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THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA

March 17, 2015

Film + EntertainmentReview | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Last year’s The Wind Rises saw director and Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki create his final feature-length film and alongside it, announce his official retirement. It gained an Academy Award nomination, becoming the third for the company (not forgetting Spirited Away’s win in 2003) and was proclaimed a ‘masterpiece’. My own thoughts on Miyazaki’s swan-song were perhaps not so exclamatory but Studio Ghibli’s newest addition – a typically surreal and politically charged visual explosion has me once again. This is a real gem.

Isao Takahata has charged at viewers with a voracious desire to cement the hole left by one of animation’s greatest innovators. Co-founding the studio in the mid 80s with Miyazaki, he has directed four other features and this latest one, ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’, seems to have already done the job in maintaining the company’s success – gaining their fourth Academy Award nomination.

Sometimes evident, sometimes not, but what is most broadly notable in Ghibli’s films are their political and nature sensitive messages. They discuss man’s relationship with ‘their’ planet and often (inspiringly) attack their egocentric incompetence. Closely resembling 1984’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and 1997’s Princess Mononoke, Takahata has used our destructive relationship with nature as a basis for his film, though a more subtle and child-friendly approach has been taken.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya finds a bamboo cutter discover a small girl in a shining stalk of bamboo. Taking her home to his wife, the new arrival makes a radical and miraculous transformation, as the couple bring her up as their own but it seems that her innocent and pure nature has the opposite effect on those around her.

There are largely fantastical elements that are only heightened by the exquisite and mind-blowing animation. This is unlike anything I have ever seen before with the majority of the film looking like it has just been lifted from a sketch book. Often the characters’ features are omitted – especially from a distance and the process all seems exceptionally rapid; the hand that bore such beauty is all but a blur.

A rather furious scene turns into a comic book before once again reverting back and by the end there are more similarities to the Studio’s other films. Most striking is the precision and accuracy with which Takahata has created this film. The movements and the actions are so life-like that it is difficult to fathom the fact that this is an animation. Kaguya’s movements as a baby and her adoptive mother’s offering of her breast are breathtaking and, dare I say it, brave. The message is clear: we are animals and we are not to be afraid of this.

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The force with which Takahata throws the profoundly important and overwhelming message is intense. The Princess’s representation of nature and her effect on not only her parents but also her ‘admirers’ offers a profound amount of discussion. The human race is distinctly aware of the reign of terror it has brought down on earth and yet a general inability to be selfless and regarding themselves as ‘God’ only makes matters worse.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya teaches us a lesson after which it takes all that is pure and beautiful away. A second chance cannot be given. Unlike its Western counterpart, Studio Ghibli gives us not only very pleasing aesthetics but also depth. This should be in everybody’s movie collection.

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is available on DVD from July 13th

Samuel Sims