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The Tale Of Princess Kaguya – Review

The-Tale-Of-Princess-Kaguya-Theatrical-Trailer-01One of the more recent Studio Ghibli films directed by Isao Takahata, ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ theatrically recreates the Japanese folkloric story originally titled ‘The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter’. This film tells the story of a childless couple who come across a supernatural apparition which just so happens to be a baby girl smaller than the palm of a hand.

Laced with lessons, morals and tender moments, ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ did not do as well as many other Studio Ghibli films and that, combined with the retiring of Hayao Miyazaki, eventually lead to the ‘temporary’ closing of Studio Ghibli. Such an unfortunate outcome. Thanks to Madman Entertainment in conjunction with the Dendy string of semi-independent movie theaters, Kane Bugeja and I were given the chance to experience the myth on the big screen.

‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ follows a young girl birthed from the heavens who finds herself the daughter of a bamboo cutter and his wife. Unable to have kids, this old couple was eventually blessed by the Gods with a young girl who was found in the stem of a bamboo plant. Growing quicker than an average human, she eventually came to find her place in the forests and fields of the country but her father, wanting her to live the very best life and encouraged by other gifts from the Gods, wanted more for her.

Eventually, after moving to a mansion located in the country’s capital, Kaguya began to train as a princess. She was forced to throw away all that she learned and love from living a country life to instead exist strictly as royalty. Despite all this she still longed for her true home. Many princes vied for her hand in marriage but it was not an easy task to impress the young lady who saw through the materialistic facades of everyone around her.

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As the legend goes, after living a life full of hardship, she is eventually taken away from her family by the Gods who originally gifted her to this Earth. It’s actually quite a sad story if you’re to think deeply about it and it was one of the elements of this film that I actually enjoyed. The lesson I gathered throughout the movie was that nobody should be forced into living a life that is not suited to them. Kaguya’s father thought he was doing right by her when he moved the family to the capital and forced her to live like a princess but, in the end, realized what it was that he had done. Honestly, ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ leaves you with quite a bad taste in your mouth.

The source material, like all mythology and legend, is quite rich with what makes a good story but it was the pacing of ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ that makes you feel as though something went wrong during writing. The ending was, for lack of a better term, abrupt. It happened far too quickly and gave absolutely no insight into what exactly had happened. Some stories call for a little extra explanation and I believe this was one of those stories. I said above that the film sticks close to the myth and I still stand by that. The parallels are seamless and you get a true feel for the characters but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting when the ending leaves you wanting some…closure.

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The film played host to an interesting artistic style that, up until this point in time, had not been seen in any other Studio Ghibli production. The best way to describe it would be to compare it to that of a traditional ink painting. Everything was flat, colours weren’t as vivid as you’d imagine from a Studio Ghibli film, and during dynamic scenes it even showed some heavy sketching. All of these artistic techniques combined proved to be quite charming…for maybe the first half an hour of the film. After that point in time the movie began to seem more and more bleak, and I don’t believe it was entirely the intention of the director to have it that way. The actually quality of the animation was simply fantastic though.

The characters within ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ were animated to move in a fashion that seemed like a beautiful mix of realism and exaggeration, something that absolutely worked to the advantage of the film overall. All the individual characters looked distinctively different from the rest and you could tell the joke ones from the rest. The very end of the movie featured a great change in overall tone. Despite using cool colours like blues and grays, it gave off an indistinguishable warmth and it seemed like it was all thanks to the utilization of dynamic lighting and shadowing.

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The soundtrack, once again provided by none other than Joe Hisaishi, was composed brilliantly. It was populated by the most traditional Japanese tracks and never strayed from that ancient path which really did well to set scenes. Being a fan of the Koto and old Japanese instruments of that nature, I very much enjoyed hearing it throughout the whole movie. Hisaishi really went back to his cultural roots for this film and did a great job at bringing such ancient styles of music into a new age in a way that is still enjoyable. What I was more impressed with though were the actually sounds of the film, all of which were timed perfectly to either be impactful or comedic.

