is a quite a story of social mobility, especially for Tenth Century Japan. Of
course, it is a folktale, but it is considered the Japan’s oldest surviving
narrative (even predating The Tale of
Genji). It inspired adaptations from the likes of Kon Ichikawa, but the lush,
budgets-be-damned Studio Ghibli treatment may very well come to be recognized
as the definitive big screen production of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.” Representing
most likely the penultimate release from the storied studio, Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (trailer here) opens this
Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
day, Okina, the stout-hearted bamboo cutter, discovered a miniature princess
dressed up in regal finery within one of the shoots he had chopped. Taking her
home to his wife Ona, the precious princess transforms into the infant they
never had. Miraculously, Ona discovers she is still able to nurse the baby they
presume to be heaven-sent. “Princess,” as Okina simply calls her, grows up
quickly, soon maturing to the level of the nearest children, who affectionately
call her “Bamboo.” She loves the simple pleasures of nature and the company of
her rambunctious friends. However, Okina believes his faith in her royal
destiny is vindicated when he discovers miraculous caches of gold and silk in
yet more fateful bamboo shoots.
uses the gold to build a palatial estate in the capitol, buying his way into
elite society. Unfortunately, his worldly ideas of happiness are at odds with
her more spiritual conceptions. Despite her love for her adopted parents, Princes
Kaguya, as she has been officially dubbed, consistently foils his plans to
codify her royal status. Eventually, her ensuing unhappiness will have cosmic
is hard to imagine another animated film prominently featuring a princess that
is as likely to frustrate young Frozen fans
as Princess K surely will. It is an
extraordinarily elegant, visually arresting film, but it is also exquisitely
tragic, unabashedly literate, and rich with symbolic texture. It additionally
represents some of accomplished Japanese film composer Joe Hisaishi’s most
distinctive work, but the entire film is probably too sophisticated, in an
almost rarified way, to garner much Oscar love in any category.
Princess K is a stunning example that
animation can truly be a work of art. Takahata’s hand-drawn animation evokes
the austere beauty of traditional Japanese watercolor, but the resolution and
color palate shift to reflect Kaguya’s emotional state. Dramatically, it is a disciplined
slow-builder, earning every tear it jerks down the stretch, fair and square.
Frankly, it is easy to get stuck on the ethereal
beauty of Princess K, but there is an
awful lot going on beneath the surface. Kaguya represents a refreshingly independent-minded
and psychologically complex princess, particularly during the Heian era.
Arguably, it is also the first science fiction story ever, taking into account
Kaguya’s full origin, which is only revealed late in the third act. It is
easily the best new animated film of the year, unless you also count Hayao
Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli release, The Wind Rises (which had a brief Oscar qualifying run late last year). Very highly
recommended for mainstream audiences as well as animation enthusiasts, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya opens this
Friday (10/17) at the IFC Center, with special preview screenings scheduled for
tonight and tomorrow night.
Labels: Animated films, Isao Takahata, Japanese Cinema, Studio Ghibli