heaven must have sent her to me as a blessing,” he declares before taking the girl home to his childless wife.
She first mistakes her for a tiny doll but quickly realizes the baby has magical qualities. She somehow allows the older woman to nurse her and, like bamboo itself, grows at an unnaturally rapid rate, charming and captivating the neighbor children who dub her “Li’l Bamboo.”
The girl is content to skip and march through the woods with her friends, picking grapes and mushrooms, tumbling down hills, climbing trees, joyfully being among the flowers, birds, bugs and beasts. Her doting father calls her Princess and is convinced she is meant for grander things when he later finds golden nuggets and an explosion of rich fabrics in the same bamboo grove. He decides that the heavens wish for her to be a noble princess and slips off to the capital to build a commensurate home with the treasure.
The girl’s parents eventually lead her from their simple home in the country to palatial digs where she is schooled in the art of acting like a noble lady. That leads to a rush and crush of admirers, largely comic challenges to win her heart, along with questions about the nature of happiness and her mysterious origins and fate.
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” from 79-year-old director Isao Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies”), is hand-drawn rather than done with computer assistance and was years in the making.
It’s beautifully rendered, with frames that look like timeless watercolor paintings, whether cherry-blossom petals flutter to the ground or a carriage rolls through the countryside where the hills in the background are periwinkle, the flowers in the foreground yellow with a splash of pink and the grass a lovely green.
By contrast, an emotion-fueled scene plays out with bold lines that slash and somersault across the screen in black and white, with effective bursts of red from a garment’s sash.
On the downside, “Tale” runs 137 minutes, which seems about 10 minutes too long, even given the somewhat abrupt revelations and resolution.
Lost on modern moviegoers will be the suggestion, as by translator Donald Keene for an illustrated version of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” that the names of the suitors were similar to those of members of the Japanese court of the eighth century. If ever meant as a satire, it is now seen largely as a children’s story.
“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” seems to be moving toward a “Someday My Prince Will Come” moment, but it goes in a whole other and otherworldly direction, making spunky Merida from “Brave” look conventional by comparison. The artistry alone makes “Princess Kaguya” deserving of its Oscar nomination although “The Lego Movie” was unfairly omitted.
A final tip: If it’s vocal authenticity you want, go to an evening screening where the movie is being presented in Japanese with English subtitles, which is how I previewed it; matinees will feature Americans James Caan and Mary Steenburgen speaking for the parents and Chloe Grace Moretz for the girl.
25 November 2013
By Philip Kendall
Kaguya Hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) is quite unlike any Studio Ghibli offering that has gone before it. There are no benevolent forest spirits or spritely young witches to be found here; no soft, familiar faces or bright-eyed heroes with a passion for adventure; no piles of mouth-watering street food or freshly baked bread to drool over. This is a tale set in far simpler times, and although – with its thick, bold brushstrokes, muted colours and incomplete lines – it is quite the departure from the Ghibli releases many of us know and love, it still manages to be one of the studio’s most visually striking and emotive creations to date.
Based on the 10th-century folk tale known today as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Kaguya Hime treads ground familiar to most Japanese, but director Isao Takahata (of Grave of the Fireflies and whose last a feature-length film for the studio was some 15 years ago) explores themes that few had ever considered before, prompting many native Japanese to take to online forums to discuss the new film at length and express their surprise at seeing sides to the story that they never knew existed.
As with The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Takahata’s film begins with an elderly farmer discovering a large glowing bamboo growing in the forest. Cutting into it, he finds a tiny, fully formed princess wearing elaborate robes sleeping inside. After carrying the miniature human home to his wife, the princess transforms into a baby, at which point the elderly couple resolve to raise her as their own, interpreting her initial appearance as a princess as a sign from the gods that the child is destined for great things.
The couple receive subsequent blessings in the form of gold and robes fit for the princess when she comes of age – which comes quickly, with those around the young girl marvelling at how she changes right before their eyes – and eventually decide to remove the girl from her humble countryside home in favour of a life of luxury in the city, wherein she is taught to act like a true princess – koto lessons, teeth blackening and all – and is courted by numerous rich, but ultimately unsavoury men with designs to make her their own.
