The Tale of Princess Kaguya represents the first Studio Ghibli film without co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, following his retirement after the release of 2011’s The Wind Rises. Fortunately, fellow co-founder, Isao Takahata has taken the reins and if this film is anything to go by, then the studio is in capable hands.
As director, Takahata opts for a hand-drawn animation, a staple of Ghibli’s style, instead of the CGI graphics most animation studios use nowadays. However, where Miyazaki tended to employ the bright colours and bold lines typical of anime films, Takahata instead seems to be more influenced by ink-wash painting, or sumi-e.
His decision to do so is by far the most endearing part of the film. It makes the audience feel as though they are watching a watercolour painting come to life before them, while also helping to better capture the image of tenth century Japan. With this in mind, it is little wonder the film received a nomination at this year’s Oscars, although the issues with the film certainly explain why it didn’t win.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is Takahata’s first feature film since 1999’s My Neighbours the Tamadas, which was more of a sketch comedy film, whereas the rest of the director’s earlier works were much more serious in their subjects. Consequently, Princess Kaguya seems to fall, rather uncomfortably, somewhere in between the two ends of this spectrum.
That is not to say the film is without its comedic moments. The eponymous character’s transformation from country bumpkin to noble princess is certain to incite a few laughs from the audience; it is just that these moments are few and far between, being scattered in between scenes which don’t always offer that much to the plot. This is particularly true in the second act, which seems to drag exponentially.
While it deals with Kaguya’s entrapment within the gilded cage of high society well, it is at these moments that the comedy subsequently feels out of place. In a film that at times wishes to be so emotionally driven and at others so light-hearted, this uncertainty of direction results in an enjoyable but overall dissatisfying affair.