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Published October 3, 2014

Studio Ghibli is known as one of the foremost animation studios in the world, so when news of their film adaption of 10th century Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter came, we were understandably pretty excited.

Amongst all the kerfuffle over Hayao Miyazaki’s supposed retirement, another one of Studio Ghibli’s founders, Isao Takahata, directed and co-wrote The Tale of Princess Kaguya. If you’re not as familiar with Takahata, it’s because his last feature film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, was released in 1999. He’s another one of the big guns at Studio Ghibli, possibly best known for the heartwrenching, tearjerking, war-themed Grave of the Fireflies.

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In this film, Okina, a bamboo cutter and gatherer, finds a tiny girl, Kaguya in a bamboo grove, and believing she’s a gift from the gods, brings her home to be raised by himself and his wife Ona. She reverts to a normal sized baby, and grows rapidly in both size and beauty, and her adoptive father decides she is destined for divine royalty, eventually taking her from their village to the capital, where she attracts dozens of suitors, including the Emperor himself. Eventually Kaguya reveals that she comes from the moon, and will have to return, forgetting about her life as a human.

Takahata takes one of the oldest recorded Japanese folktales and seamlessly brings it into the 21st century for any audience.  The film is coloured with notes of melancholy: it’s a fairy tale with a surprisingly sharp feminist critique of marriage in traditional Japanese culture, and a parent’s role in their child’s life. It also embraces the themes of nature and magic, like many other Ghibli films.

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As usual, Studio Ghibli’s animation is absolutely stunning: the film has a fluid, impressionist, watercolour palette, which is gorgeous while still simple. The hand drawn frames serve as a reminder that while computer animation is excellent (and I’d never suggest we get rid of it), there is still value in 2D, hand drawn styles – I was going to say “traditional” styles, but the animation in The Tale of Princess Kaguya isn’t traditional – Takahata moves away from the more traditional anime style and it works beautifully for the tale told in this film.

Another home run for Studio Ghibli.

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The Tale of Princess Kaguya screens at Cinema Nova from Oct 9. Book tickets at the Cinema Nova website.

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