A mas­terly feast for the eyes

Taka­hata’s lovely film uses dusty sto­ries to re­veal time­less prej­u­dices and fool­ish­ness, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS -


Di­rected by Isao Taka­hata. Fea­tur­ing Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steen­bur­gen, Lucy Liu, Ge­orge Se­gal. PG cert, limited re­lease, 137min When Tomm Moore’s Song of

the Sea re­ceived its Os­car nom­i­na­tion, there was much chat­ter about that small film oc­cu­py­ing the same cor­ral as stu­dio pic­tures such as Big

Hero 6, but the Ir­ish an­i­ma­tor seemed more ex­cited about com­pet­ing against a film by Ja­panese mas­ter Isao Taka­hata. The direc­tor of Grave of the

Fire­flies – one of the great­est anti-war films – has, for his first fea­ture in 14 years, turned to the Ja­panese folk tale The Tale of the Bamboo Cut­ter.

It’s a res­o­nant yarn, fu­elled with magic and won­der, that drifts in­evitably to­wards a sat­is­fac­to­rily sad end­ing. One fan­tas­tic day, a woods­man and his wife dis­cover a baby within a bamboo shoot. The cou­ple raise the child – who grows su­per­hu­manly quickly – to be a class of princess and, con­firmed in their am­bi­tions by the dis­cov­ery of fur­ther trea­sures among the bamboo, sub­se­quently move hope­fully to the big city. Train­ing her in the ways of the high­born, a

gov­erness only serves to re­veal the empti­ness of so­cial stric­tures.

There is much of in­ter­est here about the tra­di­tions of an older Ja­pan. Like so much folk cinema by Kenji Mi­zoguchi, Taka­hata’s film uses dusty sto­ries to re­veal time­less prej­u­dices and fool­ish­ness.

The Tale of Princess Kaguya is, how­ever, most no­table for its ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­su­als. View­ers used to the bold lines and brash colours of Hayao Miyazaki’s films – Taka­hata also works un­der the Stu­dio Ghi­bli ban­ner – will be re­freshed by the more pain­terly work in this gor­geous film, which main­tains the dainty style he seemed to per­fect in My Neigh­bours the Ya­madas. The im­pres­sion is of a con­tin­u­ous se­ries of watercolours, sim­i­lar to the nar­ra­tive scroll re­vealed to Kaguya in a key scene.

For­mal dis­ci­pline and cre­ative re­straint re­place the bash and flash we en­counter in most west­ern an­i­ma­tion (and, for that mat­ter, the ma­jor­ity of Ja­panese ani­mes that se­cure in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion).

The English lan­guage dub is per­fectly fine, but the subti­tled ver­sion, avail­able in se­lected cine­mas, re­tains more of the proper tone. Ei­ther way this is a film that in­vites and de­liv­ers to­tal im­mer­sion.

Cre­ative re­straint

Isao Taka­hata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya

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