For his first film since the unfairly dismissed comic-strip adaptation My Neighbors The Yamadas in 1999, Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata has picked up where that film left off, visually speaking. Resembling a series of loose watercolour sketches and set in the harsh society of feudal Japan, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is a long way from the bright, colourful and richly detailed epics Ghibli are famous for. An adaptation of a Japanese folk tale about a mysterious princess discovered in a glowing bamboo tree, the Oscar-nominated film follows the princess as she struggles to free herself from both the demeaning customs of a patriarchal society, and the insatiable men who want to control her. Not exactly Totoro.
“I have sought to refrain from projecting onto the young girls who are my main characters any wishful thinking from the male point of view about how women should behave,” Takahata tells us via email. “I also like to put myself in a women’s position as much as I can and think about things. Despite being a man, I love vibrant women, not only to fall in love with, but as friends and human beings.” And Princess Kaguya is certainly a human being. Not only does she cheekily relish the opportunity to set the men vying for her hand in marriage impossible challenges, but she hates the way men talk about her behind her back at her naming ceremony, and her emotions suddenly rush to the surface.
“I have sought to refrain from projecting onto the young girls who are my main characters any wishful thinking from the male point of view about how women should behave”
Takahata uses the scrappy visual style to reflect these emotions in a way that wouldn't be possible in a more traditional animated film. “Rather than paintings that declare ‘I am the real thing’,” he says of his choice of style, “I prefer paintings that say ‘As you can see, I am not the real thing, but please use me as a means to imagine or remember in a vivid way the real thing that is behind me’.”
“My intent was to have the viewers be there at the moment when the sketches were being drawn and to have them share in the emotions,” he continues. “I want to make sure that we don't forget the great power of paintings drawn by lines on paper to stir our imaginations and memories.”
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is out in cinemas Friday 20 March
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