“THE TALE OF THE PRINCESS KAGUYA”
I love Studio Ghibli they developed some of my favourite films of all time and it is by far my favourite film series of all time, even though the films don’t technically connect with one another. Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle are definitely two of my top ten favourite films and I really don’t think there is a bad one in the bunch. I even like Tales from Earthsea and I am fairly certain I am in a minority on that one. Every time they bring out a film it is excellent and American and British distributors get the best voice talent and translators to work the film to an international audience. It’s why it’s such a shame that the studio has now gone into hiatus and if the next two films that they are releasing are, at this point in time, to be their final ones it will definitely be a sad moment for films. However, we now have the Tale of the Princess Kaguya to enjoy. This is much like last years The Wind Rises (which, if you look on my top ten movies of 2014, was my number one), is to serve as the final directorial feature for one of Studio Ghibli’s founders, in this case Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko director Isao Takahata. The film gained a lot of notoriety upon its release in America in October, but there wasn’t any news of a release for us in the UK up until the beginning of this year where it was announced it would be a March release which has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they thought at that point that the film was going to be nominated for a few Oscars. Incidentally the film was nominated for best animated feature film at the Oscars, however it lost to the previously reviewed Big Hero 6. With all the build up and the hype surrounding it and the fact that it had to live up to the studio’s reputation and took 8 years to make how did this film fare up?
Let’s discuss the plot. The film centres around a bamboo cutter, voiced by James Caan who one day discovers in the bamboo growth a small princess doll who eventually grows into an actual human baby, voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz. He takes the child home and raises it with his wife voiced by Mary Steenburgen and they slowly notice that the child is growing fast, like bamboo, earning her the nickname among her friends of ‘Little Bamboo’. After the bamboo cutter discovers gold and fine garments in the bamboo growth as well he believes it’s his duty to take the Princess Kaguya to the capital and to make her an actual princess, believing that this will make her happy. So they pack up and leave the countryside behind to make her the genuine article. The problem is, this now leaves Kaguya feeling trapped and she has to balance what her father wants with what she wants. That may sound like I have given away most of the plot but I really haven’t, there is a lot going on in this film, especially around identity and what makes oneself. Kaguya constantly feels trapped and that she is wearing a mask and constantly questions the people around her and her position in life, particularly her etiquette teacher Lady Sagami, voiced by Lucy Liu. This film, unlike most Studio Ghibli movies as it can get really dark at times, but it’s not to the extent that I believe it will be un-watchable for kids, and while this film is on a lot of levels kind of like a child’s story book, it does however, feel like it has been made for a more mature audience as most of the Studio Ghibli films kind of are. Let’s face it these may seem like basic family films, but they’re really Family films that are more aimed at a Japanese audience, where you can get away with a lot more in your material likely viewed by kid’s. I absolutely loved this film’s story and its characters made it. This is very much a character piece. You want to see most of these characters, particularly Kaguya, get what they want and have their happy ending, even though you know from the tone of the film suggests that that’s not going to be possible. But you hold out hope for them that that can be achieved. You really sympathise with Kaguya and her mother who simply want to return to simpler things. That’s not to say that James Caan’s bamboo cutter character is a bad person, far from it, he is trying to make his daughter happy but is going about it in the wrong way. This gives the film a nice balance especially considering once again, like most Ghibli films, there is no real villain, there is just characters and that’s what really sells these films and makes them more true to life. The film also gives that usual balance that Ghibli has of its dark turns but makes for a general whimsy and incredible imagination, although I will say, I think in this film we get a lot more of the darker elements which is what you would expect from the Director of Grave of the Fireflies! I haven’t been more engaged by a plot all year, I was practically glued to the screen and this film never felt too long for me, despite the fact that this film runs in at 2 hours and 10 minutes, arguably one of the longest Studio Ghibli movies to date, and they’re not exactly short films, which all leads up to it’s ending which is both brilliant and heartbreaking, but it doesn’t feel awful because it was un-avoidable with the film brilliantly dealing with the themes of what one needs to feel happy in life. The only problem I had with the plot was the fact that there is a plot twist towards the end, it does come slightly out of nowhere, but at the same time this probably couldn’t have been avoided and is ok after the fact. The film itself is based on a 10th Century folk tale from Japan and as a result a couple of things do feel slightly unoriginal and recycled, but at the same time it’s from a time when these plots were starting to be created so its somewhat expected, plus this film does the princess who doesn’t want to be a princess plotline better than any other film I have seen to date because it shows her life and potential before becoming a princess making that seem less natural and giving you a longing for her to return to her previous life. The source material feels very distinctly Japanese this time and has a lot of Japanese sensibilities and culture in it which may go over a few peoples heads if your not familiar with Japanese Culture and Tradition.
