Monday, 16 June 2014

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

This is just going to be a short post.

I watched the new Ghibli film, "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" last night at the Sydney film festival. This adaptation of a Japanese folk tale was directed by one of the lesser known masters at Ghibli, Isao Takahata (who also directed the heart rending Grave of the Fireflies ).

Takahata seems a bit overshadowed by his colleague Miyazaki, whose fantastical films seem to be a rough analogue for Disney films. I'm sure that comparison will draw a lot of ire from some circles but I'm sticking with it! After seeing Kaguya, I can't help but feel if Takahata had been releasing works of this quality (this was his first new film in 14 years) he would easily be as well known as Miyazaki.

The movie tells the tale of a bamboo cutter who finds a small girl (the size of a doll) in a glowing bamboo shoot. He takes the girl home to his wife, at which point she turns into a small baby. The couple raise the child as their own daughter. As you can imagine for a child of such divine providence, many strange things happen in her presence. Eventually they make the decision that their daughter should be brought up in an environment truly befitting a noble princess.

I won't go into to more detail. The plot is very archetypical - it's based on a fable after all. But it is a touching narrative that touches on so much of what parents want for their children and for themselves, misguided as this may be.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is one of the most visually expressive films I've ever seen in my life, trading in sense of solid cel shaded detail found in so many other Japanese films with the wildly abstracted abandon of brush strokes and paint. The film's visual style seems to parallel the personality of the protagonist - spirited, free and a little rough around the edges.

It's also a subtle film that manages to convey so much richness of character with so little effort. I was particularly charmed by one of the characters in the film: a maidservant who, although never named in the film, serves as Kaguya's only companion in her new environment. She seems to have sympathy for the Princess, yet is still very much entrenched in the environment that Kaguya is discomfited by. Her mere appearance on screen was always enough to illict chuckles from the audience despite the fact that she has very little dialogue.

My only criticism of the film is that the magical realism elements of the film are somewhat subdued during the mid points, which means that when strange things start happening again in the latter parts, they feel somewhat abruptly introduced in the narrative.

I really urge people to go see this film. It is an astonishingly beautiful work that deserves attention!