Animation Elevated in Stunning Fashion
Chris Kavan - wrote on 02/22/15
Studio Ghibli has produced some of my favorite animated films of all time. With The Tale of Princess Kaguya, with director Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko and My Neighbors the Yamadas) at the helm, the studio gives us not just one of the most visually-stunning animated films I have seen, but one that delivers on multiple levels - from it's deep story to the wonderful score. In short, if you are a fan of animated films, this represents the pinnacle of the medium.
The story is based on one the oldest surviving tales in Japanese history. A bamboo cutter comes across a princess, who fits in the palm of his hand. Taking her home to his wife, she transforms into a baby, and the two raise her. She exhibits amazing growth (often facilitated by her happiness and nature) and while she plays with the local children, her adoptive father is gifted with gold and lavish kimonos and realizes he must leave this rural life behind and turn her into a proper princess. Once in the city, they hire a proper noble lady to mold their child into the princess she was met to be while rumors of her beauty bring in suitors far and wide, including, eventually, the emperor himself.
The story concerns identity - who we choose to be - and the emotional connection is astounding. The animation style is like a water color come to life - it's quite unlike anything else out there and, especially when motion is concerned, it is some of the most striking animation that has been put to screen. From the way the wind blows in the trees, the flowing clothing and hair and simply the way the eyes convey emotion - to me, it's one of the greatest triumphs in animation I have seen. But beyond the visual aspect, the film gets so many other things right. You have Joe Hisaishi's wonderful score, from period-piece instruments to soaring melodies to quiet contemplative moments - it compliments the film in every way.
The studio also excels at getting a phenomenal English cast on board as well. While I'm one for watching the Japanese version if you get the chance, if you're going to watch something dubbed in English, you can't get much better than Ghibli films. This time around we have Chloë Grace Moretz voicing the princess, James Caan as the bamboo cutter father and Mary Steenburgen as her mother - as well as the narrator. Other cast includes Darren Criss as her childhood friend Sutemaru (who never quite leaves her life) as well as Lucy Liu as the noble tutor and Beau Bridges, James Marsden, Oliver Platt, Daniel Dae Kim, John Cho and Dean Cain rounding out the cast as the many suitors of the princess. All around - one of the more impressive rosters in the long history of the studio.
Some may find the film moves too slow (it is currently the longest film Ghibli has made at 137 minutes) and may be confused by the ending - but stick with this one - if just for the stunning visuals. It is certainly a film unlike any other film out there and nears Spirited Away as one of the greatest animated films I have seen.