Genre: Animation, Drama
Cast: Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii
Synopsis: A bamboo cutter discovers a miniature girl inside a bamboo shoot. Believing her to be divine, he takes her home and raises the girl to be a princess.
Most people hate January. I, on the other hand, quite enjoy it because of one reason: Oscar season. This year I managed to see most of the big films that have been nominated. I have my favourites but I am of the opinion that certain mistakes were made by the academy. One big mistake was the failure to nominate The Lego Movie for best animated feature. However, the academy managed to get it right when it decided to nominate Song of the Sea and this Studio Ghibli film.
As you all know, I am a massive Ghibli fan. I love them so much I would marry Totoro if I could. So it comes a no surprise then that I thoroughly enjoyed this offering from Isao Takahata, who is responsible for other classics such as Pom Poko, Only Yesterday, and Grave of the Fireflies. Based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the film is about the life of a girl found in a bamboo shoot who is raised to be a princess during the Heian period. Despite being a princess, she goes through all the troubles young girls face such as falling in love, learning to become a lady, and celebrating her first visit from Aunt Rose by throwing a party for all the horny gentlemen in the surrounding area.
First of all, let me just say that this is one of the most exquisitely animated films Studio Ghibli has ever produced. I wasn’t sure if a film with a watercolour aesthetic would work but I was pleasantly surprised. The watercolours not only give the film a delicate feel but also a fluidity and level of simplicity that was much appreciated. Every frame in this film could have been a painting, and the animators at the studio have again displayed their talents as well as added to the studio’s reputation as a heavy-hitter in animation world. Two scenes in particular that stand out are the scene where the princess visits the cherry tree and the scene where she runs out of her period party. Both scenes are so beautiful you will have to rewatch them.
Visual beauty is not the only strength to this film. As always, Joe Hisaishi hits the nail on the head with his beautiful score and the script is sharp and injects appropriate humour in all the right places. Moreover, the film is yet another example of why Studio Ghibli is one of the most revolutionary film studios out there for presenting strong female characters and advocating a feminist message. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya essentially functions as a feminist critique of traditional Japanese culture. As such, the movie belongs to be placed on the same shelf with other pro-feminism movies such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. The film also examines another important theme: the burdens parents place on children and the transitory beauty of youth.
If I were to be completely objective, I would say that the film’s length is its downfall. Towards the end, the audience will begin to get twitchy and it doesn’t help that the last half gets pretty odd by Western standards. As much as I love ‘Japan WTF’ moments, even I found the kidnapping by Buddha weird.
However, these flaws don’t detract from the fact that this is a beautiful and moving work of art. I would like to see this win the Oscar for best animated feature, but it faces stiff competition.
- Spectacular animation and a well-formed script.
- “A girl needs to LOL every now and then.” You go girl! I want you as my future daughter.
- Beautiful and transfixing music and sound.
- I wish I were a Heian princess….only without the whole “YAY it’s your period” thing.
- A bit too long.
- Gets weird in places.
Another fine film for Studio Ghibli’s portfolio. While it isn’t the best film the studio’s produced, I am confident that it is one that will be fondly remembered in years to come and it will most definitely be one that I show my future daughter (assuming I have one). Do yourself a favour and watch this as soon as possible.