This, out of all the Ghibli films feels much more Japanese but I will get more into that when I discuss the animation. Once again it’s not the easiest film to sit through but there are enough light hearted and imaginative moments that you will really want to get through to see how it turns out and believe me, this film is completely satisfying for me personally. I’m not certain this will appeal to a larger general audience like Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle or Ponyo did, that being said though, for me personally it was almost perfect. I say almost because I normally come out of a Studio Ghibli movie feeling great, with this one I was feeling more sombre, but at the same time I think Takahata achieved this a lot better than he did with Grave of the Fireflies and I think every so often it is good to come out of a film feeling very sombre. But like all the Ghibli films by the time I saw the end of it I felt like I had accomplished something by seeing it and thats’ a great feeling to have coming out of a film. Overall I’d say this plot is excellent, it has amazing characters and stories you want to see come out of it. There are a few darker turns especially with some of the Princes and Noblemen who want to marry Kaguya and it may alienate a couple of audiences with it’s style of the story telling, some of the content and some of the aforementioned darker turns, but I would seriously encourage people to see it, it feels like a really great fairy tale that has been bought to life and it definitely had a plot that I would like to return to and I also thought that it had one of the best lead characters in a Ghibli film for quite a while, and that’s one good achievement considering the lead characters they have had in the past.
As for the acting I saw this film in the English dub though I would say based on the style of the film and the story you could easily see this film in the original Japanese with sub titles, in fact I think you may potentially get some extra authenticity by seeing in that format, however I still would recommend the dub because once again this is an excellent dub cast. Lucy Liu is frankly brilliant in her role and Studio Ghibli have found the perfect role for her and I actually think this is probably one of her best performances. James Caan as well, gives one brilliant performance as the bamboo cutter, I genuinely thought he might play the role where we wouldn’t get around the fact that it was him as he is such a recognisable actor but that was definitely not the case. Once again, the voice directors make these celebrities really un-noticeable and Caan is definitely a prime example of that, and what a performance he gave. The same goes for Mary Steenburgen who gives a subtle yet brilliant performance and I was surprisingly impressed by the end of her performance. Beau Bridges, James Marsden and Oliver Platt are all excellent in their roles as suitors for the Princess Kaguya, even though they’re not in the film that long and they were seriously un-recognisable. It’s further proof, you need to have a cast list available when you are watching a Studio Ghibli movie as the voice directors can take well known actors and make you forget it’s them. Darren Criss does an excellent job as Sutemaru and it’s another credit to the voice directors considering that he managed to get me to like a performance from someone who has been in Glee!! Seriously!! But the standout performance from this is Chloe Grace Moretz who delivers her best role to date since playing Hit Girl in the Kick-ass movies. She seriously does this role well and makes this character her own, playing someone feeling trapped in a role thrust upon her but yet with overwhelming moments of joy. I absolutely loved her performance and at the minute I’d definitely say she was the stand out performance that I have seen this year. I am serious. Her performance alone is worth the price of admission. The rest of the cast including Dean Cain, George Segal, John Chow and Hynden Walch all do their roles excellently as well. Once again a Studio Ghibli movie gives us an outstanding ensemble cast and they are all a credit to the brilliant voice direction that has clearly been put into it.