Be it the rustling of bare feet through tall grass or the resounding ‘DONG’ of a man falling face-first into a brass pot, each was on cue and well-timed. Making quite a lasting impression was also that of the voice cast. The movie was presented in its original Japanese dub which I thought was a nice touch seeing as this is a Japanese legend. I can’t imagine the movie would have been as enjoyable had it had an English cast. Each actor performed admirably and each actor had their chance to play their characters both in a straight forward and goofy way with most of them getting a laugh or two throughout.

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After reflecting on the film for a few days I’ve come to fully understand why it was that this Studio Ghibli film was not as well-received as it’s brothers and sisters like ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Howls Moving Castle’. It is not that the film was terribly animated or badly voice acted, it wasn’t even that ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ had an overly bad story. What stopped this movie from being as revered as its predecessors is that it didn’t have a distinct and defined ending. What makes it worse is that the ending was not that of a happy one, and that’s something most Ghibli films do perfectly. When comparing it to the rest of the Studio Ghibli catalogue; ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ doesn’t hold up one bit.

When looking at it as just another movie; ‘The Tale Of Princess Kaguya’ is a pretty good film with an ending that clearly needed more work. All in all it wasn’t a waste of time for me to go and watch this movie but I can’t honestly say I’d recommend it to anyone in the mood for a well-rounded film experience because that’s not what it is, and it’s such a sad thing for me to write. It’s long, it’s oddly paced and it doesn’t end in a satisfactory way but it still features some genuine laughs, some great quality animation, an artistic style that I’m sure many out there will love and it tells an interesting story. It’s a Ghibli Film that you’ll remember, unfortunately not for the right reasons.

Grade: C+

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18 comments on “The Tale Of Princess Kaguya – Review

  1. You said a few things in your review that simply aren’t true.

    “this Studio Ghibli film was not as well-received as it’s brothers and sisters like ‘Spirited Away’ and ‘Howls Moving Castle’”

    Really? This movie has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 90/100 on Metacritic, and an 8.1 on IMDb. It was also extremely well-reviewed in Japan, scoring a 93% on Coco and a 3.86/5 on Yahoo Japan. In fact, after Spirited Away, it has the next highest score of any Ghibli movie released this century:

    Spirited Away: 4.06
    Princess Kaguya: 3.86
    When Marnie was There: 3.85
    Howl’s Moving Castle: 3.77
    From Up on Poppy Hill: 3.40
    Ponyo: 3.33
    The Wind Rises: 3.33
    Arrietty: 3.29
    The Cat Returns: 3.28
    Tales from Earthsea: 2.35

    Sure, it isn’t as well-reviewed as Spirited Away, but that isn’t saying much, as NO Ghibli movie is as well-reviewed as Spirited Away.

    “What makes it worse is that the ending was not that of a happy one, and that’s something most Ghibli films do perfectly.”

    So basically you are saying that the ending is bad because it isn’t happy? You say that “most” Ghibli films do happy endings, when there are in fact MANY Ghibli films with sad endings:

    Castle in the Sky: The Castle gets destroyed
    Grave of the Fireflies: The kids die
    Pom Poko: The raccoons lose their home and many of them die
    Princess Mononoke: The spirit of the forest is destroyed along with the forest
    Spirited Away: Chihiro leaves Haku
    Arrietty: Arrietty leaves Sho after her home is destroyed
    The Wind Rises: Nahoko dies

    • Frank Inglese

      Hey there!

      That’s real interesting actually. Thanks for letting me know. You see, what I meant by that statement is that the movie lead to what is now the closure of studio Ghibli. I described it as not being well received but I can now see that was a bad way to put it.

      Cheers for alerting me. :)

    • Frank Inglese

      I’m sorry my review upset you. I hope you continue to follow the site despite this. :)

      • No worries. I’m just a Takahata fanboy and I get upset when people say inaccurate things about him. Maybe you should emphasize that it did poorly commercially, which I think had something to do with the Studio possibly halting production of movies. Critically though, the movie was extremely successful.

      • Frank Inglese

        Look, dood, that’s fair enough. Just remember that at the end of the day this is just my opinion. I’m sure many people love the movie. Unfortunately I didn’t. But thank you for your honest input, I will definitely take it on the next time I write a review. :)

      • I’m not saying you should change your opinion of the film, I just think you should change the parts where you say that the film wasn’t as well received as other Ghibli films, because that simply isn’t true. The movie was received extremely well critically, it just didn’t do well at the box office. I think you should stress that this is what you mean, because based on what you currently have written, it definitely sounds like you’re saying that people didn’t like this film as much as other Ghibli films, which is flat-out false.

