It’s weird to call an adaptation of a long running, moderately popular show a sleeper but that’s where we are. The Bob’s Burgers Movie is a throwback to the old school simple comedy theaters used to run on hot summer days. It’s modest with low stakes and a very chill energy level. Yet is it weird I enjoyed this more than almost every other franchise movie we got this year. Marvel hasn’t touched the heights of a family trying to float a single payment.
I own the complete DVD set of Beavis and Butt-Head. I bring that up at the start of this review to stress this is not a review coming from the perspective of a past tense fan who only remembers the show. No, I watch it frequently as an adult. I love the show’s darkly nihilistic look at people who never had a chance and who you start to think don’t deserve one. There’s a grit and sleaze to the animation. And of course the fantastic 1996 film looms large for me, a razor sharp parody.
Amidst Disney’s own trend of live-action remakes of their most popular live action films, surely enough it took a while before they decided to go ahead and catch up with rebooting one of their own animated series. With director Akiva Schaffer taking the helm at bringing Disney’s beloved chipmunks to the screen to a completely new generation of viewers, what he brings out with Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers seems to be born out of a parody for how they’ve continuously seen their animated fare as of late – but even knowing that this is still under Disney’s own noses, they can’t fully reach the levels of lampooning that you know the material at hand would be opening themselves up to.
When Hayao Miyazaki announced that he would be retiring following the release of The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli’s other master and co-founder, the great Isao Takahata had also stated that he also planned to direct a final film for the studio. With Takahata’s death in 2018, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya would also prove to be his final film as a director, but among the many things that it is, it is both his most beautiful looking film and also his most heartbreaking since Grave of the Fireflies. It is a beautiful film crafted with such love, for its reinvention of an ancient folktale feels so purely dreamlike for every moment it is beautifully contemplative, as a moment for Isao Takahata to reflect upon his career. With the reaffirming of the classic folktale’s long-lasting legacy, Takahata has also created what truly is also his most breathtaking work.
Based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, this new reinvention of the 10th century folktale builds its world from the minimalistic hand-drawn animation as it places you within the frame of mind of the titular Princess Kaguya as she grows up. She is found inside of a glowing bamboo shoot by the bamboo cutter, who raises her together with his wife. These simple watercolour drawings give the film the appearance of classic Japanese scrolls but watching Kaguya growing up as the colours become all the more vibrant only paints a more poignant picture of her coming of age. This film is without doubt Takahata at his most expressive, with all the fine details creating a new look for the medium as it reaffirms the long legacy of its origins.
While it was known that Takahata did not draw his works, the stunning amount of detail in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya showcases Takahata’s talents for seeing greater potential as he experimented with the medium. Much like his previous film, My Neighbors the Yamadas, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is animated via watercolours – giving the film a distinctive look from the “anime” appearance of many of Miyazaki’s works. But there’s also something all the more beautiful from how Takahata emphasizes the potential of the medium in order to create a greater psychological resonance, whether it be through a scene of running through a dark forest or Kaguya exploring Japan’s capital. It helps capture how overwhelmed she is, and thus it brings us closer to Kaguya herself.
Many interpretations of Princess Kaguya have depicted the titular character as a femme fatale of sorts, but Isao Takahata frames her struggle as being a victim of circumstance. The more we watch her grow, remaining a forever enthralling presence to the people around her, she becomes a very relatable character – akin to one of Miyazaki’s younger protagonists. You feel her joys, her sorrows, but also her willingness to defy the norms set by the traditionalist ruling she is made to live within. As the whole world continues revolving around her, you feel how trapped she is by expectations, but also her growing resilience. What Takahata brings to the screen through Kaguya is one of the studio’s most admirable protagonists, but also one of their most fully realized worlds as we come to see Japan through her eyes.
