After the sad news that The Wind Rises would be the final film of Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, it seems that it’s Isao Takahata’s turn for a swansong .
The animé director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli has certainly made the most of his final feature, offering a poignant and magical experience.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya tells the story of an elderly bamboo cutter who finds a miniature girl in the forest. Once he takes her home to his wife the girl transforms into a baby and the couple raise her as their own.
The baby learns and grows at an unusually fast rate, which earns her the nickname ‘Little Bamboo’ from the local children.
She’s naturally likeable and makes friends easily, but the bamboo cutter has special plans for her. He discovers gold in the woods and builds the girl a mansion in the city so he can raise her as royalty. Little Bamboo, who is renamed Princess Kaguya, has fun with her new life at first, but she soon finds that her natural zest is restricted by the formalities of high society.
In its early stages Princess Kaguya seems like it’s going to be a simple morality tale about the corrupting influence of money, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a subtle story about what aspects of life truly have value. The princess wants to rejoice in nature but can only have an artificial garden to herself. She wants to make friends, but she has to remain secluded during her own parties.
Once the true nature of the princess is revealed (along with her reason for being alive in the first place) it becomes clear how disastrously she has strayed from her true path.
Isao Takahata, probably best known for the anti-war film Grave of the Fireflies, infuses this movie with a sense of melancholy, even in its most joyful moments. There’s also a strong sense of realism in the way the characters behave and interact, whether they’re chasing a pheasant through the woods or diligently tending to their crops.
This is particularly impressive when you consider the style of animation.
Princess Kaguya looks like a moving watercolour painting and you can see the pencil lines and brushstrokes in every frame. It’s appropriate, seeing as the film is based on a Japanese folk tale, but the looseness of the animation really emphasises the more emotional moments of the story.
A dream-like scene where the princess runs through the winter countryside is intensely impressionistic, perfectly capturing her inner turmoil.
The style of animation also means that the more fantastic sights – an army descending from the moon, a dragon appearing in a storm cloud – fit seamlessly into the film’s world.
Princess Kaguya is simply a must-see for anyone with an interest in animation.