I will stop short of describing the events that follow, though not simply out of fear of spoiling the story for those unfamiliar with its source material. Rather, the real pleasure that is to be had here is in experiencing the range of emotions this simple, occasionally fantastic (in the traditional sense of the word) tale evokes throughout, at once dazzling with its unique, at times almost impressionistic, art style. The outcome of Kaguya Hime‘s tale will surprise few, but – just as if the same artists were given the works of the Brothers Grimm, already known to millions – it is in the telling that the magic resides.
To those who grew up with Hayao Miyazaki’s offerings, Kaguya Hime’s visual style may appear bland, and at times border on unfinished. Indeed, placed side-by-side with this summer’s Kaze Tachinu, the difference is night and day, but the former’s art style lends itself far better to this classic folk tale than Miyazaki’s own ever could, and the fact that it may not appeal to younger audiences is in many ways a blessing in disguise – Kaguya Hime is ultimately a tale of life lessons, sorrow and raw emotion; if this 31-year-old writer shed tears before the end credits rolled, you can guarantee that younger audiences will either leave theatres completely mortified or simply bored and confused as much of the film’s meaning will have flown right over their heads.
For adults, and those with a love of classic tales and Japanese culture, however, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari will not disappoint. It is beautiful, emotive, and undeniably haunting. Highly recommended.
Kaguya Hime no Monogatari is in theatres now all across Japan. The film is scheduled for a 2014 release in North America.
RogerEbert.com (Glenn Kenny)
17 October 2014
By Glenn Kenny
Now nearly 80 years old, the Japanese animation director Isao Takahata has ever forged his own path over the course a half-century of work. A legendary perfectionist, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli (also the home of the great Hayao Miyazaki) has broken molds by, for example, creating an animated feature completely lacking in any “fantastic” element, the tender 1991 “Only Yesterday.” His new film, his first in 14 years, is a staggering masterpiece of animation based on a very old Japanese folk tale. “The Tale of The Princess Kaguya” is both very simple and head-spinningly confounding, a thing of endless visual beauty that seems to partake in a kind of pictorial minimalism but finds staggering possibilities for beautiful variation within its ineluctable modality. It’s a true work of art.
The movie begins with a gruff bamboo cutter in a forest. The colors are pastel and watercolor; the drawing resembles charcoal sketches. Cutting away at bamboo, the farmer sees a shaft of light; then a plant yields a doll-like creature that, once he spirits it off to his cabin to show his wife, transforms into a human baby. Despite being in middle age, the wife discovers she can feed the baby (the breastfeeding depictions are very matter-of-fact); the little girl is growing at an accelerated rate. She soon starts playing with some of the males who live in the neighboring area; they nickname her “L’il Bamboo.” The leader of the boys is the slightly older Sutemaru, and all seems right for L’il Bamboo in the pastoral paradise where she runs and plays and laughs and sings a song about the nature of all living beings, a song she can’t remember having learned but which she’s always known.
Her adoptive pop has other ideas, especially after “the gods,” as he believes, bestow a lot of gold upon him; he goes and buys a castle in the capital, and venture to make the little girl into a genuine princess. L’il Bamboo’s heart breaks, but she wants to honor her father’s wishes. Here’s where the movie’s story takes a rather infuriating turn. As the girl, soon given the name “Kaguya,” is trained and then visited by a quintet of ostensibly noble suitors, the story turns into a kind of nightmare of patriarchy. Kaguya, bright and talented and beautiful, suffers through multiple squelchings of her own desire, and then acquiesces to the venal wishes of the authority figures she loves. The movie is so emotionally roiling because it, too, is of two minds. It wants Kaguya’s unfettered spirit to have its way, but it also recognizes the almost primordial obligation that binds us to family and convention. Kaguya’s got her oafish father’s number, and when she stands up to him it’s thrilling: “If I see you in a courtier’s cap I’ll kill myself,” she tells him calmly at one point. And the father’s ignorance is startling: he truly believes that what he’s putting Kaguya through is for her own happiness, that this status is something she covets as much as he. Things take an even more jarring turn once Kaguya finds out just where she’s from.
Even if you have trouble hooking into the scenario’s cultural idiosyncrasies—the concerns of this movie, while not “Japanese” in and of themselves, are addressed in a very specifically Japanese way—every frame of “Princess Kaguya” is astonishingly beautiful. What looks rather rudimentary at the film’s opening is revealed to have a depth that never stops yielding beauty; check out the shadows that fall over the bamboo cutter as he runs from the forest with his discovery cradled in his arms. The movement animation of the baby “L’il Bamboo” is some of the best depiction of infant development ever in any medium: so much study, care, and artistry. Creatures both found in nature (insects, birds) and not (storm clouds that become dragons) are drawn with remarkable sensitivity.