Even as Takahata creates the look of an ancient Japanese scroll through the film’s animation style, it still retains a great resonance that can be felt as modern audiences come to see this tale for themselves for the first time. Takahata challenges traditional societal roles that have been implemented within the era, but they still resonate with today’s world – as we feel Kaguya’s imprisonment as imposed by the fundamentalist ruling within which she lives as a part of. This context also adds to the greater tragedy of Princess Kaguya, because of how we can feel her wanting to grow in order to become her own person yet circumstances continually push her towards something that restricts her from doing exactly that. No matter how much we understand it as being an act of love, it only adds more to Kaguya’s suffering, leading to an inescapable tragedy. This is expected from Isao Takahata, but the fairy tale approach to these issues only adds to the emotional impact, especially from the more intimate moments which he has only been perfecting through his career.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya isn’t a film that simply reinvents an ages old folktale for modern audiences, but it is also one of the most beautifully crafted and intensely heartbreaking animated films ever made. It’s a film whose look also evokes the eyes of a child, which perfectly represents the growth of the titular Princess Kaguya, even as you feel the love for her from those who helped her become the person she is – yet never whom she wanted to be. This isn’t only one of the best animated films of recent memory, but it also deserves a spot among the very best films ever to have been made about growing up, and all the challenges that come forth. A truly stunning work from beginning to end, it is also the perfect conclusion for the career of one of animation’s greatest innovators, affirming the enduring legacy of the great Isao Takahata.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via GKIDS.
Directed by Isao Takahata Screenplay by Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi, based on The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura Starring Aki Asakura, Kengo Kora, Takeo Chii, Nobuko Miyamoto (Japanese version) Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Darren Criss, Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Liu, Hynden Walch, George Segal, James Marsden, Oliver Platt, Daniel Dae Kim, Dean Cain, Beau Bridges, John Cho (GKIDS dub) Release Date: November 23, 2013 Running Time: 137 minutes
Princess Mononoke is arguably Hayao Miyazaki’s largest film by scale since 1984’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, and it is also his second greatest achievement as a director. There aren’t many animators who bring so much life to their worlds quite like how Hayao Miyazaki does it, but for every bit as imaginative as these movies can get, the impressiveness of how immersive these films are is reflected beautifully through their real-world parallels. In Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki finds himself taking upon a very complex moral standing through a war being waged between nature and humanity – and every moment of it is as beautiful as one could ever hope for it to be.
The first film to be released under the Studio Ghibli name, Castle in the Sky may be among Hayao Miyazaki’s more straightforward films but that never takes away from how thoroughly exciting it is from beginning to end. Much like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky was a film that had been a favourite of mine when I was very young but it was also one that I never came back to until just recently. As I watch the film again as an adult, Castle in the Sky doesn’t only hit me again with that same magic like it did as a kid but I’m still in awe at how perfectly constructed it is – which is just about everything I could ever want from any of Miyazaki’s films.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a film from my childhood that I had not revisited for so long, but to watch this Miyazaki classic in its native language for the first time after having been used to watching the dubbed version provided by Disney for so long only made the whole experience feel almost new to me. But all these years of having not seen Kiki’s Delivery Service have also made me look at the film under a new light; for something about it seems to click with me more as an adult now versus what I saw it to be as a kid. If that’s indicative of anything, it’s everything that one could expect from Hayao Miyazaki, and in a largely wonderful body of work, it’s yet another masterpiece.
Although not technically the first Studio Ghibli movie, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind set the foundation for everything that we have come to love most in their long body of work from over the years – we nonetheless still recognize it as one of their films. Being only the second feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki as well as the first to have been based upon his own property, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind not only has not aged a single day in time but like all the best of Studio Ghibli’s movies, its message is one that still resonates with the way our world moves today. Above all, the hopefulness that Miyazaki creates within such a bleak setting results in one of the most beautiful films ever made.
Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is one of the most beautiful, yet disorienting animated films ever made. Although the film was originally conceived as a live action feature, an earthquake destroyed the studio which later resulted in the film’s budget being used to turn the same story into that for an animated film, and with the very vision that Kon creates for his directorial debut, it’s hard to see Perfect Blue any other way. With Perfect Blue, it’s astonishing how Kon utilizes the medium in order to create a deeply layered tale for what’s only his first feature, leaving behind one of the most harrowing thrillers of the 1990’s.
This is the second feature film directed by Dan Scanlon for Pixar Animation Studios following Monsters University, and it also strikes one as being a more personal passion project compared to the aforementioned prequel. At least on paper, the idea of a film that heavily involves fantastical creatures having lost their touch with magic could result in something more thoughtful – but oddly enough, there’s so little of that to be felt here. Onward isn’t a bad film by any stretch of the word, but when you stack it against Pixar at their best, it just falls very flat.
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