The tale of the Princess Kaguya

We were invited to a press screening of  Studio Ghibli’s The tale of the Princess Kaguya ahead of its UK cinema release.

The tale of the Princess Kaguya is a strikingly beautiful piece of work based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. It begins on the outskirts of a small Japanese village where we meet Miyatsuko the bamboo cutter, father to Kaguya and one of the films central characters.

Whilst felling trees, he’s drawn to a glowing shoot of bamboo which slowly unravels revealing a tiny doll-like baby draped in fine robes. Together with his wife they raise the baby who grows and learns at an alarmingly fast rate. He soon discovers gold in the bamboo forest and believing his daughter to be a divine princess; he’s determined to give her the absolute best that life has to offer.

As the story progresses we come to meet an array of characters, all of whom have a profound impact on Kaguya. From the children in the village who affectionately name her “Takenoko” (little bamboo) to the lords and princes vying for her affection. Following her abrupt departure from her village to the capital, she soon comes to long for a simpler life free of the formalities and constraints that her father wishes for her, and it becomes apparent to her that she cannot please her father without losing her freedom and sense of self.

What is most notable about the film is its artwork. With the vast majority of anime films and series striving for a polished, glossy, clean-cut look; Isao Takahata’s film is a much welcomed breath of originality. Similar in tone to his last film My Neighbors the Yamadas, and even more so the animated film The Snowman, it’s perfectly suited to the simplistic yet deep narration of the film. The artistic style of its delivery seems to pay tribute to its origin as a folktale, a story told and spread by word of mouth which in so doing lends itself open to subtle changes.

This artistic openness to change becomes most apparent in its artwork during a pivotal point in the story when Kaguya runs away from home. Amidst her rage, pain and anger, the animation slowly morphs into a captivating sketchy blur which left me in a trance. The washed out water colour tones and its sketched appearance manage to unite not only the films backdrop and environment, but manage to lend the perfect canvass to its muted and distinct sound.

With its score composed by Joe Hisaishi, the film comes to life in a way which complements it beautifully. Thankfully it’s not an overly decorated piece of work filled with trinkets, flowers and objects of wonder in all shades of the rainbow. Told without the usual fanfare and overly-active scenes, it allows you to focus on the narration without feeling overwhelmed or distracted.

Conclusion

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a work simple in its execution but emotionally satisfying in its delivery. With a running time stretching a little over two hours, you can’t escape the feeling it’s trying a little too hard. Although it’s tinged with sadness and even melancholy at times, Studio Ghibli’s trademark imaginative style and their cute playfulness permeates through the film from Kaguya’s playful childhood to her mischievous early teens. Add to that a light touch of comedy; Isao Takahata has given this ancient folktale a new lease of life, which just like its sprouting bamboo shoot takes root as one of Studio Ghibli’s finest works.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya will be released in UK cinemas on the 20th March and the Republic of Ireland on the 27th March.