DIR: Isao Takahata • WRI: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi • PRO: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Seiichirô Ujiie • MUS: Joe Hisaishi
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the latest film by Isao Takahata, co-founder of the beloved and renowned animation studio Studio Ghibli. Takahata is best known for his touching war tragedy Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and while this latest isn’t quite up there with his masterpiece, it’s still a beautifully animated, well-acted, well-told version of the 10th century Japanese folk-tale on which it is based.
As our story begins, a young girl is discovered growing in a tree by a bamboo-cutter, who decides to name her Kaguya and raise her as his own child with his wife, and eventually makes her become a princess, at which point her supernatural beginnings come back to haunt her.
Now, one thing I’ve always loved about Studio Ghibli is that while their films are (mostly) appealing to children, they’re still able to have a very mature outlook on the nature of existence with each film looking at a different facet of human life. Castle in the Sky (1986) was about friendship in the face of adversity. Grave of the Fireflies was about the effect of war on the civilian populace. Princess Mononoke (1997) was about the negative effect that mankind has on the animals and other species with whom we share this planet. And Princess Kaguya is about the difficulties of parenthood and childhood.
As opposed to the Disney princess films The Tale of the Princess Kaguya takes a more mature, realistic look at what life would be like for a princess and is the antithesis of the traditional Disney princess films, such as Cinderella (1950). Mainly because the traditional princess film, especially early Disney efforts, are usually about helpless women finding themselves in situations they can’t deal with, and require the help of a tall handsome white guy to come and save them. Whereas the princes in this film are presented as foppish and idiotic, obsessed with Kaguya’s surface beauty.
As always with Studio Ghibli, this is a beautifully animated film. The animation isn’t as crisp or as clean as Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) or My Neighbour Totoro (1988). Instead the film utilises an animation style more similar to a watercolour painting, which was a smart choice, as this animation style is more in-keeping with the film’s fantasy aesthetic, and the animation distorts itself beautifully during more emotional and supernatural scenes. One such scene in which Kaguya runs into the woods, the animation changes beautifully reflecting her maddened mental state, resulting in one of the most delightful sequences in an animated film. However, some scenes do look quite under-produced – backgrounds not filled in, lamps and other objects not coloured in properly, etc. – a problem shared by a previous Takahata effort, My Neighbours the Yamada’s (1999).
The film boasts a marvellous musical score, courtesy of Joe Hisaishi. Similar to the animation itself, the score changes in accordance with Kaguya’s emotional and mental state, making it much easier to empathise with Kaguya, especially when the film reaches its climax.
One gripe I would have with the film is that, while Kaguya herself and the bamboo-cutter’s family all have distinct personalities, and most of the supporting characters are all mostly well-characterised, one character, Sutemaru, is tragically under-developed. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that he keeps dropping out of the story completely for long periods of time, only to be awkwardly shunted back into the plot while the film nervously assures us that he really is relevant to this story, and on top of that, there’s also an incredibly forced and out-of-place romantic subplot which the film really would have been much better without.
Nevertheless, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is still a superb film. Another win for Studio Ghibli.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is released 20th March 2015