This just leaves us with the presentation and my goodness WOW. This film is a marvel to behold, the animation is gorgeous, it goes from moments of feeling like it’s a children’s story book bought to life to feeling like an oriental painting full of movement. What is amazing about the film is as well as its characters and plot the aesthetics and the animation and art design really sell the fact that this film is Japanese, it feels more Japanese than any other anime that I have watched. It gives you the rich culture and the fantastic architecture. I really feel I should watch the documentary of this film’s creation to see where Takahata got his art design from and the film is full of a ton of symbolism that will warrant repeat viewings. A lot of people complain that anime is too static in its shots, well they can’t say that with this film, the movement in these scenes flow beautifully. The stand out sequences include such things as the scene running from the palace cherry blossom scene and a flying scene that takes place towards the end of the film. The character designs are beautiful, these are well designed characters. I may have commented earlier this year that Giovanni’s Island was the best and most unique animation that I have seen in anime in a long time, but this film has actually managed to out do it!! I also think it’s especially worthy in how good its animation is considering that Studio Ghibli have always settled on a very distinctive art style, it’s just that sort of thing that when you see it, you know it’s a Studio Ghibli movie. So to deviate from that must have been a big risk, luckily that risk has paid off for Takahata. I must be honest, when I first saw the posters and the clips for this film, I wasn’t sure, but I am definitely convinced having fully seen it. Some people may take issue with some of the more blank backgrounds but I think this aids the art style. While we are on the subject, Joe Hisaishi is one of my favourite film composers of all time having developed some amazing film scores in the past, but this time he has out done himself, this is his best to date. It is extraordinary how good it is. This feels like the sound track he has wanted to create his entire life, he makes brilliant use of Japanese Instruments as well as traditional Orchestral Instruments. It’s just brilliant and he really should have received an Oscar nomination for it. I don’t really have a complaint with the films presentation, it’s just one amazing film to look and behold at, my only concern with it is there a quite a few silent moments which are excellent in letting us build up the tension and emotions in certain scenes, however I was in a cinema where the screens were very close to one another and some of the scenes were so quiet I could actually hear the other movie playing in the next room, and that got really annoying. My advice on that basis would be, if you are planning to see it at the Cinema maybe try and aim for a Cinema that has very few screens that aren’t close to one another.
Overall, my thoughts are that this film is excellent. It’s genuinely a brilliant animated film that keeps up Studio Ghibli’s reputation and if this is to be Isao Takahata’s final film, he is going out on a brilliant film, and this is by far his best work to date. My only major complaint with the film is that a few of the darker moments feel the film should have warranted a PG rating rather than the U rating that it did get and I think a few parents might be a bit shocked by some of the things that are allowed in Japanese kids films. I was aware that there were plans to censor certain scenes of this film, but I am happy to say that the film is completely uncut in its British release and it’s all the better for it. The film gives us excellent characters, a brilliant but hard hitting storyline that offers us no easy answers and I really think that everyone will be emotionally affected by the end. It’s a brilliant, but sombre piece. I’m not sure that it will appeal to as large an audience as past Ghibli films have, mainly on its Japanese sensibility and culture. However, for me personally it was damm near brilliant. Particular praise goes to Chloe Grace Moretz for her excellent performance as well as the rest of the brilliant ensemble cast and the amazing animation and film score. I am firmly in the belief that as much as I liked Big Hero 6 this film should have won the Oscar.
Please go and see this at the Cinema if you get the chance I would love this film to be successful at the Box Office and I think it’s something you should really check out. If you don’t feel the need to go the Cinema to see this, but you can’t wait for it to come out on DVD and Blu Ray there is no need to wait in this country because it has been released on Blu Ray in America and I believe that it is region free. It is available on Amazon on a US import and I believe it may work on European Blu Ray players, but please investigate before buying as I may be wrong on that point and DVD’s from America will more than likely not work unless you have a multi region dvd player. I also recommend that you should pick up the DVD Isao Takahata and his Tale of the Princess Kaguya that came out last weekend which is an 86 minute documentary that talks about the films creation. The only other piece of advice that I will give is if you are planning to see this in the Cinema, whether you prefer watching anime in the original Japanese language with subtiles or a english dub version you are probably going to have a hard time because a few of the chain Cinemas haven’t specified which of their screenings is dub or sub and in fact in order to see the english dub I accidentally ended up having to buy two tickets because I ended up buying the sub first. My advice is, do what I did, after buying the sub, and actually ring the Cinema ahead of time and ask which screening is which version and then you can get the exact one that you want.
With all that out of the way what are your thoughts on The Tale of the Princess Kaguya? If you have an opinion and wish to share it please leave us a comment. We are happy to receive anything that you have to say and if you want to write your own reviews of films or subimit any of your own personal creative content send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and the attached document or content. Also leave something in the comments section about our question today, which is
What are your favourite Studion Ghibli Movies and are you looking forward to the final Studio Ghibli movie “While Marnie Was There”?
Well this week I am very chuffed. I have seen one of the best movies I have seen all year. Let’s hope that next week I can continue that trend when I review “Seventh Son” in 3D. which will be on our site on April 3rd
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