For many the animation work of Studio Ghibli is the be all and end all of animated cinema. The Japanese studio has long reigned supreme and the announcement that it’s director Hayao Miyazaki was set to retire after his last film, The Wind Rises, was met with universal sadness. However, Miyazaki wasn’t solely responsible for Ghibli’s output and Isa Takahata, who co-founded Ghibli with Miyazaki, is still making films. Which brings us to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya an Academy Award nominee this year, although it did lose out to Big Hero 6.
Based on a traditional Japanese folk tale, Princess Kaguya starts with a humble bamboo cutter finding a small child inside a glowing bamboo shoot. Him and his wife decide to raise her as their own, naming her Princess, although the other children in the area affectionately nickname her Little Bamboo, due to the speed she grows at. When the bamboo cutter returns to his job, he finds more bamboo shoots, in which he discovers beautiful fabrics and piles of gold. Thinking this is a sign of Princesses divine royalty, her father decides she needs to be raised properly, building a mansion in the city and taking his daughter there in order to have her taught the ways of nobility and marry her into a rich family. Sadly, it’s not a decision that Princess is one hundred percent behind.
Firstly, this is a beautiful film. Drawn like a beautiful water colour, every scene is a feast for the eyes. The backgrounds are not done in detail but instead in brisk strokes and it just adds to the sense of this magical world, which you want to surround yourself with. There is one scene in which Princess runs through the woods and her and the world surrounding her blur out around her and while a still from it might not look like a young girl running through the forest, what you get instead is the feel of someone doing so. The world flying bye, the colours blurring together and a sense of the world as a living breathing thing.
The story is a very traditional tale, or at least it is for 3 quarters of the film until it takes a turn for the surreal with it’s final act, but it doesn’t really matter. While the story maybe familiar, it is done well enough that you can still get caught up in what is going on. Princess manages to be a rounded character, never slipping into annoying and therefore your sympathies never move away from her. While the supporting cast are equally enjoyable. In particular her ridiculous father, who as the film goes on becomes more and more caught up in this idea of having a daughter as part of the nobility and because more and more over the top and quite frankly dense as he does so.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a beautiful film that while telling a tale which we’ve all heard in some form before, manages to keep your attention none the less. This world feels like a dream, which we are allowed to inhabit while it lasts and that means that when it goes a little bit ridiculous at the end, we don’t actually feel like we are being left behind, but instead float along beside it just enjoying the rise. In hindsight it looks like Big Hero 6 pulled off the biggest robbery of the award season, as Studio Ghibli have well and truly proven that there is life after Miyazaki.