An old man makes a living by selling bamboo. One day, he finds a princess in a bamboo. The princess is only the size of a finger. Her name is Kaguya. When Kaguya grows up, 5 men from prestigious families propose to her. Kaguya asks the men to find memorable marriage gifts for her, but the 5 men are unable to find what Kaguya ants. Then, the Emperor of Japan proposes to her.
The famous Japanese movie production company ‘Studio Ghibli‘ is known mostly for Hayao Miyazaki’s film resume that ranges from ‘Spirited Away‘ to ‘The Wind Rises‘. Studio Ghibli continues to put out beautiful and important animated films that not only tell an amazing story, but it also touches on several political, religious, and societal issues that are relevant all over the world. And Miyazaki’s films have conjured up a large global audience that has developed into a cult following that is bigger than ever today.
But this film ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya‘ is not a Miyazaki film. Instead, this is an Isao Takahata picture. This is a 137 minute film that is 100 percent hand drawn and is a story from the 10th century, which is called ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter‘. Many people say that this is one of the first if not the first science fiction story ever thought up. And when I say science-fiction, I’m not insinuating aliens, space ships or far off planets with lasers. Instead, this wonderful story starts out with a middle aged man and his wife who live a quiet life in the mountains.
This man is a bamboo cutter, who uses bamboo for food, shelter, baskets, and clothing. While working in the bamboo field, he notices a strange glow from one of the bamboo trees. When he investigates, he notices a little seedling that is rapidly growing. In it is a tiny little person who is alive. He takes this small person back to his wife where it transforms into a baby girl, who grows very fast too. The bamboo cutter and his wife think that heaven sent her down to Earth to become the most beautiful princess there ever was. As she grows up fast, her parents collect gold and fine clothing from the magical bamboo tree, which he has a giant palace in the city built for her.
The bulk of this long movie shows this magical princess growing up and adjusting to her new wealthy and powerful life. Her father hires a teacher to instruct her on how to be a proper lady and princess, but the princess would rather laugh, dance, play in the fields, and sing than live a life of boredom in 10th century Japan. In addition to this being one of the first science-fiction stories, it also has a lot of feministic and women’s rights qualities to it, which is always great to see.
Another big part of the story has five of the wealthiest and powerful men in Japan vying for her love and hand in marriage. Yet she has never met any of them. She sends each of them on impossible tasks to prove their love for her, but it’s really a ploy to see if they truly care about her or if they just want her as a piece of property. One of the overall story arcs is the love between the princess and a young boy she was friends with when they were little, where their paths cross rarely throughout the course of this movie, but their love is still binding them together, even they are so far away.
This PG family friendly film might be too slow for most, whereas anime buffs might take a stronger liking to it, but as the ending draws closer, the more bizarre it gets, taking you out of the whole point of the story. The best parts are towards the beginning of the film, watching the princess grow up. It has such a wonderful and carefree charm about it that should make you smile. The animation is beautiful and simple and wonderfully colored. It’s a real treat to see something illustrated fully by hand without the use of computers these days. The 137 minute run time is a bit long and could have played out better as a mini series, as this film is fairly episodic, but none-the-less, it’s an excellent piece of animation and a great story. I just think it got away from itself from time to time and took too long to tell.
'The Tale of The Princess Kaguya' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This animated film does not have that sleek or detailed look to it at all. Instead, it relies solely on watercolors without bold black lines to outline each character or background image. This does not make the image less than stellar. On the contrary, the image is simply beautiful in every way shape and form. It's easy on the eyes and full of life and color.
Each brush stroke and line is beautiful and clean. It literally is a moving painting before your eyes, which flows very smooth and fluid. There are no big issues either here with any compression problems or banding. Even the original artwork was not tampered with or made to have a sleek digital look. It's all very organic and gorgeous. The colors look breathtaking and simple as well. Nothing will pop bright, causing you to go blind by any means, but each color is delicate, warm and inviting. This video presentation is flawless.
This release comes with an equally impressive lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix, both in English and Japanese. Both options sound amazing. Since this is an animated film, made entirely on water colors, I prefer the English option here, as the dub seems to fit. That and it's great to hear Chloe Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, and Lucy Liu provide the excellent voice acting here. Each sound effect and ambient noise of the forest and city sound incredible and life like. Each noise is robust and full of life, whether it be a cricket chirping, the wind blowing, or footsteps in the leaves.
The directionality here is excellent and the use of the surrounds is very dynamic. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, and free of any pops, cracks, or hiss throughout. Joe Hisaishi's score is pleasing and beautiful as well, while never drowning out any dialogue or sound effect. The LFE is excellent and the dynamic range is very wide here. Don't expect big explosions or any gun fire here, but instead a simple and exquisite soundscape that can put a spell on you.
Isao Takahata and his Tale of The Princess Kaguya (SD, 86 Mins.) - Here is an impressive feature length documentary on the making of ‘The Tale of The Princess Kaguya'. This is a separate bonus feature on a separate DVD disc, included in the box. Sorry, it's not on the Blu-ray. Also, this is edited down to 86 mins. from a longer documentary. That being said, this is as good as it can get for this release. Director/writer Isao Takahata, along with the producers and Japanese voice actors discuss what it was like making the film. We see Takahata overcome many obstacles in trying to make this film, and it's always great to see the work going on at Studio Ghibli. Highly recommended extra.
Announcement of the Completion of the Film (HD, 40 Mins.) - Yes, this is 40-minutes long. It's more of a long press conference with the entire Japanese cast and crew doing a Q&A with press about their film. Worth the watch.
Trailers (HD, 17 Mins.) - Tons of trailers and tv spots for the film.
'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' is an excellent animated film. It's simple, beautiful, and fun to watch. While it may not hold the attention of younger people these days, true fans of film will fall in love with this film and everything that it means. I wish more films were made like this. Both the video and audio presentations are excellent and the extras are all worth viewing. Highly recommended.