What is there to say about a film that for many years was the highest grossing film ever? A film that is universally beloved? A film that has been covered and studied and dissected endlessly?
Well I saw E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial this week in IMAX so I’m going to try. But I’m not going to add much new to the discussion of a film that’s exactly correctly rated in our culture. It’s a timeless classic. And I have no issue with it.
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
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.
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.
When Toy Story 4 was announced, many fans have also been speculating on what worth would a fourth film have following the conclusion of Toy Story 3 with Andy’s time now having come to an end. But of course with the stakes having been raised incredibly high up by Toy Story 3, the initial proposal of Toy Story 4 as a romantic comedy with Woody and Bo Peep would already have been met with negative feedback, even after her absence in Toy Story 3. But nevertheless, the film had came around anyway and maybe there’s so much more that we can imagine to what it feels like to be a toy than simply being passed around from Andy to Bonnie at the very end of Toy Story 3? With all of this being set in mind, there’s no way that Toy Story 4 should work as well as it does but it still finds itself a worthy entry into Pixar’s long-running saga, and as a way for them to bookend the decade, just as they started it off with Toy Story 3, it feels more than just satisfying enough. I’m still left wondering what more could an entry like this have done in the grand scheme of things but if this is how the Toy Story series finally must come to its own conclusion, I’m more than fine with it.
Eleven years and eight films later, Pixar brought the Toy Story series back for another spin – but as the fans of the previous films have already grown, the Toy Story series encounters its own sense of growth in the same way. But like the toys themselves in this belated third entry, the franchise has already endured having been forgotten in so long despite having been treasured by longtime fans of Pixar. Now with the challenge of having to reintroduce the familiar Toy Story characters to a new generation of audiences, but also keep the best traits around for those who have stuck so closely with two of Pixar’s very first leaps to the screen. With Lee Unkrich (who previously co-directed Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo) now taking over the position of directing from John Lasseter, it’s easy enough to say that a new enough voice has not only managed to reaffirm that the Toy Story films have never lost that touch that made them resonate with audiences back when they came out, but also a sign for what was to come of letting the series grow in our hearts for so long too.
The first Toy Story film introduced us to a new perception of a world that we already saw as familiar, but with that ground having been gotten out of the way a return to the same characters four years later in Toy Story 2 introduces yet another philosophy to come forward in regards to what one’s purpose truly is to make others feel happy. But even as the animation itself has improved thanks to years of practice clearly having given the film a more refined look, Toy Story 2 also shows itself to be a sequel with more ambition to explore the meaning of what hanging onto the memories of defining the best moments of one’s childhood can also feel like. And so when talking about the scope of the ambition present in Toy Story 2, there comes a greater emphasis on what soon becomes one of Pixar’s best qualities – for a far more emotionally challenging journey comes around, but still retaining everything that made its predecessor every bit as wonderful. With Pixar’s continued string of success in mind, not only does Toy Story 2 still find itself easily ranking as one of their best films but perhaps one of the greatest animated sequels of all time, let alone one of the best sequels in general ever made.
For many moviegoers who were born around the 90’s or grew up into the 2000’s, the title “Toy Story” evokes a feeling of nostalgia one way or the other. Of course, for myself, Toy Story holds a special place in my heart not only for being my earliest memory of ever watching a movie but also being one among the first films that I distinctly remember branding “my favourite.” And although the title has been taken away by numerous films ever since as I continued developing my own taste in cinema, Toy Story still remains a favourite for even if the animation style may appear rather aged when put aside many future computer-animated features let alone the rest of Pixar Animation Studios’s oeuvre, it still feels every bit as fresh as it did the first day I remember having watched it. Noting its innovations for the time period as it was the very first feature film entirely animated through the use of computer-generated imagery, there are many more reasons as to why Toy Story still remains a huge staple for pop culture in the many years that have passed since its release and for every bit as enduring as its legacy is, it still remains Pixar’s finest achievement in my eyes.
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