My quest to see all the 2014 Oscar-nominated animated movies concludes with:
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Isao Takahata, director
Viewing Source: local public library Blu-ray
Late one weeknight evening, I sat down to watch The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, thinking that as an animated film it was likely to be short (the others are all around 100 min) and I could still get to bed at a decent hour. I popped in the disc, started the movie, and then checked the case for the running time: 2hrs 17 min. Oops.
Yet when I finished the movie, I looked at the clock incredulously. It certainly could not be that late, could it? I was so engrossed in the movie, it seemed to pass too quickly.
I am a fan of Studio Ghibli, so I was expecting to like Kaguya. My only hesitation was that this movie is not by Miyazaki, but by Isao Takahata, who’s best known for his traumatizing war movie Grave of the Fireflies (which I’ve never seen). Still, Kaguya now ranks among my favorite Ghibli films, giving even My Neighbor Totoro a run for its money. For me, it was a nearly perfect movie.
Kaguya (or Kaguya-hime no Monogatari as it’s titled in Japanese) is based on a Japanese folktale called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” about an old man who discovers a tiny, beautiful girl in a stalk of bamboo. I had not read the story until after I saw the movie, but the movie follows the original tale fairly well, with the beneficial addition/expansion of Kaguya’s childhood friend Sutemaru nii-chan.
Kaguya is a very complex, emotional movie, and I’m not too sure that most American kids would really love it. It’s imbued with Buddhist philosophy and imagery, which I found thought-provoking but others may find confusing. The gorgeous artwork and music are used very effectively to help convey emotion, but the story is not really a happy one.
Did I mention the animation is gorgeous? You should see it for that alone. Its sketchy watercolor style is very different from anything else on the nomination list, different even than other Ghibli films.
I can’t comment on the quality of the English dub; I only had time to watch one version, and I always prefer subtitles. If you are able, I encourage you to watch it this way as well. The movie is very Japanese, and hearing it in its native language may help you appreciate its tone.
I began this series of posts with the premise that animated movies are not just for kids, and I think this movie really underscores that point. As you can infer from the title of this post, if it had been up to me, I would have given the 2014 Oscar for Animated Feature Film to Kaguya. I hope you will all enjoy this beautiful movie as much as I did.