In Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

by Daniel Goodwin on 18/03/2015


Last year when Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement and the company’s downsizing, there were sighs of sadness from critics and fans all over the world. Opting to once again work with freelance animators (how it originally ran), instead of in-house staff, Studio Ghibli has now delivered its latest fantastical foray.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is director Isao Takahata’s first feature since My Neighbours The Yamadas (1999). Creator of the studio’s more dramatic works: Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991) and Pom Poko (1994), the 79 year old’s latest film incorporates magical elements widely embraced by the more mainstream films of Miyazaki yet retains his trademark evocative animation style.

Based on an old folk-tale, TOTPK  tells the story of an ageing bamboo cutter and his wife who discover a palm-sized princess growing out of a magic stalk in a field (voiced by James Caan, Mary Steenburgen and Chloe Grace Moretz respectively). The girl swiftly blossoms into a baby and the couple adopt her as their own. After speeding towards adolescence at a remarkable rate, with a fiery teenage nature, the three move to the capital where Kaguya is guided into adulthood and groomed for potential marital suitors.

TOTPK meanders in the middle but has an inherently leisurely temperament. Its elegant brushworks evoke a natural charm, poignancy and raw sophistication that is greatly lacking from many modern animated efforts. The art is rugged but has great perspicuity and an ability to evoke much from the inimitable character expressions.

Sharing spiritual and structural similarities with the wonderful Ponyo (2008), TOTPK is one of Ghibli’s more poignant ventures. Takahata conjures a watercolour world of humanity and magic that captures the true essence of the studio’s ethos. His endearingly written characters and stirring story effortlessly sets to Takahata’s elegant animation style.

Even in the absence of Hayao Miyazaki, who allowed no more than 10% of each Ghibli film to be computer generated, Isao Takahata clearly still retains an immense love for his art, a profound determination to promote the natural beauty of hand-drawn animation and a deep-rooted understanding of what makes their work so salient, for TOTPK is a subtle fantasy with vast compassion and a wide, inspiring heart.

Daniel has awarded The Tale of The Princess Kaguya four Torches of Truth

4 torches

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