– by Cameron Ironside
Based on a 10th Century Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) is as much water-colour painting as a film. It’s visually beautiful in its unique animation style. The film is a gentle sojourn that evokes memories of more innocent times — and child-like adventures.
The film starts with Miyatsuko, a bamboo cutter, who discovers a mysterious little woman inside a glowing bamboo plant. Appropriately, she is given the name ‘Little Bamboo,’ which becomes a metaphor for her infancy. She develops a friendship with Sutemaru, a peasant boy who saves her from wild boars — and later becomes a love interest.
For the first half of the film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya feels like one of those movies where not much happens. The audience is invited to delight in the simple things: eating fruit, a baby crawling or a frog jumping. With its minimalistic style, it sometimes feels a little too empty. When the family finally moves to the Capital the pace picks up. Little Bamboo is finally given a name and identity; Princess Kaguya.
Not wanting to marry, Kaguya sends her five suitors on impossible quests to win her affection. The result is both funny and tragic. As the five men continue to try to win her affection, Kaguya draws the interest of the emperor himself. With the princess hidden away for much of her time, Kaguya is painted as an unattainable ideal to be pursued, more so than a woman.
While Isao Takahata is a legendary animator, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya plays it too safe with its aesthetics. The animation rarely strays from its minimalistic style and it could have done with more pictorial splendour. It’s not until the end that the animators cast off the shackles and become more creative in producing a truly unique vision. In fact, the execution of the film’s ending is one of the best from an animated feature in recent memory. While not the earth shattering ending of a film such as Akira (1988), it works on a personal level and in a profound way.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya oscillates between minimalism and world-spanning implications. It gets better as the film progresses. Several endings and false endings are explored. The question is posed: what is real? And what is a dream? And does it matter anyway? The conclusion can be interpreted several ways. Meaning is contextual and relative. The decisions we choose don’t matter once we leave the dream of earth life. Or do they?
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is ultimately an incomplete film. While the audience learns what Kaguya is forced to give up, it is never revealed to the audience exactly what the destination entails. The film, like life itself, is about the journey, not the destination. In the end, only the audience can judge if the journey was worth it.
Photo credits: imdb.com