The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

 

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Despite having relevance for today, this enchanting animated feature has its roots in traditional Japanese art.

 

Tale of the Princess Kaguya 
 
Any reference to Studio Ghibli, Japan’s distinguished specialist in animated film, inevitably brings to mind the work of Miyazaki Hayao but other talents engaged there have been his equal. This is confirmed by The Tale of the Princess Kaguya which, some eight years in preparation, is the work of Takahata Isao. In addition to directing he was himself involved in the adaptation for the screen of the old folktale which is the source material here even though it bears a different title, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. However, the central figure is not the bamboo cutter but the baby found by him in a bamboo stalk. The wood cutter and his wife adopt her but, quite apart from seeing a vision of the foundling dressed like a princess, the speed with which she starts to grow (walking and talking in no time at all) makes it clear in itself that she is not a normal child.

 

As the story develops, the wood cutter takes her off to the capital to be trained in ways that will enable her to take her place as a princess. Soon Li’l Bamboo, as she had been called by the local children, is given a new name, that of the Princess Kaguya. Before long she has distinguished suitors quite unlike the rural youth who had first caught her eye, but this is no Cinderella story. Instead the plot development finds the film critical of high society and of materialism including the wood cutter’s ambitions for the girl. As for our heroine, she emerges as strong-willed and eager not to conform to expectations wishing instead to chart her course in life for herself. Given the lowly place of women in Japanese society, the portrayal of our heroine is remarkable and it will speak to audiences worldwide today.

 

In this respect the later sequences of what is a long film, particularly for an animated feature, are, perhaps, less striking since they deal mainly with the heroine’s background before coming to earth and with her destiny which she seems unable to escape. I found some of this rather too complex for full comprehension, but even so the film remains a delight and a triumph. There is a fine music score and the look of the piece is breathtaking throughout with its use of watercolour drawings of the utmost delicacy. They are so steeped in Japanese art that this atmospheric film calls out to be seen subtitled rather than in the dubbed version. It should become a classic.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Voices of (Japanese version): Asakura Aki, Kora Kengo, Takeo Chii, Miyamoto Nobuo; (English language version): Chloë Grace Moretz, Darren Criss, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen.

 

Dir Takahata Isao, Pro Nishimura Yoshiaki, Screenplay Takahata Isao and Sakaguchi Riko from Takahata Isao’s concept based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Art Dir Oga Kazuo, Ed Kojima Toshihiko, Music Joe Hisaishi, Character Design/Directing Animator Tanabe Osamu.

 

Studio Ghibli/Nippon Television Network/Dentsu/Toho/Walt Disney Japan-StudioCanal.
137 mins. Japan. 2013. Rel: 20 March 2015. Cert. U.