The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)
Everything Ghibli takes the form of a traditional Japanese fairytale in Isao Takahata’s new feature. Dazzling audiences with sumptuous visuals and enchanting fantasy, it’s all Studio Ghibli has owed as its global success to in a nutshell. Viewers of all ages will be drawn in by the stunning animation styles and unique way of storytelling, but as always there’s plenty more under the surface for those more discerning fans.
Viewers of all ages will be drawn in by the stunning animation styles and unique way of storytelling …
Takahatta has returned to the directing chair after sixteen years, for what has been titled his final film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. As far as the body of work would suggest, it’s been a sincere labour of love, with production having begun around ten years before the finished product reached a screen with an audience.
His investment in the project is evident throughout, but it is important to note the dips in narrative where critics have been finding holes in the overall structure of the feature. Considered to be slow to conclude for some, cumbersome for others at certain pivotal points. It’s incredibly true to form of the fairytale art, where narrative interludes take the time to play with the viewer by being overly story structure focused in areas. When the princes visit the palace they are each given generous amounts of time to have their place in the development of the Princess Kaguya’s tale. Tedious as it may be, just waiting for the next prince to return from his quest, it serves a greater purpose of depth to the princess’s decisions and her characters growth in personality.
Not a dominant as Princess Mononoke or as obvious a heroine as San from Spirited Away, Kaguya is still a substantial addition to the Ghibli collection.
Kaguya isn’t the instant feminist Ghibli heroine, she’s a pretty princess that although from a Japanese fable could well be a Disney protagonist in her predicament. She reminds me a lot of the Hans Christian Andersn fairytale Thumbelina, who is found in a flower by an old woman who raises her as her own. Kaguya comes from a bamboo shoot and is raised by the elderly bamboo cutter and his wife. Magical signs tell the old man that he must make her a princess, taking her from a humble countryside childhood filled where she ran barefoot and stole fruit, to an accepted member of Japanese royal society with all the expectations, airs and graces. Her transitions from miniature kimono clad figurine, to unnaturally rapidly growing baby, through ancient Japanese customs for a lady of society, back to the moon child she always was are a mind boggling process. In light of how many transitions she goes through, it’s easy to suggest that she’s ever more a Ghibli heroine as she is as changeable as the wind, full of the wide eyed wonder that so many heroines before her have embodied. The fantasy element helps her to become a successful Ghibli female protagonist, she’s untouchable in so many ways, yet she has the same grounded mannerisms that all Ghibli females display when faced with challenges to their individualism. Not a dominant as Princess Mononoke or as obvious a heroine as San from Spirited Away, Kaguya is still a substantial addition to the Ghibli collection.
Ever more the premise of why people love a Ghibli feature is the imagery. The overall imagery of Kaguya is very much in the same vein as Takahata’s earlier comic strip art. The 1999 feature My Neighbours the Yamadas showcased sketch form characters that were bolstered with watercolour style pastel colouring. More luscious and bolder in landscapes, Kaguya takes his beautiful watercolour technique to a new level. The soft tones and subtle natural colours give way to moments of wondrously wild fantasy sequences where colour takes on board a magical quality and presents a fairytale world that is delightfully in line with the tale. A new element that sets Kaguya apart from Takahata’s previous projects is a sublime dream sequence with heavy charcoal detailing and rapid fluid movements that seem to transcend the characters world as we thought we knew it. The detailing of the animated movements is of course key to the unique portrayal of the dream sequence, and represents the true discordant happenings of the narrative. The mental mindset of Kaguya is addressed in the dream sequence, where other Takahata films have relied on dialogue. Here he shows a mastery of silence and unveils the captivating power of his animation, as well as a depth of understanding that will inspire more discussions of the Ghibli female for sure.
Kaguya is far from the weary realism of war orphans in The Grave of the Fireflies and takes on the playful element of Pom Poko’s mischievous forest racoons. It’s defiantly Japanese in source material, but with a universal fairytale understanding. If passionate animation is the definition of a good director then The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a jewel in the crown of Takahata’s career.
It’s defiantly Japanese in source material, but with a universal fairytale understanding. If passionate animation is the definition of a good director then The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a jewel in the crown of Takahata’s career.