For all the praise Studio Ghibli gets, I can’t help but notice that the praise mostly goes to Hayao Miyazaki. And while I do genuinely love Miyazaki’s work and have great respect for the man, it’s really unfair for him to be the only anime director that has gotten worldwide acclaim. In fact, it’s important to note that one of his greatest influences was another director at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata. And he has done some truly great works. And his latest (and arguably greatest) work came out just a few years ago. This film is The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
If you think anime is nothing but creepy fetishization, gratuitous sexuality and violence, exaggeration, and general weirdness, I highly suggest you give this movie a look. It’s a much subtler, more down-to-earth movie, with very brief (and nonsexual) nudity and brief violence that isn’t glorified. The animation is stunning, and shifts at the appropriate times. When Kaguya is in the mountain, the animation is bright, colorful, and detailed, looking like something out of a child’s picture book. When she’s at the palace, the colours are more muted. THIS SCENE is one of the greatest pieces of animation I have ever seen (you can see a great breakdown of it HERE).
The story at times feels like a brutal satire of the western fairy tale. Kaguya is actually much happier living as a peasant girl and loathes the life of a princess (where she’s seen more as a prize rather than a person; her suitors can’t even see her when they propose to her), and refuses to belong to any man. She also has an extremely close bond with her mother (something quite rare to see in Western media) and doesn’t overly depend on animal sidekicks.
The film is over 2 hours long, and manages to work in a range of beautiful animation in addition to great characterization, allowing you to become really attached to Kaguya and her family. Watching it for the second time, it’s a story of a young girl learning the beauties and ugliness of life and how precious it all is, but I feel like it also serves as a cautionary tale. Had the father simply listened to his daughter and respected her wishes rather than assuming what would make her happy, things would’ve gone much differently for them all.
This movie is also extremely sad. While I do think the movie is simply a masterpiece, I can’t watch it because it always makes me cry. I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone, but basically, it’s an emotional roller coaster at the end.
Despite being a Studio Ghibli movie, this film didn’t generate a lot of hype when it came overseas. I’m not sure if it was because GKIDS/Universal dubbed and distributed it instead of Disney, or because it wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, or if it’s because it got swallowed up by all the good western films that was released in 2014. I can sort of understand and accept it not winning the Oscar For Best Animated Film (well, then again, I do have a bias for the film that won that award), but I find it atrocious that it did not win any Annie Awards (you know, the awards ceremony that’s supposed to care about all animation) and only won a few obscure awards.
I’m not really sure if there’s much I can say. You just need to see it to believe it and take it all in. If you get a chance to see it, please do. You’ll probably cry, but it will be worth it.