The director of "The Tale of Princess Kaguya" is Isao Takahata, one of the two great directors in the Ghibli house. This will probably be Takahata's final film, considering he has not directed since 1999's "My Neighbor's the Yamadas". Seventy-nine year old directors do not have many more projects left in them that take eight years to be completed, such as "Princess Kaguya". Takahata previously directed the classic "Grave of the Fireflies", a movie about two war orphans starving to death in the ruins of Hiroshima. The question is: how could a movie about a magical princess from the Moon be just as depressing, if not more so?
The art style of "Kaguya-hime" is based on traditional Japanese painting, kakemono scrolls. There is a very exact use of delicate lines, never quite covering every object they represent. Most eyes of characters are a single brushstroke, unless they are the Princess herself, who gets fuller anime eyes. Watercolor-esque colors are used for most of the film, besides more energetic scenes which appear to be made from more abstract black and white charcoal. (These are the very same aims and techniques of the video game, "Okami";s art-style.) Much like the paintings of Ghibli's inspiration, "Princess Kaguya" is deceptively simple: there is a sophisticated use of negative space between many of the objects in landscapes, giving the film a unique look. Much as it's artwork, "Princess Kaguya" itself is far more than it seems. On the surface it is just a fairy tale, but it is in fact a highly complex story of growing up, the dissatisfaction of human life, and the beauty of our human suffering.
|Absolutely stunning. Possibly the prettiest movie of 2014.|
Though the old couple loves the Princess with all of their hearts, and do everything they can for her, she remains forever unhappy. The Princess is willful and lively, so cannot stand the styling restrictions of a noblewoman's life. They must not be seen, they can barely talk, they must stick to decorum forever, and finally must marry a strange man, the concept of which terrifies her. The young is beloved by all unconditionally for her beauty and grace, she even smittens the elderly who priest who gives her the name "Kaguya" at her puberty naming ritual. Stories of her beauty circle the Capital, bringing great noblemen and even the Emperor to the Princess's door, yet she rejects them all. Despite having everything a person of this period could ever fantasize about, the Princess can only dream back to her simple childhood, playing with her little friends in the woods.
|Just an amazing amount of emotion in just one screenshot.|
Things are not all gloom, luckily. For a good deal of "Princess Kaguya"'s run time, this is a very light movie, mostly showing an idyllic childhood and cute toddlers. Through a very stylized paintbrush, Takahata still creates a classic Studio Ghibli experience. The bamboo-cutter and his wife have large cartoony heads, and they never quite fit in with upper class society. A simple clumsy motion like the bamboo-cutter's ridiculously tall nobleman hat getting knocked off every time he goes through a doorway is a constant humorous delight. There is Kaguya's fat little maidservant, a little creature whose ever-closed eyes open enigmatically. No other animation studio can show so much love for its characters than Ghibli, who can wow an audience just by portraying Baby Kaguya jumping across her room chasing after a frog.
|I wish I could put up 1000 screenshots of this gorgeous movie. Instead I must settle for merely three.|
"Princess Kaguya" feels like the Japanese answer to "Boyhood": a movie celebrating a young person's journey through the confusion of growing up. "Kaguya" ends a more terrible and tragic note, yet it's two and a half running time is still an indulgent feast on the highlights of a main character's life. It is an absolutely beautiful movie in a thousand different ways.
* Many call "Grave of the Fireflies" an anti-war movie. Takahata has insisted he had no such goal, his movies have no such didactic hammers to smash their messages into the audience's head. If anything he is a director that shoots more for traditional roles, listening to one's elders. That may also be the moral here in this movie, that the Princess should have just taken a husband like her parents wanted. But even if the director honestly believes that, it feels far too simple to me.
** Who it turns out is a real prick.