With its timeless appeal and emotionally-moving themes, it is no wonder that The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was nominated for Best Animated Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Directed and co-written by Studio Ghibli’s co-founder Isao Takahata, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is Takahata’s fifth film for Studio Ghibli. Based on the Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a fantasy drama that goes back to ancient roots, detailing the life of a mysterious girl who was discovered as a baby inside a bamboo stalk.
From the moment the bamboo cutter discovered Kaguya, viewers will no doubt be transfixed by its simplified storytelling. To coincide with Kaguya’s growth, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya moves at a rapid yet graceful pace. Within minutes, we see Princess Kaguya quickly transforming into a child, and later into a beautiful woman. Knowing that it must be destiny for the young girl to become a noble princess, the bamboo cutter decides to whisk his family away from the carefree life of the countryside and forced into the ways of the Capital.
It is not all about the silken kimonos and highly-polished mansion — the Princess must learn how to behave like a lady and act like a noble princess. With her life now turned upside down, Kaguya simply wishes to be nothing but a child at heart, and not bounded by rules of the noble ways. However, the audience cannot help noticing an unusual spirit that seems to possess Kaguya’s mind and soul — a mysterious aura that contrasts starkly with Kaguya’s immature personality.
Despite knowing that Kaguya is not born of royalty, news of her beauty and ‘shining’ presence began to interest people, including the Majesty himself. After the Majesty invaded her privacy, it is then revealed that there is more to Kaguya than what meets the eye as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic towards the end. The audience is then unexpectedly informed that she was not of this world and must return to her people on the 15th day of the month after she subconsciously wished to disappear from Earth.
Filled with hope, heartache and imagination, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya delivers a bittersweet story that compels the audience to think about life and appreciating what we have. Unlike rivaling animated films, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya does not consist of an action-packed plot with computer-generated imagery, catchy songs, and cute characters. Utilising traditional art as a tribute to minimalism, this Japanese animation will charm viewers with its old soul in a way that we have never seen before. Brimming with elegant sophistication, the whole film is an exquisite painting that is far from the usual Studio Ghibli films that we are accustomed to.
From the incredible palette of watercolours representing Kaguya’s happiness to the thick, charcoal brushstrokes that represents the darkness of her heart, this traditional approach enables the film to experim with the medium in various ways.
Staying true to traditional art, the film’s approach to animation is just as simple. However, there are special cases throughout the film where the story takes advantage of the traditional medium. The film’s clever input of dramatic brushstrokes to highlight Kaguya’s emotions is astonishing as these scenes are not only mesmerising to watch, but it also adds depth to the storytelling.
And what better way to demonstrate the beauty of traditional Japanese culture than an original soundtrack directed by Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle). Capturing the wonders and dramatic moments, Hisaishi has composed a soundtrack that harmonises with the ups and downs of Princess Kaguya’s life. From the traditional sing-along songs to the theme song “When I Remember This Life” (performed by Kazumi Nikaidō), Hisaishi’s soundtrack makes the film memorable and unique in its own right.
Overall: Compared to many of its mainstream rivals such as Big Hero 6 and How to Train a Dragon 2, THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA is one of the most distinct animated films in Studio Ghibli’s history.
Acknowledged for its unique storytelling and simple artistry that demonstrates the beauty in nature, Japan’s culture, and life in general, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is no doubt a modern Japanese gem that will enchant viewers of all ages. A well-deserved Oscar nomination.
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (BLU-RAY) is now out on DVD. You can view more info on Madman Entertainment’s site [here]