Having seen all five Best Animated Feature Oscar nominees now, I can tell you that the two that no one saw…are easily the best of the bunch. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was the losing favorite, and as much as I was rooting for it to topple the Big Disney Machine at February’s Academy Awards telecast, I now realize it is the least impressive of the quintet. Disney’s “Big Hero 6” was the victor (of course), and it’s pretty darn good–but I was even more impressed with its competitor, “The Boxtrolls”. However, the Irish folktale, “Song of the Sea” trumped all of those in my eyes. And now, the Japanese folktale, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”, vanquishes them all. It’s epic (138 minutes), and it’s beautiful–and it continues the home run streak of the marvelous Studio Ghibli. Of course, I insist that you watch it in the original Japanese–if you want to compare notes.
A deceptively simple story, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is the saga of a bamboo cutter and his wife, finding and raising a baby that they find in a magical way in the woods. Alternately called “Princess”, or “Little Bamboo”, the mysterious child grows at an accelerated rate, and becomes breathtakingly beautiful and possessing a wondrous singing voice. When her “parents” eventually come across gold in that mystical bamboo grove, they whisk her off to a mansion and pay to have her raised like royalty. Before long, suitors come calling, and are given impossible tasks to take her hand in marriage. But soon, a mysterious calling beckons Princess Kaguya away from the only life she’s ever truly known. And we’re eventually all treated to the gorgeous and lyrical powers of the moon.
There’s a knockout, and highly emotional, finale to “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”–and I wouldn’t dream of giving it away. Japanese master Isao Takahata, approaching 80 years old, and most renowned for Studio Ghibli’s “Grave of the Fireflies”, appears to still be at the height of his directorial prowess. This film is an incredible reminder, of just how mature and soul-searing animated features can be. There are some very talented Hollywood people supplying voices for the English version of this movie (Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Lucy Liu), but I would never watch that option for the film. Neither should you. Japanese language with English subtitles is the way it was intended, and it the true way for film lovers to go. I absolutely adore this gorgeous creation–and I wish that I had seen it in time for my list of the Ten Best Films of 2014. It belonged.
Grade: A .