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TIFF 2014 Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tells an exceedingly important story, wrapped in the realm of Japanese folk tale, of femininity and a woman’s ability – and right – to make her own decisions. Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) takes these elements and actually feels them through the tender graces of heart and humour that permeate this tale of Kaguya (voiced by Aki Asakura) who puts her own worth and aspirations before her prearranged place as a “lady” in society. The story is executed with a calm, endearing intelligence overcoming the shrill, calculated cuteness of the pseudo-feminist animated films, Frozen and Brave.

Takahata’s animation also isn’t a carbon copy of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli films. His hand-drawn images are somehow simpler than the man behind The Wind Rises (which played at last year’s TIFF and was one of the best films of 2013) – the colours fainter and the environments stripped down- etched with minimalism- to the point they appear unfinished. Takahata leaves areas uncoloured to show where light directly illuminates; that way the details of the animation have a purer sense of place. Granted, Miyazaki has a better sense of movement- a type of motion that’s strikingly in tune with its environs (not achieved as powerfully here).

The film’s best stretch is when Kaguya dares a group of bumbling suitors grovelling for her courtship to procure the very treasures they blindly compare her to. This proposition amounts to a series of instances where the knaves contrive mockups of these riches and try to cheat their way into Kaguya’s affections. Naturally, they are humiliated and the result is a stream of gleeful comedy- that luckily doesn’t distract from the film’s deeper themes. Once again, Studio Ghibli produces another animated miracle.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya had its North American Premiere at TIFF ’14. Its last screening happens Sunday, September 14 at 3:15pm (TIFF Bell Lightbox).

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