Isao Takahata has been working in animation since the 1960’s and was a co-founder of the now universally famous Studio Ghibli in 1985. It seems fitting that what may be his final feature film at the age of 79 is so steeped in the past. Based on a Japanese folk-tale, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a wonder of simplicity. The effortless hand-drawn style that looks almost like something in a draft stage compared to modern CGI is nothing short of magnificent, an ode to the joys of animation and, as always, presents a tale of inspiring emotion.
Beautiful watercolours adorn this adaptation of the 10th century prose narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Though the image fades towards the borders is if drawn on canvass, the tale is full of the colour of life. The story begins with a bamboo cutter stumbling upon a tiny princess in a stem of bamboo. Believing he has been blessed, he returns to his wife where the tiny doll like figure becomes a baby. Thus commences the life of Lil’ Bamboo. A life which will be filled with the simple pleasure of stealing and eating melons with her friends all the way to being named Princess Kaguya in a mansion in the capital.
The bamboo cutter also finds gold and expensive robes in the forest, believes that she has been sent to him to become a most noble and beautiful princess. Her beginnings are far from lavish, she lives in the bamboo cutters hut and stumbles amongst the bugs and beasts in her early years. As she grows unnaturally fast, she goes from being a baby to one of the oldest in the group and her parents decide it is time for her move to the capital to become a princess. After her childish glee upon arrival, she soon misses her life in the countryside, a place where she felt alive.
Though the story is on surface a fairy tale, the key to …Kaguya lies beneath. An allegory on life, love and death, Takahata once again fills his cup to the emotional brim. Kaguya’s life is flitting before her eyes, away from what she loves. Her father tries to give her the life he thinks she wants but it could not be further from her heart. Takahata takes joy depicting the countryside exploding with colour and imagination, Joe Hisaishi’s achingly beautiful score revels in the dynamism of the animation. They are showing us happiness does not necessarily reside in the prescribed places.
The animation is at its most vibrant in a scene where Kaguya bursts from her mansion and dashes off under the moonlit sky into the wilderness. It is a scene of zeal and anger but later futility as she realises the countryside has diminished and the people have left the area, her life there no longer exists. Yet …Kaguya is a tale about holding on to that which we love, how even hardship is something to embrace. For memories of life are all that we have in the end, and the beauty and love of the world should not be given up without a fight.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 13th July courtesy of Studiocanal