It’s no wonder that Studio Ghibli films are so beloved. They are able to tell unique stories in engaging, timeless ways. Isao Takahata’s most recent work, The Tale of Princess Kayuga, is no exception. From the opening scenes, one is captivated by the story and can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Film ✮✮✮✮ 1/2
The Tale of Princess Kayuga is based on a Japanese folktale called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. The film tells the story of a bamboo cutter named Miyatsuko who, while cutting down bamboo one day in the forest, discovers a young miniature girl inside a bamboo stalk. He takes her home to his wife and they begin to raise the child (who has turned into a full-size baby) as their own. Kaguya begins to grow very rapidly, turning from baby to toddler to child in a matter of months.
Later, when Miyatsuko finds gold and luxurious silks inside a bamboo shoot, he takes this as a sign from the gods that Kaguya is indeed a princess and should be raised as such. He uproots his family and they move to the capital. There, Kaguya is groomed to be a princess and learns all the customs and behaviors. Soon, word spreads of Kaguya’s grace and beauty and suitors begin to arrive to seek her hand in marriage.
The Tale of Princess Kayuga takes a long time to tell its story as the film moves at its own relaxed pace. At the beginning of the film, we simply follow Kaguya as she grows up, explores the forest, and makes friends. There is no real conflict or sense of urgency until the last third of the film. While some might find the pacing boring and slow, I found it enjoyable and an interesting change of pace for an animated film. That being said, there were times when I found myself asking, “Where is this going?”
The watercolors and charcoal 2D animation is immensely beautiful and enviable. The two gracefully play against each other to help express the mood of the characters and scene. When the scene is light, frivolous, or happy the lines are precise and thin and the backgrounds are pastel and pleasant; when the scene is dark, heavy, or emotional the lines transform into thick, evocative strokes and the background becomes muted with vibrant patches of color. This is particularly evident in a scene where Princess Kaguya runs away from her coming-out party (one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful animated scenes I have ever seen).
Bonus Features ✮✮✮ 1/2
- Announcement of the Completion of the Film (40 minutes): This bonus feature is a real treat and features the recording of a press conference that Studio Ghibli held to announce the completion of Princess Kaguya. The panel participants range from the director and composer to voice actors. There’s not any glitz or glamor here, as it’s just a straight taping of the event; however, press conferences like this don’t happen for U.S. animated films upon completion. It’s interesting to see the Japanese way of promoting films.
- Japanese Trailers and TV Spots (14 minutes): If you’ve ever wondered how an animated film is advertised in Japan then, with this bonus feature, you’re in for a real treat (as it includes basically every Kaguya trailer or TV spot released in Japan). There is bit of redundancy from clip to clip (as some trailers feature only minor changes from others), so it can get a bit dull towards the end of the 14 minutes.
- US Trailers (3 minutes): Switching gears to the United States, this Blu-ray also features two U.S. trailers. Neither feature any dialogue or voice over, which seems strange for a US trailer. Nonetheless, both highlight the artistry and beauty of this film.
- Isao Takahata and His Tale of the Princess Kaguya (86 minutes): This bonus feature is not found on the DVD or Blu-ray. Rather, it is so long that it’s housed entirely on its own DVD disc. This bonus feature includes an 86-minute documentary following director Isao Takahata during the production of the film. Interestingly, this ‘making of’ featurette is much more raw and candid than what one sees on US releases. However, the intimacy the viewer gets with Takahata and his crew is invaluable. Also, at 86 minutes, this is still a shortened version of the original documentary. It’s quite a shame that we couldn’t see the original version in full. Either way, this is a fascinating video and a must watch for anyone who is interested in learning more about The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
The Tale of Princess Kayuga is yet another Studio Ghibli masterpiece. While the art style and animation, at first glance, might seem simple, it is fresh and utterly breathtaking.
The Tale of Princess Kayuga: Amazon