I believe the movie is best experienced with its original Japanese-language soundtrack; its widest release, however, will be in an English-language dub featuring James Caan voicing the bamboo-cutter, Mary Steenburgen as the wife, and Chloe Grace Moretz as Kaguya. Due to a screening snafu I was able to experience about fifteen minutes of this version and can report that it sounds as if these performers honor the material well, so either way, don’t miss this if you are an animation fan.
RogerEbert.com (Peter Sobczynski)
18 February 2015
By Peter Sobczynski
In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Peter Sobczynski makes the case for the best animated film of 2014: "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya". [...]
When the 2015 Oscar nominations were announced, many observers were shocked and surprised to discover that what had been largely considered to be the odds-on favorite to win the award for Best Animated Feature, "The LEGO Movie," did not even make the cut for the final five. This was an inexplicable result, all the more so since even the most ardent animation buff would have to admit that the past year did not exactly yield a bumper crop of worthy animated films, but the controversy surrounding this decision wound up overshadowing something even more significant—the happy fact that the animated film that actually was the best of the year managed to get a nomination despite the relative lack of hype, product tie-ins or singing snowmen to lure viewers in. No, it is clear that "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" made it in solely on the basis of its own artistic merits and if that is the central concern of Academy voters, as it should be in a perfect world, then they will hopefully come to the same conclusion as those of us at the site here and give it the prize that it so richly deserves.
The film is based on "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," a Japanese folk tale dating back to the 10th century that is said to be the oldest existing story in that country's history. It tells the story of an aging bamboo cutter who discovers a tiny girl living inside of a bamboo shoot and decides, along with his wife, to raise her as his own. She soon begins to grow quite rapidly until she is of normal size and quite beautiful to boot. After making another surprising discovery among the bamboo shoots, the cutter decides that the best thing for his adoptive daughter would be to have her raised among the nobles of the land and even has her dubbed Princess Kaguya to boot. Very quickly, she has no less than five suitors vying for her hand and there is even interest from no less a figure than the Emperor of Japan himself but eventually she has to come to terms with who she really is, what she has done and what it means for her future.
The film is the latest creation from Japan's venerated Studio Ghibli and was directed by Isao Takahata, who co-founded the studio with the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, and whose work here is as strong and sure as anything he has done in a career stretching over more than a half-century, including such beloved works as "Grave of the Fireflies" (1988) and "Pom Poko" (1994). Although the film does involve elements of fantasy, this is not the usual kiddie-oriented romp—this is a more serious-minded work aimed at older audiences (though more thoughtful children should have no trouble grasping it) and dealing with such thought-provoking themes as nature versus nurture and the importance of the gifts provided by the environment over the baubles and trinkets that are normally given precedence in society. One aspect that viewers of all ages can appreciate is the gorgeous visual style Takahata has employed—instead of the usual anime flashiness, he has instead utilized a defiantly old-fashioned 2-D approach that looks watercolor paintings brought beautifully to life. While its deliberate pacing may put off some people used to the more frenetic pace of contemporary animation, viewers able to get in on its leisurely wavelength will be amply rewarded with the cinematic treasures it has to offer. It is said that Takahata had attempted to bring "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" to the screen for the first time over 55 years ago—happily, the final result was well worth the wait.
San Francisco Examiner
24 October 2014
By Anita Katz
Those who have proclaimed 2D animation dead haven’t seen “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” the latest hand-drawn fantasy from Japan’s Studio Ghibli.
Isao Takahata employs this art form to entertaining, sad and beautiful effect in his telling of a centuries-old story about an otherworldly peasant girl transported into a world of hollow royalty.
Less known on these shores than Studio Ghibli cofounder and fellow animator Hayao Miyazaki, the tonally darker but similarly masterly Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies,” “Pom Poko”) presents an all-ages adventure containing neither the fast action nor the wisecracking characters of Hollywood animated fare. For a welcome 137 minutes, it delivers sweepingly gorgeous backdrops and a gently unfolding story. A plucky girl (a virtual staple of contemporary commercial animation) supplies the driving spirit.
