As the doors of legendary animation empire Studio Ghibli slowly close (though hopefully only for a short time), much to everyone's chagrin, here is yet another example of just how good and important these guys are to the medium.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya may sound like just another surreal folktale on paper but one look at the stunning watercolour/charcoal-style animation used here by visual maestro Isao Takahata (Pom Poko, My Neighbors The Yamadas) and you'll find yourself instantly mesmerised by this tale of a baby born out of a bamboo tree. While Hayao Miyazaki was and is a genius at bringing to the screen all-around great-looking, often epic stories, Takahata's forte seems to be to bring an off-beat artistry to the animation and tell predominantly emotional, melodramatic, affecting stories. Case and point: Grave Of The Fireflies. And, to a certain extent, this movie which shows us a young woman's entire life flash by her put-upon parents' eyes as they desperately try to give the daughter they were randomly given the life she deserves.
This being essentially a fable, there's a subtle bittersweetness to this whole story and seeing all these likeable characters struggle to make sense of their lives and the lives of the people they love is pretty heartbreaking. We follow the titular Princess from her bizarre birth to her innocent youth in the countryside all the way to her sheltered life as a noblewoman with countless useless suitors, each with at least one fatal (and often amusing) personality flaw, all trying to marry her. Kaguya is smart, talented and strong yet emotionally she is conflicted, which makes her very human and completely relatable. Her longing for a better life, which turns out was the life she used to have before becoming the Princess her destiny seemed to call for, is a paradox most of us are faced with at one point and it's not a fun place to be in. Which I guess is the curse of humanity the film explores, full of regret, heartbreak, emotional prisons but also little victories and big joyful moments.
This movie should stay with you for a while and, a bit like last year's Boyhood, it remains open for interpretation as to what it's saying about its characters and life as a whole.
The animation throughout is beautiful, a scene in which the Princess escapes back to the woods in anger is particularly impressive and impactful, so is the music and the whole thing really shouldn't be missed. It's sad and bittersweet but also cute and funny: this is, quite simply, yet another resounding hit from an animation studio which really should never close its doors.