Man, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is a magnificent film. It's pretty interesting to think about the film after watching The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Throughout half the documentary, people (mainly producers) were very concerned if Kaguya would ever get finished. Thank god it did. Takahata approaches a classic folktale with a incredible degree of artistry, sensitivity and humanity. In that way, it's like any other Takahata film.
Deeply emotional and human at its core, I was pleased to see the way this film managed to be very funny and heartwarming (I was promised a tearjerker over and over again). While being derived from the folktale, the focus is on the girl- her parents and her emotions. The protagonist appears as an individual with a great hunger for life and the world but at the same time has a restless sense of isolation, uncertain of her place. The film shows her at her highest and lowest points, it's hard to describe but at her lowest, she is depicted with a very convincing sense of depression- the sort of emotional depth Takahata is known for. It's reminiscent of Only Yesterday in some regards but it certainly makes sense as the next film after My Neighbors the Yamadas (I have to mention, Pom Poko also has relevance here).
I mentioned in previous posts that the art is a logical stylistic continuation of the Yamadas, I feel that Kaguya is a full realisation of some of the visual ideas present in Yamadas, but of course it is still considerably different to what has come before for Ghibli. It's perfectly well-suited to the story being told, while the art has an inherent Japanese quality to it, some of Takahata's non-Japanese animation influences are apparent. Line, form and colour are approached in a relatively unconventional manner. In that way, it truly seems unique and not something which is totally restricted to 'anime'. This is easily one of the best the best looking Ghibli films yet (seriously). Joe Hisaishi also shines here, providing a score which is traditional in nature (some of the Koto moments are absolutely stunning) but features a rather surprising sounding cue towards the end of the film.
I was initially concerned with its duration, but I did not feel the length at all. I imagine this mainly comes down to Takahata's direction and the incredible animation. His depictions of daily life and nature are as stunning and effortlessly beautiful as ever. I can imagine some audiences not enjoying some of these little digressions, this is understandable. Similarly, I can see people being disappointed with the actual story being told. While it is not a slave to the folktale, it is rather faithful. All of this becomes secondary to the concerns of the protagonist. The film does touch on a number of themes such as the life of (noble)women in the era, the inevitability of fate, the inability to live the way one chooses, the idealised image of life etc this ultimately helps inform the nature of the protagonist (certainly her sense of rebelliousness).
With this film, Takahata and crew has created another masterpiece of animation. Something which is deeply traditional (it is based on a folktale after all) but also manages clearly stand out and be different in the stagnating world of mainstream animation.
Really special stuff.
Aparently Takahata has two or three more film projects he wants to make. But with his age and the resource intensive nature of his productions, I fear that we'll never get to see them. He's wanted to adapt The Tale of the Heike for quite some time but hasn't had the opportunity- curiously both The Tale of the Heike and The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter have been previously referenced in his films. It is depressing to think that The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya really are the final features from Miyazaki and Takahata respectively but at the same time, I am very happy that they ended their careers with films that are of an incredibly high standard. Films that effectively represent their directing careers but also feel fresh. With Ghibli currently in hibernation, one can only hope that its return will result in films that are as artful as the work created by Takahata and Miyazaki.