The teardrop ex­plodes

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, an­i­mated fan­tasy/drama, rated PG, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles As part of its Ghi­bli Cel­e­bra­tion, which in­cludes five clas­sic films by Ja­pan’s famed Stu­dio Ghi­bli, the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts fea­tures a premiere screen­ing of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a poetic, beau­ti­fully an­i­mated fea­ture with plenty of the magic for which the stu­dio is known. Di­rected by Isao Taka­hata, this film is his best since Grave of the Fire­flies (1988), and this English ver­sion fea­tures a stel­lar cast that in­cludes voice work by Lucy Liu, George Se­gal, Beau Bridges, and Oliver Platt, among oth­ers.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tells the sweep­ing, epic tale of a su­per­nat­u­ral princess who is born in a bam­boo shoot and dis­cov­ered by Ok­ina, a kindly bam­boo cut­ter (voiced by James Caan). Small enough at first to fit in the palm of his hand, the foundling trans­forms into a hu­man in­fant be­fore his very eyes. Ok­ina and his wife (voiced by Mary Steen­bur­gen, who also nar­rates), name her Kaguya and raise her as their own daugh­ter. Later, when Ok­ina dis­cov­ers gold in the bam­boo stand, he takes it as a sign of Kaguya’s roy­alty and uses his new­found riches to set her up in a pala­tial res­i­dence in the re­gion’s cap­i­tal. Mean­while, Kaguya (Chloë Grace Moretz), who was liv­ing a free-spir­ited, ac­tive life with her close friend, Sutemaru ( Glee’s Dar­ren Criss), in the bam­boo cut­ter’s hum­ble vil­lage, has grown amaz­ingly — su­per­nat­u­rally — quickly into a beau­ti­ful young lady. In time, nu­mer­ous suit­ors vie for her hand.

The sim­ple story is rich with con­trasts be­tween Princess Kaguya’s idyl­lic child­hood and the op­pres­sively staid life she leads in the royal court at the cap­i­tal, where cus­tom and for­mal­ity rule over feel­ings. The setup makes for a cri­tique of women’s roles in Ja­panese so­ci­ety. Work­ing me­thod­i­cally at her loom, Kaguya stead­fastly re­jects each of her suit­ors — even the em­peror — much to the cha­grin of Ok­ina, who, com­ing to en­vi­sion him­self as an aris­to­crat, clum­sily and com­i­cally puts on airs. Even the em­peror can­not sway Kaguya’s heart, and she grows more and more de­spon­dent. She ap­peals to the moon for help, set­ting up the film’s con­clud­ing chap­ters, in which myth and fairy-tale en­chant­ments take cen­ter stage and the princess’ spir­i­tual ori­gins and rea­son for be­ing on earth (a pun­ish­ment for a past sin) are fi­nally made known. Kaguya wants only to re­turn to Sutemaru, for whom she feels the most love.

Taka­hata has crafted a film that is en­chant­ing, if at times slow and overly long for young chil­dren. The an­i­ma­tion is hand-drawn in soft wa­ter­col­ors that lend the story a bu­colic feel. The themes of free will and the long­ings of the heart, even when they go against des­tiny, lend later scenes a somber melan­choly. Kaguya wants her hap­pi­ness, and we can­not help but want it for her. Larger themes emerge, such as the tran­sience of our ex­is­tence. One can only won­der if the gifts await­ing us in the realm of the divine are any greater than those here on earth. The an­swer comes in the form of a fall­ing tear.

— Michael Abatemarco

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