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The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (Review)

A beautifully rendered animation.

by Martin Hafer

The Oscar-nominated The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on a very popular Japanese story. It's from a tale that is a thousand years old, 'The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,' and since it's a classic Japanese story, there have been many movie versions. Because of this, I was already familiar with this story, and I'd already seen Princess From the Moon, a live-action version from 1987. Unlike the other six movie versions I was able to find, this one is animated and it comes from Studio Ghibli--the studio co-founded by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, though this one is directed by Isao Takahata.

The Tale of The Princess Kaguya
Directed by Isao Takahata
Cast Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen
Release Date 17 October 2014
Martin's Grade: B+

One day, a poor woodcutter slices into a stalk of bamboo and finds a beautiful thumb-size child. Since he and his wife are childless and have always wanted one, they are overjoyed with the discovery and decide to raise the child as their own. However, the same fortune that brought them the baby also rewarded them with gold when the woodcutter chopped additional bamboo. And, oddly, the child grows to normal size and becomes a lady in practically no time at all.

Soon the old couple are rich and able to give their girl the life of a princess. And she's taught all the manners and customs that a proper lady would need. However, it's obvious that young Princess Kaguya isn't happy in this life, as courtier after courtier come for her hand, but she simply isn't interested. So, she gives them impossible tasks to complete before she'll agree to marry any of them. When they all fail, the Emperor himself comes to court her but she rebuffs him--mostly because she knows her time on Earth is drawing to a close. Where all this goes next, you'll find out if you watch the movie.

The animation is quite lovely, with a look that appears as if the film was made with colored pencils and watercolors. While it's more minimalistic than you'd usually find in a Ghibli effort, it looks very appropriate to the Medieval Japanese period. In fact, the style of this anime is perhaps its best feature. The story is certainly unusual, especially to non-Japanese audiences and the uninitiated. The ending of The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is more unusual.

I found the pacing to be pretty slow and I noticed my attention waning from time to time. And it didn't help that it was the longest film ever released by Studio Ghibli. Had they trimmed about 15 to 20 minutes and removed the plot involving the poor boyfriend (which was not in the original story), I think the film could have been a bit tighter. It's worth seeing if you're patient and looking for something different, and I doubt it'll appeal to kids or folk wanting something light and Disney-like.

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