In 2008 Isao Takahata, best known for his work “Grave of the Fireflies”, announced that he started working on a new full-length movie and in November 2013, after 5 years of production “Kaguya-Hime no Monogatari” (The tale of princess Kaguya) came out.
“Kaguya-hime no Monogatari” is an adaptation of the Japanese folktale “The tale of the bamboo cutter” (also known as “Princess Kaguya”).
The tale is quite popular; the story can be divided in 3 sections: beginning, life in the capital and the ending.
In the beginning the story follows a bamboo cutter named Okina that one day found an infant the size of his thumb inside a shining bamboo shoot. With his wife they decided to raise her as their own child.
This part of the story feature the growth of Kaguya-hime her early relationship and build up her character. The story to this point is lighthearted perfectly representing the life of an infant.
During the life in the capital the character of kaguya-hime matured and the story starts to go down a darker path. Kaguya is faced with restriction of liberty but thanks to the story of the five princes the mood is lighten.
I don’t want to spoil the ending but I need to point out a few things. After the introduction of the Emperor of Japan as a character the movie start to build up its emotional ending but is not the real ending of the story.
The original tale ends with the naming of Mount Fuji and the destruction of the elixir of immortality (both of this are not even mentioned in the anime so it’s not a real spoiler). I wanted to mention it because this is an adaptation and this decision influence the characters especially the Emperor, basically in the movie he is relegated to a secondary character who “breaks” Kaguya-hime, while in the original story he becomes the protagonist reinforcing the importance of Kaguya’s character.
This decision doesn’t really influence the quality of the anime Isao decided to end at a good point of the story and it feels completed but I personally think that it’s important to mention.
The main character obviously is Kaguya and every other character supports her growth. Kaguya’s character is fully built in the movie from the start to the end it evolves based on the encounters and the environment.
That said the supporting characters aren’t really stereotypes every character has his evolution and help the story flow. In some cases, like the princes, the characters help to lighten the mood.
The art style is not your usual anime style. This type of art resembles the one used in old children’s books with a mix of pastel and watercolors.
At first the heavy outline on the characters can be slightly annoying but after the first 20 minutes you will get used to it.
The lack of detail on the character does not impact on the beauty of the art even in the few occasions when the drawing reverts to a sketch. The backgrounds have enough details and for the most part use less saturated colors that let the characters stand out.
Due to the art style the animation feels choppy at times but enables some beautiful moments like the escape from the palace during the party, in my opinion without the use of that particular art style you will never achieve the impact of that scene.
As per Studio Ghibli’s tradition the man behind the music of “Kaguya-hime no monogatari” is Joe Hisaishi, but this is not the best compared to other ones that he made. With that said this is still a fitting soundtrack and it’s pleasant to hear even as a standalone playlist.
A few notes on the voice actors.
Kaguya’s voice actor (Aki Asakura) is an actress and this was her first time dubbing, she did a very good job with changing the tone of her voice to distinguish the various phases of Kaguya’s growth (that’s not a quality that many voice actor have).
Okina’s voice actor (Chii Takeo) was a famous actor and this was his second (and last) dubbing experience, unfortunately he died in June of 2012. His interpretation of the character was almost perfect expressing the nature of Kaguya’s father.
Personally I liked the film, first I was skeptical about the art style but it turned out to be good.
The movie itself is a roller coaster of emotion from joy to sadness and everything is expressed perfectly with the combination of images and voice actors.
I will recommend this movie to everyone young and old (like every other studio Ghibli’s film), even for people who don’t watch anime this is a great film.
I think that in the future I will definitely remember “Kaguya-hime no monogatari” for its art style and less for the story.
It’s good to see Isao Takahata back with a movie almost as good as “Grave of the Fireflies” and I hope to see many other of his works.