The title character, a tiny infant, descends from the heavens when a humble bamboo cutter discovers her inside a glowing stalk. When his wife holds her, the Thumbelina-like girl becomes the size of a normal baby. Soon the “princess,” as she’s called, is a strange but happy child frolicking among the mountain flora and fauna.
That changes when the loving but misguided bamboo cutter decides that his daughter must have official princess status. The family moves to a palace. An etiquette coach begins tutoring the child. But the feisty, homesick girl isn’t interested in plucking her eyebrows or marrying any of the puffed-up men hoping to woo her. To sabotage all wedding possibilities, she hatches a clever plan.
A brief escape and reunion with her childhood love, Sutemaru, yields temporary bliss. But the two come from different worlds. While the princess cherishes her earthly existence, the moon beckons.
It’s not hard to guess where the story is generally heading. But the details abound with beauty and surprise.
Takahata draws masterfully, using pastel colors, expressive lines and fluid watercolor to suggest the art of a traditional scroll. His natural-world images – cherry trees, garden bugs, dangling grapes – are exquisite. The princess’ escape from the palace, rendered in rough, charcoal-like strokes, conveys urgency. The arrival of a celestial task force gives the non-Hollywood ending a penetrating melancholy.
Takahata’s screenplay (cowritten by Riko Sakaguchi) features impressively intricate scenarios. It contains, better than a conventional villain, flawed but human characters.
The princess, whose presence on Earth reflects punishment for something undefined, is a dynamic force of positive spirit (and, when considering the state of women’s roles, is probably one of the strongest big-screen female protagonists this year).
The film is playing in subtitled and dubbed versions. The English-language voice cast includes Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen as the princess and her adoptive parents.
Santa Fe New Mexican
7 November 2014
By Michael Abatemarco
As part of its Ghibli Celebration, which includes five classic films by Japan’s famed Studio Ghibli, the Center for Contemporary Arts features a premiere screening of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a poetic, beautifully animated feature with plenty of the magic for which the studio is known. Directed by Isao Takahata, this film is his best since Grave of the Fireflies (1988), and this English version features a stellar cast that includes voice work by Lucy Liu, George Segal, Beau Bridges, and Oliver Platt, among others.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tells the sweeping, epic tale of a supernatural princess who is born in a bamboo shoot and discovered by Okina, a kindly bamboo cutter (voiced by James Caan). Small enough at first to fit in the palm of his hand, the foundling transforms into a human infant before his very eyes. Okina and his wife (voiced by Mary Steenburgen, who also narrates), name her Kaguya and raise her as their own daughter. Later, when Okina discovers gold in the bamboo stand, he takes it as a sign of Kaguya’s royalty and uses his newfound riches to set her up in a palatial residence in the region’s capital. Meanwhile, Kaguya (Chloë Grace Moretz), who was living a free-spirited, active life with her close friend, Sutemaru (Glee’s Darren Criss), in the bamboo cutter’s humble village, has grown amazingly — supernaturally — quickly into a beautiful young lady. In time, numerous suitors vie for her hand.
The simple story is rich with contrasts between Princess Kaguya’s idyllic childhood and the oppressively staid life she leads in the royal court at the capital, where custom and formality rule over feelings. The setup makes for a critique of women’s roles in Japanese society. Working methodically at her loom, Kaguya steadfastly rejects each of her suitors — even the emperor — much to the chagrin of Okina, who, coming to envision himself as an aristocrat, clumsily and comically puts on airs. Even the emperor cannot sway Kaguya’s heart, and she grows more and more despondent. She appeals to the moon for help, setting up the film’s concluding chapters, in which myth and fairy-tale enchantments take center stage and the princess’ spiritual origins and reason for being on earth (a punishment for a past sin) are finally made known. Kaguya wants only to return to Sutemaru, for whom she feels the most love.
Takahata has crafted a film that is enchanting, if at times slow and overly long for young children. The animation is hand-drawn in soft watercolors that lend the story a bucolic feel. The themes of free will and the longings of the heart, even when they go against destiny, lend later scenes a somber melancholy. Kaguya wants her happiness, and we cannot help but want it for her. Larger themes emerge, such as the transience of our existence. One can only wonder if the gifts awaiting us in the realm of the divine are any greater than those here on earth. The answer comes in the form of a falling tear.
