The Tale of Princess Kaguya
A bamboo cutter finds a tiny child in a bamboo stalk, who rapidly grows into a young girl. Flush with magical wealth, he and his wife raise her to be a princess in the capital, but the news of her great beauty attracts attention from ministers, princes, and the emperor ... but her true destiny may lie somewhere even the emperor can not follow.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a stunningly beautiful film, the most vivid of watercolor paintings come to life. But do not think this is simply a "Ghibli retelling" of a folktale: this film largely eschews the usual visual and storytelling tropes of Studio Ghibli fantasy, but is instead a fairly straight retelling of a tale both fanciful and wistful.
This is an art-film fancier's dream come true: every frame may as well be a masterwork, with bucolic nature scenes interspersed with the liveliness of rural Japan and the opulence of the Heian-era court, and the pervasive magic of Japanese folklore. Everything from wilderness to palaces, rustic hovels to gleaming palaces, every scene skates along like a watercolor painting being changed midstream. There's not much out there quite like it, except perhaps the video game Okami which has a very similar aesthetic. The music mirrors the imagery -- richly orchestrated and making heavy use of traditional instrumentation such as the koto and shamisen.
The story itself is a slightly modernized adaptation of an ancient story; the emperor is nowhere as aloof (or heartless) as in the original, and if anything, Kaguya's adoptive parents come of as a bit more real (and sympathetic) than their original incarnations. Still, this is by no means "Disneyfied"; indeed at times, the narrative feels cold and unrelatable, largely due to the sheer antiquity of the source material, and, as pointed out by astute THEM Boards member Horosha, the supernatural nature of the princess herself, compared to the mortals surrounding her. The narrative often operates in fits and starts, and very abruptly ends, as mysteriously as it begins, which feels odd to those expecting a conventional denouement. There is no Hollywood happy ending to seek here, and some of the continuity nods between characters seen early in the film and near the end are subtle and easily missed.
But we're not looking for Hollywood, and what we get, I'd argue, is much better -- free from the constraints of popular opinion and modern storytelling tropes, this is a whirlwind of breathtaking visuals highlighting the nature, history, and culture of Japan in a way that feels novel, yet timeless. This is not just a film for anime fans: it's a film for students of film, and it's clear that Takahata is every bit as enamored of animation and its storytelling and visual possibilities as Miyazaki or any other of the all-time animation greats.
From top to bottom, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an exemplary work that deserves a place on your screen and in your home.
Though at times emotionally distant, this retelling of the most classic of Japanese folktales is a visual masterpiece and a triumph of animation as art. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: There are brief scenes of nudity of children in a non-sexual context (this is simply how children were dressed in 10th-century Japan) which may be a bit of a surprise for those in strong nudity-taboo cultures. There is one sense that may be construed as an assault, but nothing really comes of it, nor of threats of violence later in the film. One on-screen death by misadventure is played for laughs.
Version(s) Viewed: Bilingual DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
The Tale of Princess Kaguya © 2013 Hata Jimusho / GNDHDDTK
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