And now we come to the other Studio Ghibli masterpiece of 2013, Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya. This film was in production since 2008, and was a painstaking and long process to completion. The result is a true labor of love by a film master who continues to push the medium of animated film. This movie was modestly successful in Japan ($22 million, in the range of pre-Mononoke Ghibli releases), which is a welcome return for Takahata, whose 1999 feature My Neighbors the Yamadas crashed and burned in its native country.
Kaguya's art style is purely expressionist, continuing the watercolor style begun by Yamadas, and continued by a number of Studio Ghibli short films. It remains a very unique style, and with this picture, Takahata pushes the art style to its absolute limits. The $50 million budget - the same as Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises - is monstrously expensive for a Japanese animated feature, so we're promised a spectacle to remember. If you're hungry for something different and unique, then stay tuned for Kaguya's fall US release.
This is a great movie poster. Keen observers will notice that this illustration riffs a famous scene from Horus, Prince of the Sun, where the conflicted anti-heroine Hilda battles winter wolves and collapses in the snow. This suggests common themes in the story, which is based on a famous Japanese myth about a supernatural woman who is born inside a tree, grows to adulthood, and escapes from her troubled life to the moon. No doubt Takahata will examine the psychology of this character.
Will Princess Kaguya be Isao Takahata's final feature film? At age 78, one can never take the future for granted. And given the enormous expense of the film's production (Studio Ghibli actually lost money for 2013), it would be challenging to secure financing for any future film projects. Heaven knows how long it took Paku-san to find the money to pay for this one. It's quite audacious of him to be so bold, so risky, at this stage in his career. I am reminded that Ingmar Bergman reemerged from retirement to direct one final movie. We should treat this as a miracle, and be thankful for the moment. The moment may never pass our way again.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya will be released in American theaters this fall, courtesy of GKids. Dubbed and Subtitled versions will be available.