In Japanese animation, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, a woodcutter finds a baby nestled inside a bamboo shoot. Believing she is destined for nobility, he names her Princess and uproots her from the countryside to the capital city, where she’s courted by dishonest men. Accessible for older children, this latest film from Studio Ghibli is an updated Japanese folktale; a reverse Cinderella that breaks fairytale expectations.
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya 2

Isao Takahata’s film probes humanity’s obsession with happiness and tendency to equate it with economic success. For women in early Japan, it’s assumed this means becoming a rich man’s property. But the Princess refuses to have her happiness defined this way by an adoptive father who uses her to accomplish his own social progression.
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya

Takahata’s ideas are both poetically and visually beautiful as humanity’s flaws are magnified in the transition to society. Idyllic pastels, cutesy animals and handmade crafts give way to over-indulgence, pretentious formalities and public beatings in the capital. Delicate watercolours descend into frantic, impressionistic scrawls of grey, black and red as Kaguya flees her suffocating fate. In another etherial scene, she escapes, taking flight above fields, streams and forests like The Snowman.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya

This wouldn’t be a Studio Ghibli film without a little dreamlike mystery. Here, it’s the surreal exploration of Kaguya’s origins that both establishes and alleviates a bittersweet ending that embraces complex emotional struggle as a part of the human condition. That Kaguya should come to briefly regret her own resistance to society’s conventions somewhat undermines the film’s striking feminism. Yet it feels, at this late stage in the film, that The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya has moved on to address an even deeper philosophical question. That Takahata succeeds in disentangling happiness from the precious nature of life, suggesting we should never wish our existence away, is truly astonishing.
 

VERDICT: ★ ★ ★ ★ 4/5

 

Certificate: PG
Running time: 137 minutes
UK release date: 20 March 2015
Images: © 2013 Hatake Jimusho – GNDHDDTK

Review first printed in Ashfield & Mansfield Chad

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