Studio Ghibli’s fairytale factory has produced a visual story more enchanting than usual.
Isao Takahata – the main man by the side of Hayao Miyazaki, now retired – uses fluidly animated watercolour and charcoal frames to respectfully portray Princess Kaguya’s expression, delicacy and origin. The film is based on one of Japan’s oldest folktales and the naming of Mount Fuji in ‘The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter’.
However traditional the style, the story’s themes have been enhanced for a modern context, demonstrating some of the best Feminist rhetoric that can be found in film. Away from the fantasy matriarchy of Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away’s female coming-of-age, Kaguya grows independently – this is about her use of wit to combat society’s constraints upon her gender and fragile class station. Doing away with the ode to imperialism of the original story, the Emperor who honours her now offends her dignity and womanhood. The Bamboo Cutter objectifies his adopted daughter-Princess far more than her suitors do. Yet in contrast to these sad injustices, consensual mutual love is included to serve as example, emphasised by scenes beautiful if only for their deft use of dramatic tension.
This is Takahata’s masterpiece, and rivals Miyazaki’s best known work, a stronger parable and a more divine folklore than has been broached before. Miyazaki’s retirement doesn’t spell the death of the studio.