The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
(Kaguyahime no monogatari)
Directed by Isao Takahata
English language voice work by Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, Beau Bridges, James Marsden, Oliver Platt
Review by Jordan
Studio Ghibli co-visionary Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) brings Japan’s oldest recorded narrative to life with the visionary tour de force The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a film so meticulous in character design and artistic flourishes it leaps from the screen, and ignites inner dialogue pertaining to it’s many heavy themes and emotional ending.
Painstakingly beautiful, Takahata‘s first film since My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999 was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2014 Academy Awards, and also stands as the longest Ghibli film yet made, slightly edging out the classic Princess Mononoke. Not an inch of the canvas is wasted though: candid moments of mothers feeding their young ones, as well as an early encounter with a wild boar protecting it’s children tell us of an underlying thesis on nurturing, and later events speak of when overdone it can prove dangerous to familial relationships and the happiness of the recipients.
Retelling the 10th-Century folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the story traces the supernatural growth and upbringing of a baby discovered inside the stalk of a glowing bamboo plant, raised by a humble elderly couple: the Bamboo Cutter and his meek wife. When the Bamboo Cutter finds a pile of gold also he decides that the Heavens have intended the life of a Princess for this little girl, so traveling to and from the city he builds a fortress and an empire, to which she is taken to be trained in the ways of nobility, with every care being taken to ensure she would want for nothing.
Eventually word of her unrivaled beauty reaches far, and 5 suitors come seeking her hand in marriage, but his only exacerbates her want for freedom and the splendors of the natural environment in which she first experienced life on Earth. A pivotal scene shows her escaping, determinedly rushing back to the bamboo grove and shedding her expensive robes as she runs, with the dull watercolors fading to grey as she nears closer to exhaustion.
She is torn between her fond memories of her youth and the boy she left there, and wishing to fulfill the expectations of her loving adopted parents. She realizes the capacity and want for those surrounding her to care for her, but is confused and frustrated by how they often show it; her lot becomes a heartbreaking one that becomes deeply affecting and at times truly unsettling.
Boasting an incredibly enthralling narrative and woven with patience and sheer creative intelligence, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the most wondrous animations to come out of Japan. There is little here for children, but the striking visual creations are designed to ignite that same sense of wide-eyed wonder in adults, and the immersive story and aforementioned themes guarantee its longevity in the forefront of the audience’s mind.