Hello everyone! (Translation of the title!) I wanted to start off my (soon to be) long list of anime reviews with one of the most unique and challenging anime movies I have ever had the pleasure of watching. This week’s in particular comes from a producer who is world renowned alongside directors such as Hayao Miyazaki [The Wind Rises, From Up On Poppy Hill (Who’s work I will be reviewing in the near future)] and Mamoru Hosuda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time). Isao Takahata [Only Yesterday (Pictured below)] is the producer of interest for this week’s anime review and one who was at the heart of this incredible demonstration of skill.
The 137 minute (2 hr 17min) feature film received critical acclaim being nominated for a total of 26 awards (including Best Animated Feature Film at the 87th Academy Awards), among which 7 were won.This all-star cast for the English dubbed version included the voice talent of Chloe Grace Moretz [Kick-Ass (Princess Kaguya)], James Caan [The Godfather, Elf (The Bamboo Cutter)], Lucy Liu [Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill (Lady Sagami)], James Marsden [X-Men (Prince Ishitsukuri)], Mary Steenburg [Elf (The Bamboo Cutter’s wife)] and George Segal [A Touch Of Class (Inbe No Akita)].
The film’s plot is largely based on a Japanese Folktale called ‘The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter‘. As a summary, the film is about a bamboo cutter and his wife living their lives in a small village where they earn their living through selling furniture constructed from bamboo. One day the Bamboo Cutter finds a shoot that is glowing when he cuts it open a tiny being is concealed within, this little person will come to be Princess Kaguya. The child growth is abnormally fast and not before too long the baby is fully grown and is able to walk through the encouragement of a few neighbouring children. Due to her rapid growth rate the children start nicknaming her ‘Little Bamboo’ alluding to the rate at which bamboo grows. As a relatively short period of time passes, the bamboo cutter is blessed with wealth and clothes for the child. This leads to them moving to the city and becoming nobles. Princess Kaguya is then put through various training in how to be a well-bread noble child. Once word breaks out of an unrivalled beautiful princess living in the area, noblemen begin appearing to ask her hand in marriage. Each prince compares the princess to something profound and beautiful in attempt to attract her favour, each trying to outdo the other. Then Princess Kaguya, who has no interest in marrying these men, issues a challenge to go and retrieve these gems of the earth. Unfortunately, the princes know that this would be impossible and fail to fulfil the princess’s request. The Emperor takes notice of her and becomes a suitor himself. Usually the Emperor has women pleading to marry him, but since Princess Kaguya has no interest in any man, he finds himself in unknown territory. Due to the Princess having all her suitors talk to her from behind a screen no one has managed to witness her beauty for themselves. The Emperor being well.. the Emperor decides to not only peak at her whilst she is playing the Koto but sneaks up and embraces her from behind. She disappears at will and reappears after the Emperor’s apology for being too forward. Princess Kaguya from this point on in the film is no longer seen as the cheerful soul she once was. Instead she confesses to her guardians that she is originally from the moon and that when the Emperor made his advances on her she wished for the moon to come and save her. Her request had been granted and she was to be taken back to the moon by the next full moon. The bamboo cutter vows to protect her and assembles an army to stop the people of the moon. When the time comes, the people of the moon are unstoppable and offer a cloak to the princess which will erase her memories of the earth’s impurities. Kaguya argues that the world is full of Love and beauty and says a final goodbye to her parents. The cloak is then wrapped around her and she appears to forget everything of the earth. The parents are distraught by her leaving them, Princess Kaguya turns around a final time to look at them with tears in her eyes. Where exactly the film strays from the original folktale is something I will come to discuss later. But this tale is told with so much artistic grace that it is impossible to ignore. The film kept me guessing till the very end which lead to blood shot eyes by the time it ended from 2 hours of no blinking!!
First off I would just like to say that I am not surprised that this film was nominated for an Oscar because it is a very profound and moving piece of work that Takahato executed with a lot of grace. Although all of the characters had their own unique traits and all were very much developed during their screen time, my particular favourite was Lady Sagami (Voiced by Lucy Liu). Her character demonstrated the most challenging period of time for our protagonist Princess Kaguya, as her appearance marked the transitional period between living in a bamboo forest and living like royalty. Some of my favourite moments happened during this time too! Princess Kaguya’s persistance on doing what she saw fit and seeing Lady Sagami’s reaction was particularly enjoyable to watch.
It was almost as though they were two separate entities within the world. Lady Sagami; a symbol of nobility, manners and unnatural materialism. Whilst Princess Kaguya embodied everything natural, something that couldn’t be altered unless it meant happiness for her parents particularly her father. It is these in-depth messages that Takahata is communicating when seeing these two interact with one another. Also, another good point worth mentioning is Takahata’s attention to realism when conducting the animation. Click here to see a behind the scenes video about it!
Although the film did very well, unfortunately there were moments in the story that I did not enjoy so much, or rather I wish they had explored it further. This is where I will talk about the differences in the original story and this adaptation. In a folktale, there is usually a moral to what happens in the end and that was the entire point of the story. However in a film, there is a tendency to put more conflict in the plot than there needs to be to make it more interesting for the viewer. This is the main issue with adapting folk tales to full feature films. I was really excited to see a love interest bloom between Kaguya and Sutemaru. After all, they’re childhood friends and when Kaguya gets torn away from them to become royalty, us as the viewer are urging for them to reunite. Right? Well Takahata had other plans for the plot of this movie. Instead of a film where the boy rescues the girl after realising she doesn’t want this new life. They actually never see each other again except on two occasions. Once, when she is being pulled by carriage and notices him only to then watch the boy get beaten up for stealing food. And lastly, when she appears in front of him in his dream, after he has seemingly already moved on from her by starting his own family. Where he declares that he would have been most content with her in his life to which point they have a little fly around together.
Aaww…. no. Why tempt me with a potentially brilliant love story when you know as the writer she will eventually return to the moon? I do understand that it was a means of showing Kaguya’s developing love for the earth but I only feel a sub-plot like this as an unnecessary venture and a tease to hopeless romantics like yours truly! I believe the film would have proved better without the boy and girl love-storyness element, as the parents did more than enough to give me my fix of a love and loyalties conflict at the end. So sadly Sutemaru is seemingly brushed under the carpet, when he was certainly a well developed character I was hoping to see more of as the plot thickened.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is undoubtedly a brilliant adventure of a young girl born from nature. The issues revolving around nature awareness that is being addressed here from the folk tale is communicated elegantly and directly. I believe that the folk tale’s message of loving nature being somewhat linked to the divine and that we can find more inner-fulfilment in nature than we can in our materialistic abodes is masterfully translated into a modern retelling with all the Takahata realism one could wish for. (This may become a recurring line in these anime reviews but..) If you haven’t watched this, then please for your sake, check it out! You won’t regret it!
7/10 – Great
Beautifully animated with a lot of attention to detail
An emotional rollercoaster
Some poor plot choices
Can at times seem unnecessarily long