Monday, July 20, 2015

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Upon revisiting "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," I must admit to thinking mostly about how the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature - and did not win. It lost to Disney film "Big Hero 6." Though I don't care all that much about awards, winning sets the budgets for what might be made down the line. I had hopes that the artistic quality of Isao Takahata's final film would be recognized and possibly get more 2D projects budgeted and produced. But this was not the case. Computer animation is fine - but to my eye, many of the CG animated films here in America look somewhat similar. Worse, many have too many similar plot points along the way. I guess that is what called "formula." "Big Hero 6" was better than some, and I enjoyed it, but "Kaguya" is unique in its beauty.

If 2D Hand Drawn Animation is truly on the way out, we are losing a medium that defined the art form of feature animation. For me, hand drawn  has produced many more scenes of awe on the big screen than all the CG effects have done in their much shorter existence. I suppose - or hope - that will change as the technology progresses. Any way...

"Kaguya" is a visual feast and the unique qualities of the images are present throughout the film. Based on a Japanese folktale, the story starts rather simply, but gets deeper as it opens up. The gist of the narrative is being who you are - who you want to be - whether you are told it is possible or not. Princess Kaguya, born of bamboo, is at home in rural Japan and happy. She wants to remain there. Her adopted father has other ideas and wants her to be royalty and live in the city - and if he gets a position in society because of it, even better.

However, the Princess is miserable in the city and wants little to do with the lords and ladies there. She does try to obey her father's wishes, but only at the expense of being who she would rather be. As it turns out, Kaguya actually comes from the Moon, and wanted to experience why existence on Earth was yearned for by someone she knew that had lived there. When the Buddha comes down from the Moon to take her back----

--- and I'll admit that on first watch this got me confused. The scenes of the Buddha and his flying entourage, including musicians, was spectacular, but very odd. I left the theater originally guessing Takahata was expressing some sort of Buddhist beliefs and wanted to end his career with this expression.

But on watching again, Kaguya really is telling the Buddha that he needs to chill out. Life on Earth is just as beautiful as living on the Moon, or Nirvana, perhaps. Her choice to be herself was wasted by allowing her father to push her toward the big city. She regrets none of it, however, because the life she found at first, in rural Japan, was who she was, and it remained with her always. Instead of working toward the after life, or achieving spiritual enlightenment to remove one's self from the world, the Princess suggests that living every day to the fullest - something we hear from many wise places - is truly the way to live life. And if we do that, what we have and what we achieve are less important than the actual living we do.

And though I suppose sometimes that message gets across in Disney CG features, I don't think it ever looks so good as it does in this film.

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