Film #189: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

kaguyahimeaka: かぐや姫の物語 (Kaguya-hime no monogatari)
director: Isao Takahata
language: Japanese
length: 137 minutes
watched on: 7 June 2016

This actually came out quite a while ago, and I realized only recently that I’d missed it. My standard thing to do with Ghibli movies is to wait until they come out on DVD anyway, and I watched the previous movie, The Wind Rises in a more timely fashion back in 2014, after it was released on DVD – actually only a few months before this one. Oops – this movie is actually better than that one.

The animation style isn’t what I usually associate with Ghibli, in that it’s not Miyazaki’s style, and uses paint and broad brush strokes to create a very different kind of scene. It’s most similar to My Neighbours the Yamadas, which I only now realize was Takahata’s last movie before this one. A fourteen year hiatus is pretty long, but it’s good to see Takahata back on the Ghibli scene (even if the two directors have now called an indefinite hiatus on Ghibli productions…).

The style is at times basic, and at times allows the director to create really lush landscapes, such as the one pictured above, but it always feels like a bit of a dream, especially as the background often wasn’t filled in fully. Another scene in the middle of the movie in which the main character gets angry was more obviously different from the ones around it – the colours were much more vivid, and the animation filled the whole screen. It was around that point that the animation style really came into its own.

The story is based on a Japanese fairy tale, and involves a magical girl discovered in the forest by an old woodcutter, who takes her into his home, instead of running away in fear and panic as I think I would. They’re also showered with gold and riches, and the woodcutter and his wife, who simply call her “Princess”, decide to make good on the name and take her to live in the capital to become a literal princess – she is initially a fish out of water and desperate to head back to her idyllic life in the countryside. The main part of the story is the princess having to take suitors, but setting them some impossible tasks as a prerequisite – they all pretend to succeed but actually fail. The ending is a bit strange and kind of unexpected.

One thing I was confused about in the story was the passage of time – the princess grows up very fast in the first act, literally getting bigger hour by hour and day by day. Later she shows a propensity to learn very fast and without effort. There are four seasons depicted over the course of the movie, strongly implying that the total time span of the movie was barely a year – but the other characters all grow beyond that, implying it’s longer than that and the seasons were merely symbolic.

But aside from that, the animation was beautiful, the story simple and at times heart-wrenching, and the characters were as realistic as they could be in a fantasy tale. It’s way better than The Wind Rises, and there’s basically nothing in here that could possibly offend. I wholeheartedly recommend it – whoever you are!

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