The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
dir Isao Takahata
scr Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi
prd Yoshiaki Nishimura, Seiichiro Ujiie
voices Aki Asakura, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kengo Kora, Atsuko Takahata, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shinosuke Tatekawa, Takaya Kamikawa
English cast Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Darren Criss, Lucy Liu, Dean Cain, George Segal, James Marsden
release Jpn 23.Nov.13, US 17.Oct.14, UK 20.Mar.15
13/Japan Studio Ghibli 2h17
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
The princess and the pauper: Kaguya and Sutemaru

moretz caan steenburgen

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Based on a 10th century folktale, this animated epic is rendered as a living, breathing storybook. Its simplicity is so achingly beautiful that it makes the busy animation used by most American-based studios seem like a frivolous distraction. On the other hand, at two hours and 17 minutes, this feels somewhat overlong, especially with its odd finale.

Rural bamboo-cutter Okina (Chii, or Caan in English) finds a tiny girl (Asakura/Moretz) growing in a bamboo stalk and calls her "Princess", raising her with his wife Ouna (Miyamoto/Steenburgen). Later finding gold and silk in his bamboo grove, Okina believes the gods want him to raise Princess in regal splendour, so he moves the family to the capital, where she's named Kaguya and courted by the land's five most-eligible princes, plus His Majesty himself (Nakamura/Cain). But Kaguya is uninterested, longing for the simple joys of her youth and something else she can't quite understand.

This fairy tale is a clever exploration of both Japan's gender politics and the indefinable aspects of a young girl's coming-of-age. These things make every twist and turn in the plot both fascinating and sharply pointed. We can't help but identify with Kaguya's yearning for her childhood pals, who called her "L'il Bamboo" because she grew up so quickly. Her closest friend Sutemaru (Kora/Criss) adds yet another fascinating layer to the film, with an unpredictable romance as well as more social commentary.

Veteran filmmaker Takahata animates this in a fresh style that seems hand-drawn with pen, ink and watercolours. It's strikingly minimalistic, but with a richness of detail that continually dazzles. The designs flex to match the mood of a scene, from the contrast between the countryside and bustling city to a couple of heart-pounding action-style sequences. The only weak moment is the denouement, a strong, bittersweet conclusion to the story that's animated so bizarrely that it feels floaty and creepy, until a wonderful final jolt.

Even so, this is one of the richest animated movies in recent memory. Like Miyazaki's ambitious biopic The Wind Rises, this film pushes strongly back against the sameness of Hollywood's animation, finding new ways ways to combine art and storytelling. Not only does the film continually provide a feast for the eyes, but it's never empty spectacle, deepening the characters while providing narrative momentum that reminds us how magical great storytelling can be, taking us somewhere we've never been before.

cert pg themes, violence 29.Jan.15

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