Tale Of The Princess Kaguya film review: Ghibli’s new hope?

Our review of Studio Ghibli’s first post-Hayao Miyazaki animated feature

The retirement of Hayao Miyazaki may have seen the departure of one of cinema’s most gifted filmmakers, but Studio Ghibli has never been a one-person outfit, and The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is a beautiful, heart-warming reminder of what the masters of animation are capable of.

Sanuki no Miyatsuko (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a bamboo cutter who comes across something in the woods. One of the trees he cuts down holds a tiny princess, who transforms into a baby girl when he takes her home to his wife Ona (Nobuko Miyamoto). Naming her ‘Princess’, they raise her as their own, believing her to be a gift from Heaven.

When the bamboo cutter finds large quantities of gold in the trees, he takes this as a sign that they need to give Princess a better life, and decides that they should leave the woods and their friends to live as nobility in the city. But what does Princess want, and how will this drastic change affect her?

The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya is directed by Ghibli founding member Isao Takahata, maker of the stunning Grave Of The Fireflies, as well as Pom Poko and My Neighbours The Yamadas. It’s hard to imagine this elegant animation coming from anyone else. It’s based on the classic Japanese fairy tale The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter, and perfectly combines form and story.

Princess, who goes on to be named Kaguya, takes her place in the grand tradition of Ghibli heroines. She’s excitable and good-natured, stubborn and good-hearted, and her longing to return to the simpler life she knew before is heartbreaking. The stately pace and charming sense of humour that is the Ghibli trademark is present and correct, and the voice cast is absolutely wonderful. Nakadai and Miyamoto are particularly good as the bull-headed but well-meaning woodcutter and his quiet but perceptive wife respectively.

The film is a little lengthy at 137 minutes, but it’s wonderfully made, filled with charming detail, and has a truly affecting emotional journey at its centre.