I finally got to see 'The Wind Rises' after awards season earlier this year and it was a nice movie. So I was very excited to get to see 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' before the awards season of 2014 officially began. Studio Ghibli is probably my favorite animation company, right up there with Pixar, even though that's pretty cliche to say at this point. Don't get me wrong, I love Pixar (and Disney Animation, too), but Studio Ghibli films always hit me right in the emotional gut. Couple that with the always beautiful style, fantastic music and highly original storytelling. 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' ranks up there with the best Ghibli has to offer.
'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' follows the story of Kaguya-hime (Aki Asakura). One day, Okina (Takeo Chii), a bamboo cutter, finds a miniature girl inside of a bamboo shoot. He takes her home to his wife Ona (Nobuko Miyamoto) and they decide to raise the girl. They also decide to name her, "Princess." Princess grows at an exponential rate and makes friends who begin to call her "Little Bamboo." One of the kids, Sutemaru (Kengo Kora), develops a close relationship with Princess. One day Okina finds gold and fine cloth in the bamboo and takes it to be a sign of Princess' royalty. Okina begins to build her a palace in the capital, and soon Princess' days living in the mountains come to an end. Princess finds herself now living in a lavish palace and being groomed into a true princess. She has even been given a proper name, Princess Kaguya, because of the light that radiates from her. During the after-party (so to speak) of her naming ceremony, she overhears guests unkind words towards her. This sends Kaguya into a despair as she begins to search for why she is here on earth.
From the get go, the art style 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' gets you immersed in the world. The hand drawn style that Studio Ghibli brings to this Japanese folktale is truly outstanding. The world and people are beautifully drawn. The backdrops of the mountains or palace are filled vibrant colors that perfectly accent what is going on in a given scene. This is probably my favorite Studio Ghibli film yet, from a purely artistic standpoint. The voice-over work is top notch too, especially Aki Asakura, the voice of Princess Kaguya. I'm not one to ever really complain about voicing in an animated feature, but when Studio Ghibli hires actors to voice roles, it's always spot on. The adaptation of the Japanese folktale, 'Tale of the Bamboo Cutter' was outstanding as well. It's sluggish at times because of the runtime, that's well over two hours, but that doesn't make any less mesmerizing. The last 20 minutes or so of this film is one of the best conclusions to a Ghibli film ever. The strong conclusion propels this film into becoming a near perfect one. The emotion 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' brings to the table is astounding as well. You'll feel joy and happiness. You'll laugh at times, while at other times you'll be hit with overwhelming sadness. All this is done expertly, as you will see it in the animation as well as feel inside of you. The music and score are also utterly beautiful, furthering the emotional tones of the film. The koto, predominately used throughout the score, is simply beautiful. Combine that with the completely authentic sounding music laced throughout, the beautiful singing from Aki Asakura and Kazumi Nikaido, and this may well be my favorite sounding Ghibli film to date.
'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' is the best animated film of 2014. Yes, I get that this was released last year in Japan, but we're just getting it in North America now. This is also Studio Ghibli's best film since 'Spirited Away' (in my humble opinion, if that means anything). In his first film since 'My Neighbors the Yamadas' in 1999, Isao Takahata, has got to have made Mr. Hayao Miyazaki himself proud. 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya' is truly the complete animated film. The beautiful and vibrant (hand drawn) animation, the perfect score and music, combined with the outstanding folklore adaption, ads up to one of the best films you'll see this year.