Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kaguya Is A Beautiful Wonderful Mess

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is the latest product to be released by legendary animation Studio Ghibli. It's helmed by cofounder Isao Takahata... now that Miyazaki has retired, this is more the kind of film we have to look forward to from the great studio.
Kaguya is the story of a princess born miraculously from a bamboo shoot. Oddly, she grows in spurts similar in nature to the plant itself. But as she grows older, many men come to court her and the princess struggles to hold onto the ideals she has claimed for herself. Kaguya is a strong willed woman in a time when women were not expected to have opinions. Female characters have always been strong and prevalent in Ghibli flicks, but it still seems worth commending Takahata for continuing the tradition.
Oh and did I mention, the entire film is animated like ancient Japanese watercolors. It's totally beautiful and frequently a culture shock to watch something so simple become so robust before my eyes. And the animators really found clever new ways to surprise me.
Now, the only things holding this film back are (A) it's length... 2 hours and 17 minutes, and (B) it's ending, which seems to pull away from the more grounded emotional points being made about individuality and self worth in favor of... well to be honest I don't really know what the ending is trying to say... other than the possible fact that this is based on a classic Japanese folk tale and that ending is probably inherent in that earlier work. But there's something rather charming about both of these so called negatives. The runtime is not so apocryphal if you consider that this is more likely an animated film for adults, with necessary pacing to match. And the ending feels like a trip back in time into another perspective that perhaps we are no longer meant to grasp. It's like traveling to the ruins of an ancient but beautiful city and wondering at old paintings of relationships we'll never know or understand.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is whimsical, beautiful, and messy. But I'm very glad to have experienced it. If you can find a theatre playing it in your area, this is absolutely an interesting new piece of cinema worth exploring.

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