DIRECTED BY: ISAO TAKAHATA
STARRING: AKI ASAKURA, KENGO KORA, TAKEO CHII, NOBUKO MIYAMOTO AND ATSUKO TAKAHATA
Studio Ghibli is the greatest animation studio on the planet. Consistently producing films that are beautiful, emotional, full of warmth and heart. Capturing a seemingly forgotten age in hand drawn animation every frame seems to resonate with feeling.
Last year legendary director Hayao Miyazaki hung up his directors cap with The Wind Rises and now co-founder and fellow director Isao Takahata looks to be doing the same with The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. If this does prove to be the directors last film he has signed off with a masterpiece.
Taking eight years to complete and based on a 10th century Japanese folk tale the film has an incredibly unique look, imagine a moving painting done in watercolour and that still does not do it justice. The fact it was all done by hand gives it a warmth no computer animated movie can quite match. Sides of the frame gently fade away, the characters movement is graceful and a mostly muted colour pallet gives the film a very sombre feel.
A bamboo cutter finds a tiny Princess inside a glowing bamboo shoot. He takes her home to his wife where she shifts from being a tiny person into a baby. The bamboo cutters wife can suddenly produce milk for the baby and they take these signs that they should raise the baby as their own, she is christened Princess as they believe her to be of divine origin. She grows quickly and before long is friends with several children who give her the nickname Lil’ Bamboo (on account of her adopted fathers profession) though her father insists she be called Princess. For a while life seems good as she spends carefree days exploring the country with her friends.
However her adopted father soon discovers riches in the form of gold in another bamboo shoot and their lives suddenly go into huge upheaval as he uses the fortune to relocate the family to the capital and place them amongst societies elite. Princess now lives in a mansion and has a teacher trying to turn her into what society expects a noblewoman to be. On the day of her naming ceremony she overhears men mocking her father for attempting to turn a peasant into a noble through money. This leads to a breathtaking sequence where she flees the capital and the animation takes on a stark quality, stripped back layer by layer as she shrugs off everything that is fake.
Managing to return home unfortunately all has changed and her friends have gone away. She finds herself back in the capital once more where she withdraws into herself. As word of her intense beauty spreads Princess finds herself wanted by some of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the country. But none of them understand that she does not want rich, expensive gifts just the quite simple life she enjoyed in the countryside.
Takahata’s direction is masterful, the film moves at a sedate pace allowing the viewer to absorb every detail, the mannerisms, the locations and the emotions. Even though the story is adapted from a centuries old folk tale the themes of wishing for a simple life, being true to yourself and life being so fleeting are resonant even now.
Studio Ghibli have one more film due for release this year and after that the future is uncertain. Reports say they are going on hiatus as they consider what to do now the two founders and most famed directors have retired. Looking back at the exceptional body of work they have produced over the years The Tale of the Princess Kaguya can sit proudly alongside their very best.
All screenshots were taken from www.blu-ray.com
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