One 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.