8 September 2014
By Parker Mott
[i]The Tale of the Princess Kaguya[/i] tells an exceedingly important story, wrapped in the realm of Japanese folk tale, of femininity and a woman’s ability – and right – to make her own decisions. Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) takes these elements and actually feels them through the tender graces of heart and humour that permeate this tale of Kaguya (voiced by Aki Asakura) who puts her own worth and aspirations before her prearranged place as a “lady” in society. The story is executed with a calm, endearing intelligence overcoming the shrill, calculated cuteness of the pseudo-feminist animated films, Frozen and Brave.
Takahata’s animation also isn’t a carbon copy of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli films. His hand-drawn images are somehow simpler than the man behind The Wind Rises (which played at last year’s TIFF and was one of the best films of 2013) – the colours fainter and the environments stripped down- etched with minimalism- to the point they appear unfinished. Takahata leaves areas uncoloured to show where light directly illuminates; that way the details of the animation have a purer sense of place. Granted, Miyazaki has a better sense of movement- a type of motion that’s strikingly in tune with its environs (not achieved as powerfully here).
The film’s best stretch is when Kaguya dares a group of bumbling suitors grovelling for her courtship to procure the very treasures they blindly compare her to. This proposition amounts to a series of instances where the knaves contrive mockups of these riches and try to cheat their way into Kaguya’s affections. Naturally, they are humiliated and the result is a stream of gleeful comedy- that luckily doesn’t distract from the film’s deeper themes. Once again, Studio Ghibli produces another animated miracle.
16 October 2014
By Dan Schindel
Over the course of its three decades of existence, Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli has been strongly associated with Hayao Miyazaki, it’s co-founder and most prolific director. Miyazaki won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature for Spirited Away, among numerous other accolades, and his recently-announced retirement has caused many to wonder about the future of the studio (which just put its motion picture production on indefinite hiatus). Many tend to overlook that Ghibli has many other supremely talented animators working for it. Take, for instance, Isao Takahata, another founder of the studio, who has been in the field just as long as Miyazaki. He’s worked less than his colleague – The Tale of Princess Kaguya is his first film in 14 years — but is easily Miyazaki’s equal.
This film is based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a Japanese folk story from the 10th century which is the country’s oldest known piece of literature. The story follows the namesake Princess Kaguya through the whole of her life, beginning with a bamboo cutter discovering her as an infant in a glowing bamboo stalk. Convinced he’s been blessed by Heaven, the bamboo cutter takes the baby home to his wife, where they soon discover that she grows at an accelerated rate. Princess Kaguya’s childhood is over in a flash, after which the family leaves their rural home to live in the posh luxury of the capital city. There, Princess Kaguya struggles with the strictures of propriety and repressive social customs. And after a while, her mysterious origins begin to catch up with her.
Remarkably, The Tale of Princess Kaguya makes an excellent companion piece to Boyhood, seeing as they both track their protagonists’ development through childhood into young adulthood. Of course, Princess Kaguya uses magic to skip the earlier parts, a poignant metaphor for how youth winks away in a flash. Once the main character hits adolescence, her literal growth spurts cease, as she begins to come into her own as a person. Princess Kaguya has little time for what’s expected of a lady in court life. She fights convention with her wits, staving off suitors by turning their false words of courtship against them and setting them to impossible tasks to win her hand. She’s not a “feisty” female though; her journey is one of inward reflection and constant probing, as she seeks to understand life and how best to live it.
That’s an admirable thematic aim, supported by a nuanced sense of pacing and minimalist storytelling. But what truly elevates The Tale of Princess Kaguya is it’s incredible visuals. The movie is drawn in the style of tradition Japanese sumi-e (ink wash) painting. The look is unlike any other animated film that’s yet been made. It matches perfectly with the story’s fairy tale sensibilities, to say nothing of how beautiful it is. Every new scene is a wonder, the simple, thick brushstrokes and splashes of color expertly swishing to convey movement and emotion. In one astounding sequence, when Princess Kaguya becomes entrenched in grief and runs away from home, the image shreds itself to the most base from imaginable, jagged lines giving the audience just enough to understand what’s going on. It’s a perfect way to portray her state of mind, and the crowning example of Takahata’s visual ingenuity.
Moody, poignant, often funny, and sometimes heartbreaking, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the best films of the year, animated or otherwise. It’s a brilliant look at how one comes into one’s own as an adult and how women struggle with what’s expected of them in a patriarchal society. And it is so, so very beautiful.