Dreams have often been the subject of intense speculation and outstanding works of fiction.
Kenji Kamiyama's take on the matter is decidedly peculiar. Venturing into different territory from his earlier works such as Ghost in the Shell and Eden of the East, there are no shadowy agencies, political statements or geopolitical machinations here. Instead, the action is small-scale and fantastical as the real-world struggles of Kokone Morikawa - an energetic yet often slumberous girl played with fresh appeal by Mitsuki Takahata - are interwoven with the fantastical events that transpire within the confines of her mind. While she deals with her daily life in the waking world, in the realm of sleep she is Princess Ancien of the Kingdom of Heartland, embroiled in a struggle that reflects her daily trials and tribulations. When her father is arrested under mysterious circumstances, Kokone takes it upon herself to save him in a tale of familial bonding, and as the story progresses her wild dreams may have a greater effect on reality than what it initially seems.
Signal.MD, the company behind this, was formed by IG Port to develop animation specifically aimed at children and families, and while being comparably more complex than other films the company has been responsible for, chiefly films in the sprawling Pokemon franchise, it shows in Napping Princess. Napping Princess offers something that is considerably more down to earth and digestible than his earlier productions, and this is being said even with the presence of giant lumbering robots and talking stuffed animals. At the heart of this feature lies a rather ordinary tale about familial love, and although the setup makes the affair somewhat predictable, it is far from offensive. The plot is easily guessable and easy to absorb, and the connections that Heartland has to the real world are plain as day and an obvious allegory, but it makes for charming viewing seeing events that transpire in near-future Japan having a fantastical bent attached to them in a dream world. Effectively this is also Kamiyama's first honest attempt at a family film, far removed from the density of its relative predecessors, and the result is something simple, twee and fun, if lacking in staying power - on the heels of such films as A Silent Voice and Your Name, this is sorely lacking in memorability.
The visuals do help to alleviate that to some extent, however - if nothing else, this film is visually stunning both on the real world and in the significantly more colorful realm of the car-infested, castle-crowned Heartland. In addition to the fantasy-oriented visuals on offer, Kamiyama has often associated himself with works that prominently feature mechanical creations, and here is no different. Just as Cyborg 009 played host to humanoid cybernetic organisms, and Ghost in the Shell featured the much smaller Tachikomas, Heartland is defended by colossal war machines known as ? which serve as the centrepieces of the film's most notable action sequences, alongside Kokon's transforming and self-driving motorcycle named Hearts, a rather blunt and unsubtle if appropriate name upon a second viewing. For all the relative plainness of the film's narrative, Signal.MD go as far as they can in offering a production that is undeniably pleasing on the eyes, but once more, after the crisp visuals of earlier films it cannot help but feel overshadowed.
It is still a standout aspect, however, and additionally, the choice of voice actors for the project is also unique. Of those involved, only two - Wataru Takagi and Rie Kugimiya, who voices an anthropomorphic doll of a dog named Joy for the Heartland sequences - are industry veterans. For many of the cast involved, Takahata included, this is their first foray into the field of voice acting, and consequently hearing new, untested voices is positively refreshing, adding a layer of novelty and genuine emotion to the performances on offer. The material they are given to recite does not really pull at one's heartstrings, but it's the effort they put into their work that matters most, and it is always intriguing to hear newcomers and gauge their performances.
Napping Princess is a film with good ingredients, but it has the misfortune to come out at at a time where the world of animation is still left reeling from two spectacular creations. Consequently, despite having a novel premise beyond the simplistic story, it already feels dwarfed by its contemporaries, and while it is obvious that this film is directed at younger viewers - and there is no crime in that - the lack of any true memorability Napping Princess has beyond its captivatign visuals and the spunky outlook of its protagonist causes harm to it.
Unfortunately, too, for all its visual variety and splendor, the film seems to indulge in its visuals to the detriment of the overall story. The core narrative is rather plain and cliched, and while it is enjoyable and never boring in a visual sense, the narrative stands as being unfortunately forgettable. One cannot also he;p but feel as though the emphasis placed on the dream sequences, while expected, The dream sequences do not necessarily forget that the real world exists, but some of the segues are awkwardly implemented, and the climactic final sequence is a rather egregious culprit in this regard. It's a collection of pretty pictures, that much can be said with certainty, but aside from rather plain morals regarding the matters of family and legacy, there is sadly not much to take away from it. Give it a whirl if you want to be visually entertained, but if you're looking for something of substance, there are far better candidates to choose from.
It's a collection of pretty pictures, that much can be said with certainty, but aside from rather plain morals regarding the matters of family and legacy, there is sadly not much to take away from it. Give it a whirl if you want to be visually entertained, but if you're looking for something of substance, there are far better candidates to choose from.