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The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi, Mike Jones
Produced by: Studio Ghibli, Dentsu, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners.
Featuring the voices of: Chloe Moretz Grace, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, James Marsden, John Cho, Beau Bridges, Oliver Platt, Dean Cain. Lucy Liu, Darren Criss.
While Hayao Miyazaki is deciding whether or not he’s actually going to retire this time we’re left with a void that demands to be filled by a great Japanese animator. The best animator that is not Miyazaki would have to be Isao Takahata (director of GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES), whose ambition and creativity is at least comparable to the master’s.
His THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA is based off of an old Japanese folk tale, and in some parts you can tell that the material is stretched a little thin, which does work to the movie’s detriment. The animation style however, is revolutionary, it is unlike any other anime film out there.
The film follows a bamboo cutter and his wife (voices of James Caan and Mary Steenburgen respectively) who find a little girl within a stick of bamboo. Said girl grows up quickly; and over the course of several months she is a teenager (voice of Chloe Moretz Grace). The father finds gold in another stick of bamboo, and says that the heavens want this girl to become a princess, so he works to build a mansion.
The film offers an interesting analysis on Japanese noble culture, with young Kaguya often mirroring a Jane Austen protagonist (Elizabeth Bennett was the one that came to mind). The relationship she has with her father is one sided, with him forcing the prospects of nobility and marriage upon her. It almost seems as though what happens to her is actually about him.
I also enjoyed the more grounded portrayal of Japanese culture. A lot of anime now tend to exaggerate that, which leads to a lot of Americans embracing that exaggerated portrayal as fact. This makes the focus KAGUYA pays to realism refreshing.
One factor I wasn’t so keen on was how slow the picture was. This seems to be due to how old the story this was based off of is. One can look at this as a representation of how stories at that time in history were paced. With that being said, the movie is slow-paced, and sometimes feels very dry. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it does partially hinder KAGUYA in the long run.
THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA is a unique picture, a smart picture, and a deep picture. Certainly its slow, maybe dry, but it is worth seeing if only as an introduction to Takahata’s work. He really is almost on par with Miyazaki, and has made a movie that deserves to be seen.
Suggestion: See it (if you can find it)