The Tale of Princess Kaguya review

>There have been doubts about the future of Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. After the 2014 announcement of its co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, who directed a large number of the studio’s most renowned films, Ghibli announced that it would be on temporary hiatus, casting fears that the studio would not resume production.

However, when Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rises, was released in Japan, it was released with this film by studio co-founder Isao Takahata – a move that not only celebrated his first directorial feature since My Neighbours The Yamadas in 1999.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on a Japanese folk tale, where bamboo cutter Miyatsuko (voiced by Caan) finds a tiny girl in a bamboo shoot. He and his wife decide to raise her as their own daughter, who grows at an accelerated rate. With new-found wealth from the same bamboo shoot, Miyatsuko begins planning to make his daughter a proper princess and relocates his family to the capital. Renamed "Princess Kaguya" (Moretz), she slowly adapts to the life of nobility but as she stifles against overzealous admirers and the lack of freedom, Kaguya discovers her true origins and is faced with a life-changing dilemma.

Even though the original folk tale is not wholly adapted, parts of the film feels slightly drawn out to cater for the 137-minute running time and as the film progresses, there is a distinct shift in tone. While it starts with wonder and excitement as to what will become of this little girl, it soon changes to a see-saw between rebellion and resignation, when she accustoms herself to being a princess while yearning for her old life. Kaguya's evident unhappiness evokes a lingering sense of pessimism throughout, which dares to bring this ethereal tale back to Earth.

While the style of animation is not as refined as Miyazaki’s work, it is equally, or perhaps even more, visually stunning as recent Ghibli works.  The watercolour animation is beyond beautiful and the narration shows care and faithfulness to the original story.

Past Studio Ghibli films have proved that an endearing female character at its core is part of the their charm and the studio achieves the same result with emotionally conflicted Kaguya. Her dilemma is relatable; a fish out of water, only to be plunged into a surreal world filled with etiquette lessons and pretentious suitors fawning over her beauty, with only her memories of a carefree life to comfort her. Her emotional ups and downs play havoc on the heartstrings and as the film reaches its climax, it is hard not to reach for the tissues.

Gorgeous and captivating, The Tale of Princess Kaguya ticks all the boxes of a classic Ghibli film.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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