      • Frank Inglese

        You’re quite a huge fan of Ghibli aren’t you? :)

      • Yes, and especially Isao Takahata.

        But I’m still not sure if you understand what I’m telling you. You have FACTUAL INACCURACIES in your review that you should fix if you want to be taken seriously. The fact is that Princess Kaguya got rave reviews in Japan, it’s getting rave reviews in the US, and it’s emerging as one of the top animated Oscar contenders. Yet you state that it is less-revered than other Ghibli movies, which makes you come off as ignorant.

        Not trying to be rude, but I just don’t understand why you would insist on keeping factual inaccuracies in your review. Since you now know that what you said is false, that means you’re not just mistaken, but just plain lying and making things up. I certainly won’t be reading reviews from a critic who lies in his articles.

        Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with what you personally thought of the movie, but you are pretending that OTHERS weren’t crazy about the movie either, when in fact most people loved it.

      • Frank Inglese

        Once again, I’m sorry that this review has upset you.

    • Are you just stubborn or what? You’re the first reviewer I’ve met who refuses to edit his review even after realizing he made some false statements.

      Why do you refuse to change it? Do you deny that the statement is false? Are you just lazy? Embarrassed that you were wrong? I would think you would want to fix it to avoid looking ignorant to other people, but I guess it’s your review. If you enjoy lying in your reviews go right ahead. Just don’t expect me to read any more of them.

      • We do not alter our reviews upon reader request. This is one critics opinion, if you do not agree with the thoughts or opinions expressed, that is fair enough. Just do not expect us to adjust our review to your expectations or opinions.

        As far as the argued ‘reception’ of the film goes, it is clear that the reviewer is referring to the overall reception of the film (including box office and audience reception which ultimately played a part in the current closure of the studio) not simply the critical reception of other media publications which is largely inconsequential in the matter at hand.

        Hope this clears things up Matt. Thanks for reading.

        – Editor in Chief, Luke Halliday

      • ” it is clear that the reviewer is referring to the overall reception of the film (including box office and audience reception which ultimately played a part in the current closure of the studio) not simply the critical reception”

        That isn’t clear at all. The wording clearly implies that he is talking about the critical reception (using words like “revered”). Nowhere does he even hint at box office reception. He claims that the reason for it being less “revered” is that the ending is bad. But who, besides him, even thinks the ending is bad? The majority of people loved this movie, so it can be assumed that most people had no problems with the ending. Therefore, to imply that it did poorly at the box office because of its ending is ludicrous and simply not true.

        Again, I have NO PROBLEM with the reviewer’s personal opinion. I have no problem with him disliking the movie. What I have a problem with is him making claims that simply aren’t true.

  2. Agree with all aspects you praised but I really loved the story, lessons, and the ending. The ending was appropriate given all the events that took place. Probably one my fav Ghibli movies and I’m not a big fan of Spirited Away :D

  3. may i ask if what is the setting of the story?

    • Frank Inglese

      I suppose the best way to describe the setting is that it’s like ancient Japan in a fairytale-type world.

  4. OMG, finally, a not “It’s a perfect movie whit no mistakes” review ;____; Of course, I see all the good points of it, but I like that someone also think that the ending (the holl Moon plot) had a bad pacing and the animation it’s not really suitable for such a long movie (a really think it’s should be 0,5 h shorter, because of the depressing atmosphere, too).
    In general, I think is a good movie, it’s only not one of my favourites.

  5. Watercooler

    Wow, a poster has clearly (and accurately) pointed to a factual flaw in the review and not only has the editor ignored it, he insisted he was right?! White is black and black is white for this editor. I’ve lost all respect for this site. And your site has no credibility left in my opinion.

  6. If “The Last” lacks some of the emotional punch of the previous feature, “The Road to Ninja,” Kobayashi compensates with flamboyant visuals that mix CG, drawn animation and elegant calligraphic figures.

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