Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a beautiful labour of love, and in my opinion will become an instant classic of diehard fans. This time, the animation is unlike that of the style of Ghibli-esque blockbusters we have become accustom too, with it’s beautiful and delicate use of sketching and watercolours… no surprise that it received an Oscar nomination for best animated film this year.
Like many of the Studio Ghibli tales, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on Japanese folklore, as it follows the life of a humble bamboo cutter who stumbles upon a glowing stalk, a tiny, hand-sized girl growing within. Excitingly returning home to his wife, they find that the child rapidly transforms from baby, to toddler, to infant in a beautifully animated transition. Though the genuine film can be seen with subtitles, the dubbed version stars a formidable cast of Chloë Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, James Caan and Lucy Lui.…pretty impressive acting cast…and you can’t even see the acting…now thats what I call acting!
The tale beautifully and poignantly manifests itself as a parable-like journey, mixing it’s relatively true historical roots to those mystical based ones. The story follows the family as the bamboo cutter moves them to the city in order to fulfil what he believes to be Kaguya’s destiny of becoming a princess. Though it is never clear as to how or why the father made the connection between his adoptive child and her future of royalty…I believe he arrives at this conclusion when he revisits the original scene when he first discovered Kaguya, only this time to discover great riches and fine robes…a gift from the gods…most I got was a packet of skittles, but I mean there is still hope… The balance between humour and solemnity helps the narrative flow whilst also making you feel real empathy for Kaguya and her situation. Whimsical moments deliver in captivating you entirely.
The film also injects sorrow, particularly as the princess struggles with her new life away from the farm, friends and freedom she grew up with. And While her life moves on, the film develops (cleverly I might add), upon these points before flowing lovingly into a situation in which the Princess sends five potential love interests on a mission to find for her an unobtainable gift.…unobtainable in a sense where all the riches in the land couldn’t buy it….I think they are talking about love…nah probably not. The development of these missions, in which Kaguya finally embraces her power, over her suitors is charming and brilliant!
Animated entirely from the modern innovation of ink and watercolour, the definition in the penmenship drives the tone of the film, it is truly stunning. In moments of calm the pen marks curve delicately, whilst in times of trouble ink is sharp, aggressive and almost unfinished for use of a better word. This effect adds peace and rigour, and ultimately another layer enhancing the story. The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a welcome departure from this over-saturated CGI market that, whilst great in its own mediums, has detracted from the flare of ink based animation. It is almost as if Isao Takahata is rebelling against the likes of Pixar, essentially reminds us that it is still a daring art form, glorious is its craft and labour.
The entire film is held together exquisitely by another Joe Hisaishi masterclass. The stirring soundtrack adding beauty, elegance and hope to an already sublime film. The concluding piece of music is harrowing, yet delightful in the ultimate juxtaposition of image and sound. The score alone will have you scurrying out looking to buy it as I did!!
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is surprising and captivating, and a true victory for imagination. The story is simple enough, with folklore at it’s heart. It airs on ridiculous, but remains grounded enough to thrill. I’ll begin as I shall end…The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a beautiful labour of love, and in my opinion will become an instant classic of diehard fans.