The Tale of the Princess Kaguya Review: A Watercolor Storybook

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As classic anime films like Spirited Away expand their niche audience, the West is realizing more and more with every release that Studio Ghibli is every bit of a powerhouse of animation as Walt Disney ever was. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a remarkably animated retelling of an old Japanese folk story, is no exception, delivering a sweeping narrative where every frame gives you something to admire.

This being the studio’s first film since one-man Pixar Hayao Miyazaki spectacularly retired with the brilliant The Wind Rises, it’s clear that Studio Ghibli’s future is a bright one.

Everything about the story feels appropriately traditional. We open with a simple bamboo cutter coming across a glowing bamboo shoot that contains Princess Kaguya as an infant that fits in the palm of his hand. She eventually grows much faster, becoming a renowned princess in all of Japan.

Some could argue that the nature of the story of Kaguya searching for love, turning down suitor after suitor, is incredibly outdated. They’re not wrong, but the old-school watercolor landscapes with pencil-drawn characters in the foreground make the whole experience feel like it’s from a different century.

This being a reimagining of a folktale that has survived to this feminist day in age, it rightfully feels old. But it also feels timeless. This animation will look beautiful as long as anime exits, unlike some of Studio Ghibli’s older films, Castle in the Sky being a perfect example (though My Neighbor Totoro has a simplicity about it that puts it right next to this film).

As beautiful as it is, at over two hours, Princess Kaguya loses some steam in the middle. Though it regains it for a stirring finale, it’s hard to justify how much time we spend with some of Kaguya’s suitors when they all point toward the obvious: love can’t be won, it has to be natural.

By the end, the true themes of what’s previous in life come through. The film ends incredibly emotionally and not as many audience members might expect. But it works.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya always feels like a folktale thanks to the gorgeously primitive animation style and it’s simple manner of storytelling. Anyone willing to sit through the runtime is in for another treat from Studio Ghibli. As if that’s any surprise. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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