Isao Takahata has never been a man who could easily be put into a box. While Hayao Miyazaki has made many, many succesful movies, he does tend to stay safely in his wheelhouse, both in design and thematic aspects. Takahata, however, always seems to change what he does in order to better accommodate whatever story has captured his imagination at the time. From the hyper-realistic Grave of the Fireflies, to the comic strip inspired My Neighbors the Yamadas, Takahata and his creative process always keep his fans guessing. This is no more apparent than in his last feature film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is an adaptation of one of the most famous Japanese fairy tales, called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter in Japanese. The story and the movie follows the life of Kaguya, from when she was ‘born’ inside of a bamboo stalk to when she…. “dies.” The movie follows the plot of the original fairy tail quite faithfully, although it does take a moment or two take a flight of fancy and explore the magnificent visuals of the world Takahata created.
As with most fairy tales, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter was created as a cautionary warning against greed and selfishness, a problem that Takahata has express discontent against in his past movies as well. But, even more than that, this movie shows the importance of family and how life comes full circle. Although not born to them, Kaguya loves her family very much, and even when they make decisions that she may not agree with (i.e. making her get married), she goes along with it, so that they can try and be happy together. Does it work out in the end? For those who haven’t seen this movie yet, I implore you to, as I bet you won’t see the ending coming. In the end, it really is a simple story, but it works and it compels you to see it through to the end.
Honestly, the real treat of this movie is the visuals. I can say with no reservations that the animation and art quality of The Tale of Princess Kaguya is so incredibly high and top notch that I fail to think of another animated movie that comes close to matching its beauty and splendour. As someone who lives in Japan and studies Japanese history, it is incredibly satisfying to see what is basically a Japanese painting come to life. Watching this film for the first time, there were many instances where I had to pick my jaw up off the floor because I was so overwhelmed by the gorgeousness of this film. It is yet another masterpiece of animation from Studio Ghibli and yet another firm reminder of why traditionally drawn animation remains #1 in my heart.
Musically, well, what can I say, it’s Joe Hisaishi, the man who has worked on the majority of Studio Ghibli’s movies. The film is pitch perfect, with joyful melodies ringing loudly when Kaguya is a child and playing in nature, and haunting serenades as we see her grow up, face her fate, and realize how her life on earth will end. The music is great and fitting to the film, although there really weren’t any pieces that I would be able to pick as new, instant classics like some of the melodies from My Neighbor Totoro or Princess Mononoke. But really, they didn’t need to be.
In the end, I don’t know if there could have been a better way for Takahata to end his honoured and lustrous career. This film is not the most thematically complex or evolved, but it is a gorgeous movie that oozes creativity and beauty. It is a long one, but you remain invested the entire time as you follow the hand of a legendary auteur. Mr. Takahata, thank you for your hard work, passion, and all the joy you have shared. For The Tale of Princess Kaguya and every movie proceeding it, thank you.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes