I recently went to watch Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) and my anticipation was not disappointed. Besides the fact that this is probably the last movie Isao Takahata will make, and potentially the last Ghibli to see in the theatres, the trailer itself promised two hours of gorgeous, jaw-dropping animation. And it did.
From the watercolor palette, the use of lines as a mood indicator to the soundtrack, every technical element of this movie delivered a powerful punch.
The story, as expected from a Ghibli, is a simple narrative that seems to capture and echo with larger, more universal emotions. Directed by Isao Takahata, the mingled, conflicting emotions that Kaguya and her parents embody are part of his trademark (think Only Yesterday) and the expansive sense of loss continues even after the film ends.
There were two scenes that were particularly powerful for me [SPOILER]:
(Photo from Youtube)
There is a scene where Kaguya as a baby, initially toddles toward some young boys who have decided to name her “Takenoko” (Bamboo shoot) and yell her name to get her attention. She falls and stands up, and her father, unhappy with the name they have given her begins to yell “Hime!” (princess), getting more emotional as she turns around and toddles toward him. He eventually gets up and runs towards her, both crying and laughing.
Ah. the feels. 😦 The way the emotion is built up in his face through simple colour changes and his voice is remarkably skillful. The scene in that moment is poignant, because not only is Kaguya in that moment already beginning to be torn into two separate types of identities, but it shows the love of her father, and his conviction that as a princess she deserves more. His belief propels much of the sadness she will feel, but in that initial moment, is so overwhelmingly beautiful and strong. It makes everything only more tragic in retrospect.
(Photo from Dramafever)
The second scene is the entire sequence of her emotional sprint from her mansion in the capital back to the mountains of the bamboo grove where she grew up. The ragged power of her run is created by black pencil-like lines, and choppy scene cuts that show multiple viewpoints. The presence of the moon as she runs, the way the grass cuts through the screen and the draining of all colour builds up the anger and frustration that drives her to run. I love the scene also that cuts to her face, giving her an angry, spirit-like look, as she rushes into the focal point of the frame. It’s a breathtaking, one-of-a-kind animation sequence.
There is a strong pastoral trope to the movie, Kaguya’s desire for the countryside and the simple joys of living are sharply contrasted with the stifling formalities of city living. But more than that, I think the larger theme of misplaced love, and misguided but good intentions are ironically, very much a part of the living that Kaguya sought when she came down from the moon. The pastoral desire is challenged by Kaguya’s inability to achieve it, and living the ‘impure’ earth life means that there is no such thing as a clean split between the good and the bad. The fantastical, potentially imagined reunion between Kaguya and her nii-chan is sweet, but also compromised by his own doubt at her ability to have stayed happy despite the hardships of the life he leads, and the presence of his wife and baby. Either way, Kaguya was never guaranteed a form of happiness, we just know that the life she ended up living made her long for another possibility. And it is that longing that we all identify with, that what-if boundary that we can never really cross.
That has always been the element of Ghibli movies that I am most drawn to. It is never either/or. It often just is and is not, both at the same time.