The long (but gorgeous) goodbye…
It’s a cruel double blow that Studio Ghibli’s iconic cofounders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, should offer their respective swansongs within 10 months of each other. The good news? Takahata’s Oscar-nominated The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, like Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises, is some film to go out on – personal, beautiful, and proving one last time, should we need reminding, that Takahata (Grave Of The Fireflies, Pom Poko) is a master filmmaker of the highest order.
Based on 10th century Japanese legend ‘Taketori monogatari’, TTOTPK begins with a humble woodcutter (Takeo Chii) finding a doll-sized child in a bamboo shoot. Taking her home to his wife, the tot grows before their startled eyes, and the woodcutter names her Princess (Aki Asakura) when his subsequent discovery of gold and fine fabrics leads him to believe that the gods wish her to enjoy the life of a noblewoman.
And so the family inhabit a mansion in the city, where Kaguya (‘Shining’), as she’s now called, is beset by rich and powerful men intent on winning her hand. This life of servants, prestige and visiting dignitaries delights her status-seeking father, but Kaguya craves only the simple life she once enjoyed in the country.
Given TTOTPK took eight years to make, Takahata can perhaps be forgiven for turning in a film that is unquestionably too long – at 137 minutes, it surpasses Princess Mononoke as Ghibli’s lengthiest. Otherwise it is masterful, its gentle brushstrokes and translucent water pastels complementing a story that celebrates the transient beauty of the natural world over the materialism and artificiality of city life.
Breathing beauty from every frame, it might prove too placid for those who cheered the combustible action of Big Hero 6, but when the set-pieces do arrive – Kaguya making an expressionistic dash past charcoal trees under a bloated, baleful moon, or an imaginatively staged finale that’s both bonkers and transcendent – they stay in the mind forever.
It’s good to see a heroine with moxie, too. Told that a princess has no business to dance, frolic, laugh, cry or even sweat, she mocks such strictures and craftily pokes fun at the possessive “love” that she is expected to accept. A sojourn back to the beloved hillsides and forests of her youth, meanwhile, recalls the sight of Pocahontas pirouetting freely at the end of Terrence Malick’s The New World – at once joyful and exquisitely sad for the freedom is fleeting.