“Princess Kaguya” has been one of the entries for 2015 Oscars in Best Animated Feature category, lost to “Big Hero 6”. If there is any consolation to that is that more people now, including me, are aware of its existence.

A visual and aural delight, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”‘s evokes a fairy tale feel that comes out of watercolour drawings in old-fashioned story books or an old Japanese scroll. An adaptation of tenth century Japanese folklore, The tale of the bamboo cutter, Director Isao Takahata illustrates the despair and longing for a place to belong to and idyllic childhood.

The Tales of Princess Kaguya (source IMDB)

A bamboo cutter finds a tiny girl inside a bamboo and brings her home. He and his wife raise her as their own daughter. She grows up fast and thus earns the nickname Takenoto, little bamboo, from her friends. The bamboo cutter also finds fine clothing and gold inside bamboos and considers them signs from the heaven to give the girl a life worthy of a princess. Now a man with a mission, the bamboo cutter leaves for the capital to prepare the environment for her to be a princess and brings her to it.

Her beauty and accomplishments attract the attention of the Capital’s noblemen, who soon queue to ask her hand in marriage, and the Prince. Kaguya, however, begins to feel the pressure of the life imposed upon her. An incident with the Prince prompts her to remember why she is sent to earth and why she would be returning.

The only other films from the director that I have seen are “Grave of the Fireflies” , which had left me depressed for months, and Only Yesterday, which had given a bittersweet nostalgic feeling. But that, for me, is enough to see Isao Takahata as a master in story-telling and subtle emotion manipulation and he proved it again in “Princess Kaguya”.

Turbulence

There is a twist that moves away from the original tale that gives “Princess Kaguya” a timelessness. Stripped of the era and culture in which it is set and its fantasy element, “Princess Kaguya” depicts the pains of growing up —of meeting parent’s expectation or conforming to societal norms and the pressure that comes with them— and questions happiness and what it means to truly live. The distinct style in drawing and animation as well as the colours of nature that Isao Takahata employed in “Princess Kaguya” brought down-to-earth feel that makes the struggle realistic, despite its folklore origin.

Those sentiments are presented in a minimlistic spectacle yet rich in meaning with sounds that evoke the senses —the sound of birds, running water, and others of nature— and wrapped in equally beautiful and simple music, by Studio Ghibli’s long time colaborator Joe Hisaishi. “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is powerful. On the light of the Oscars, I’d have to agree with one of the comments in Youtube, “this is an animation that the Oscars did not deserve.”