When it comes to Studio Ghibli’s films, I’m a bit of a philistine. I’ve been aware of their popularity for some time, but never really sought out, or had the opportunity to watch one of their films until last years The Wind Rises. I loved it, and subsequently watched Spirited Away, under the impression that it was considered to be the studio’s most popular film by most. Whilst I can’t say I found Spirited Away as good as I had hoped – although the animation is remarkable – my interest in Ghibli only increased. My latest trip into the realms of Ghibli comes in the form of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, a film based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter.
A story of humble beginnings, nobility, and freedom; one day a bamboo cutter discovers a tiny little princess within a glowing bamboo plant and assumes that she has been gifted to him by the heavens. With one touch from the cutter’s wife, she instantly grows into a baby, and continues to grow at a remarkable rate, whilst being raised by the old couple. As the young girl grows up in the blissful beauty of the fields, farms, and trees, living off of the land for anything she may need; her adoptive father makes plans for her noble adulthood, aided by gifts of money, and fanciful clothing from up above. As they couple move to a newly built mansion in the city, what initially starts out as joy for the young girl, soon to be named Kaguya, soon turns into tragedy as the confines of her class, keep her from the nature she loves so much.
Much like Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is drenched in bittersweet longing. As Studio Ghibli itself seems to be coming to an end, with only one more film in the pipeline, Princess Kaguya feels like a swan song of sorts; a painful goodbye to the wonderful world’s which they have created over the past thirty years. The film starts off as enchanting and euphoric, combining magic and charm as Kaguya is raised by her elderly adoptive parents. In these sequences, you can almost smell the flowers, taste the fruit, and feel the warmth of the day through the sounds and images that fill the screen. Bliss turns to misery though, as nature is replaced with small rooms and constant barriers between Kaguya and the rest of the world. With the switch, comes a sense of foreboding that stays with the film until it’s beautiful, but heartbreaking ending.
There is humour throughout, and it has a truly hilarious centrepiece that involves five prospective husbands attempting to prove their worth, by attempting to obtain various unobtainable mystical objects. For all of its humour though, it is the sadness that will stay with you longest, as the feeling of missed opportunity and lost love, cuts deeper than you may think.
Thematically and emotionally impactful, Princess Kaguya is also one of the most gorgeous pieces of animation that I’ve seen in a while. As the art form continues to grow primarily with the aid of computers, Isao Takahata takes it back to the drawing board in a way; right back to when the very first animated films were released. There’s a crudity about the style of animation used, a rushed sketch like quality, with watercolours that fade into the ever present white of the page. But within it is great beauty; images so vivid and lush, that you’ll want to continuously pause the picture, just to take it all in. You’ll find your eyes darting around the screen at evey small detail; each frame is a picture that you could imagine being hung on a wall somewhere; it really is stunning.
A visual masterpiece, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is wondrous, inventive, romantic and magical. Having not seen a lot of Ghibli’s other features, it’s hard for me to judge it’s quality compared to their other films; but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t considered amongst their finest. With stunning animation, a grown up sensibility concerning its story, and stirring music from Joe Hisaishi; The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is a treat for the ear, eye, and soul.
Image credit to http://www.southbayfilmsociety.com