Film Review: “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

Morgan Smith

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is written and directed by Isao Takahata, the director of the classic “The Grave of the Fireflies,” and voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan and Mary Steenburgen.

The film suffers from an agonizing slow pace and lack of dramatic conflict, but has some of the best visuals of an animated film in years.

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Princess Kaguya Poster
Image Courtesy of IMDb. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” was released in the United States on Oct. 17.

The film is about a bamboo farmer (James Caan) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen) who find a baby, later named Kaguya, who is seemingly born out of a bamboo stalk (Cholë Grace Moretz). She has the ability to grow and progress through childhood rapidly, in what seems like a month’s time. She eventually is taken to the capital of her land to become a princess, but finds the noble life unfulfilling and boring.

This film follows the Ghibli theme of female protagonists, especially princesses. This is the fifth Studio Ghibli film about a princess.

“Princess Kaguya” is the first film to be released by Studio Ghibli since the retirement of its acclaimed director, Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is the man responsible for some of the best animated films ever made, like “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and his last film, “The Wind Rises.”

“Princess Kaguya” is more child-oriented than most Ghibli films, which left me feeling a little disappointed. Most of the film centers around Kaguya’s childhood, which is incredibly simple and devoid of any conflict.

That’s not to say that child-oriented films are necessarily bad. “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” are also amazing. Those films make up their lack of serious tones with extreme fantasy and extravagance, and it works. A film outside of my age group can still entertain me as long as I’m constantly engaged.

“Princess Kaguya” does not constantly engage. The film’s tone is playful and simple for the first hour, but it takes a long time for any dramatic conflict to come up. Most Ghibli films get into their main conflict almost immediately. A large portion of this film is Kaguya’s childhood or her living by herself with nobody to talk to.

There is a difference between a film having a slow pace and being boring. Stanley Kubrick‘s films are all slow-paced, but they are some of the best ever made. They take their time, but their is always a sense of conflict or tension. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is one of my all-time favorite films, and it might be the most slow-paced movie ever made. But there is always dramatic tension. “Princess Kaguya” is slow and lacks substantial conflict.

Kaguya shot
Image courtesy of IMDb.

What the film does have going for it is the art style. As opposed to Ghibli’s standard digitalized animation, “Princess Kaguya” is done entirely in beautiful water colors. It fits the ancient Japanese theme of the film perfectly and makes for some stunning scenes. Probably the most impressive scene in the film is the one shown in the trailer, of Kaguya running away from home while her komonos are flying behind her.

The Lego Movie” and “Princess Kaguya” are the top films in contention for the Best Animated Feature. Both have been garnering awards, but “The Lego Movie” has demonstrated much more innovation and creativity in animation. It has a small chance of failing at the Academy Awards simply because of its “mainstream” feel.

A loss would be horrible, as “The Lego Movie” was one of my favorites of 2014, and I laugh more every time I watch it, while “Princess Kaguya” is not worth a re-watch.

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“Princess Kaguya” is playing exclusively at the Lyric Cinema Café.

Collegian A&E Film Beat Writer Morgan Smith can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @MDSFilms.