Isao Takahata Talks The Tale of Princess Kaguya

For many, Studio Ghibli is synonymous with animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, but overlook the work of Ghibli’s other prolific director, Isao Takahata, at your peril. Pom Poko, Only Yesterday and devastating war drama Grave Of The Fireflies rank among Ghibli’s finest movies and Takahata’s latest, The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, is arguably his best film yet. To mark the film’s home cinema release we spoke to Takahata about Kaguya’s unusual art style, Japanese fairytales and the future.

The animation style of The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is very unusual, why was it right for this story?

“It was the perfect style for this story, wasn’t it? I have always thought that in the pictorial expression of animation films I want to create screen images by subtraction rather than addition or multiplication. Instead of having viewers think that the screen image is ‘reality itself’, this method allows viewers to sense the underlying ‘reality and authenticity’ through watching the screen, which invokes their imagination and awakens their memories. I aim to use this method not just for this film but in all my work.”

Did you ever worry about how the film would be received internationally given that it's based on a traditional Japanese folktale?

“The original Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter was a novel written around the 10th century. That story was orally transmitted, simplified, and in time became a ‘fairytale’ familiar to all Japanese. While rather faithfully following the enigmatic narrative of the original story in which the mysterious and humorous facets were separated like oil and water, what I attempted was to offer viewers an entirely different impression of the story that would allow them to understand the story and empathize with the human qualities of the main character of the princess and the bamboo cutter and his wife who raised her. That was my aspiration. I believe there is no doubt that what can be accepted by modern day Japanese can be accepted internationally.”

How have you changed as a film-maker in the years since Grave Of The Fireflies?

“I don’t think I’ve changed all that much. I have consistently thought about what is possible to do within the genre of feature-length animation film, and cultivated new ways of expression. The subject matter of my films may be varied, but I have always reflected in my work matters of concern to me. I think it only natural that my work reflects my thoughts on social issues.”

Do you have plans to revisit animation in any form in the future?

“There are several projects I would like to pursue, and I am in the preparation phase on one of them. There should be a possibility of realizing this project, as long as I can keep up my concentration and physical stamina, I am blessed with brilliant staff as I was with The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, and if I can find a funding source. But I am an old man. Only heaven knows if I can be favored with such good fortune.”

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.