Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary Studio Ghibli animator confirmed his retirement from feature length animation back in 2013. Many wondered if the company could continue its success without the man Roger Ebert considered the greatest animator their ever was. Unfortunately, many forget that it wasn’t just Miyazaki that founded Studio Ghibli back in 1985. In fact, Isao Takahata, the creator of Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday is equally as talented, with a flair for more personal features compared to Miyazaki’s fantastical ones. The Tale of Princess Kaguya represents Takahata’s first feature since 1999, and in that marks a triumphant return that shows Studio Ghibli is by no means finished.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based upon the Japanese story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. One day a man stumbles upon a tiny princess hidden among the bamboo, when he brings her home she transforms into a baby that ages at an accelerated rate until she is a beautiful young woman. In order to give her the life he feels she deserves, the man and his wife take the princess to the city to be a noble, away from the peaceful idyllic life they have.
As with every Ghibli feature their is strong moral lessons running through its core, applicable to both children and adults. Here, Takahata focuses on the idea of happiness and what makes us happy. Throughout the film you see Princess Kaguya is most content when she is frolicking with her friends in the countryside, yet her parents push her into a life of nobility that is suitable of her namesake. Kaguya continues with such as she wants her parents to be happy, but in that she sacrifices her own happiness. It is there you see the message that you should judge your happiness on how you see it, rather than how others tell you to see it.
The relationship between Kaguya and her parents is also one filled with meaning and message. Her parents sacrifice their lives to make their adopted daughter happy in the way they feel best, but in that they don’t consider Kaguya’s opinion. It’s a relatable notion for many of us who have experienced pushy parents. At the end of the day, they have your best interests at heart.
The story itself is helped greatly by the animation style that is very similar to Takahata’s previous work My Neighbour the Yamadas. It’s a step back to the storyboards of old but done in such way that is still so vibrant and bold, even when compared to the high definition style that is common today. Takahata still uses great detail to signify beauty and more sharp, jagged strokes to connote sadness in his animation style that is a breathe of fresh air that stands out from the crowd. With the ever fantastic Joe Hisaishi providing yet another memorable score, Kaguya is a visual and auditory pleasure.
At its most detailed, the film presents deep and meaningful morals that represent the beauty of the human condition. It provides a rich tapestry of emotion and mood that is deceptively simple at first glance, yet just like many Ghibli pieces, it can also stand as a simple sensory pleasure, one that you can watch with your children where each of you get as much enjoyment out of it as the other. That is where the beauty of Studio Ghibli lies, and in The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Takahata has shown there is hope and confidence the company is not ready to close its doors just yet.