Tag Archives: Feminist Icon

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

TheTaleofThePrincessKaguya_US_poster

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.

Period CakeThe traditional period cake

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.

buddhaFilthy bastard

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.

High-lights:

  • 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.

Downers:

  • A bit too long.
  • Gets weird in places.

Summary:

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.

8/10

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Filed under Action/Adventure, Drama, Great

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

Nausicaa

Genre: Sci-Fi, Animation, Action/Adventure, Drama

Cast: The English dub has the voices of Shia LaBeouf, Uma Thurman and Patrick Stewart

Synopsis: Nausicaä is a young princess of the Valley of the Wind who inhabits a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a toxic jungle and giant insects. Nausicaä must prevent a neighbouring nation from using an ancient weapon against the jungle and insects.

It’s been a while since I reviewed a Myazaki film and the other day I got a huge hankering for one of his older and more mature films. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was released in 1984(before Studio Ghibli was founded) and although the soundtrack/sound effects may be a little dated, the animation and the story are as fresh as ever and prove that Miyazaki’s genius will transcend time and be treasured for generations to come. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that makes this film so special because it’s all so brilliant, complex and beautiful – as should be expected with any Miyazaki film.

One thing that I love about this film is its spiritual and environmental message. Unlike FernGully: The Last Rainforest which was heavy-handed with its environmental message, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind takes a more subtle route. Like one of Miyazaki’s later works, the film focuses heavily on human relationships with the environment and how greed, ill will and delusion drives conflict and poisons those relationships. Whereas FernGully features 80s pixies who help the forest grow with their songs about magical life-rain, the characters in Nausicaä are humans recovering from an environmental apocalypse who fear and resent the exquisitely animated toxic jungle which overwhelms the planet. Also inhabiting the planet are ginormous insects and the mysterious Ohmu which are kind of like divine crustacean-beetles. The message of the movie is that humans, the jungle and insects inhabit the same world and we need to learn to live together in complete balance.

In the midst of it all stands feminist-icon princess Nausicaä who must navigate all manner political and diplomatic hurdles while still managing to be a bad-ass. She flies, she’s kind, she fights like a demon and she befriends all sorts of cool animals. She’s essentially what I want my future-daughter to be: tough, kind, intelligent and principled. It’s rare to see this quality of heroine in today’s films, although tough heroine’s are a staple of Miyazaki’s films, just like multi-dimensional “almost-villains” which feature in this movie too. Nausicaä is the driving force behind the film and the audience comes to care for her deeply. In a way, she’s a greater hero than Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke because she’s a lot more accessible and less pious. The audience develops with her and as her understanding and respect for the environment grows so does ours.

As mentioned before, the soundtrack is a little bit dated but, if you love 8-s electro sci-fi music, this won’t be much of a problem. The film’s composer, Joe Hisaishi, is every bit as gifted as Miyazaki and he created a mind-blowing soundtrack that perfectly complements the eerie and desolate landscape in the film. If you’re baked, the music becomes otherworldly and reverberates in your body. It’s really a wonderful experience. Although the music may be a little outdated, nothing else in the movie is. The animation is as crisp and mesmerising as ever and the film’s central themes are arguably more important today than they were 20 years ago. I seriously advise everyone to watch this film with an open mind and, if you do, then prepare to be astounded.

High-lights:

  • A beautifully animated dystopian future that almost feels Tolkienian. It’s even more incredible considering the film is 20 years old!
  • A well-rounded main character who is a feminist icon.
  • The important environmental message.
  • Scenes of remarkable beauty. In my mind there are two stand-out scenes. The first is the scene in which Patrick Stewart’s character discovers Nausicaä secret garden which is all glowy and pretty. The second scene is the one in which Nausicaä flies over the desert and sees a lone Ohmu watching the sunrise.

Downers:

  • The soundtrack may annoy some people.
  • The pacing could have been tighter in places.

Summary:

I think that this movie could appeal to a wide audience because it is essentially a mish-mash of lots of different genres weaved seamlessly together to create a visual and well-plotted masterpiece. Please don’t write this movie off because it’s an anime and because it was created in the decade of stylistic horrors which was the 1980s. If you watch this movie I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised.

9.5/10

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Filed under Action/Adventure, Animation, Drama, Mind Blowingly Awesome, Sci-Fi