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Title: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Movie: :4.5stars:
Video: :5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :4stars:

HTS Overall Score:93

With all the fascinating and fantastic animated films released in 2014 I was really surprised to see Isao Takahata’s retelling of “The Tale of the Woodcutter” up for a nomination among the Oscars. I wasn’t too wildly impressed with the English casting for the characters, as I felt the they would be a little out of place, but I eagerly awaited the home video release of the movie so that I might be able to enjoy it in the original Japanese. All of that waiting was not in vain as “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is one of the sweetest and most mature of the Studio Ghibli releases in quite some time. With Miyazaki retired we have an adult fantasy helmed by Takahata, who is a longtime collaborator and director of titles like “Pom Poko”, “Grave of the Fireflies” and others amongst the animated studios titles. Enthralling from beginning to end, it delves into the wonders and joys of life, but also the sting and sorrow of loss.

Based off of an old Japanese fairy tale, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” tells the tale of a bamboo cutter who finds a tiny princess in the stalk of a bamboo tree. Taking the little girl home, this woodcutter and his humble wife soon raise the girl as their own, despite her rapid growth from the size of a person’s thumb, to a full grown girl in a matter of months. Enamored with his newfound child, the woodcutter is convinced that she is from the heavens. Intent on giving her the best things that life has to offer someone of her stature, he demands that they move to the capital city and raise her in royalty. This may seem hard for a simple country bumpkin, but the same bamboo shaft that provided the girl also left a stash of gold and rich brocaded clothing for her. Taking this as a sign, the trio move to the city and start her domestication (despite the little girls obvious love for the simpleness of a country life).

Dubbed Princess Kaguya, the young girl tries to obey her eager father, who is completely oblivious to the fact that riches and a life of royalty does not equal happiness for his special girl. Time and time again she struggles against the confines of city life and begs to be returned back home, and time and time again her efforts are in vain. Rich nobles court her hand, but are turned away. Lessons that should help her become a lady are taught, but never fully accepted. Soon in her anguish she prays to the moon to save her, only to find out that this decision may doom her life here. With that simple prayer the young girl finds out that she is one of the children of the moon, sent her for some undisclosed crime, and her little call for help has summoned her people, starting a chain of events that she cannot undo.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is simply mesmerizing from beginning to end. Filled with the standard tropes of a fairy tale, the princess goes through the standard process of men doting on her, only to be turned away after failing to perform an impossible task. She is from somewhere else, not of the normal human race and some tragedy must befall her. What makes the movie special is the loving direction by Isao Takahata, as he keeps the story well-grounded in period piece lore, but also adds just enough of the fantastic to keep the viewer intrigued. Kaguya (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz in English) is a wild thing, fluid and constantly in motion, almost a piece of nature herself. The animation style lends to the surreal feeling of the piece, based entirely with hand drawn watercolors and charcoal pencil drawings (as you can tell by the trailer), making it one of the most unique entries into the Ghibli database.

Interestingly enough, This is one of only THREE titles that wasn’t done in collaboration with Disney Studios, but instead Studio Ghibli decided to partner up with Universal pictures. This may explain why the normal “happy ending” isn’t present in the tale, as Takahata takes the film to a decidedly melancholy pathway that leaves the viewer with a rather somber and introspective feeling. I love the happy Miyazaki movies, this is one that will leave you both in tears and smiling at the same time, as Takahata weaves a tale of beauty and sadness, which is as much a work of art as it is an incredible filmic accomplishment. Retellings of ancient lore is hard to do, but Takahata pulled it off in a way that is both sweet, terrifying, and hopeful for the passing of pain and longing for a better future.


Rated PG for thematic elements, some violent action and partial nudity

Video :5stars:
Studio Ghibli titles, whether they are Disney distributed or not, are almost always reference quality transfers, and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is no different. Created entirely with hand drawn watercolors and charcoal pencil work, the film takes on a decidedly unique texture, prone to sweeping animation that looks incredible from every angle. The animation switches from exquisitely detailed, to intentionally not at the drop of the hat, giving the film a surreal feeling and certainly explains the 50 million dollar budget the film required. Colors are very much pastels, with watery blues and soft primaries throughout. Every line is hand drawn and the detail on the brush strokes is simply magnificent as Universal did not apply any digital filtering or introduce artifacts in the image from over compression. The black levels are strong as can be and I have to say the image is about as perfect as one could ask for. It’s always a nice treat to see that hand drawn animation hasn’t completely gone away, and “Kaguya” is a shining example of how incredible a properly done one can be.

Audio :4.5stars:
Universal’s release of “Kaguya” sports the traditional Japanese track in lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1, but also the companion English track in the same format. I do admit that I have a bias for original Japanese language tracks vs. an English dub, but the Japanese track very decidedly takes the lead in terms of representing the film right. James Caan and Chloe Grace Moretz just don’t mesh right with the characters from the mystical lore and even Lucy Liu feels a bit “off”. However the Japanese actors have it down pat with an excellent dub. To make things even better the subtitles included for the Japanese language track are NOT dubtitles, but literal translations, which should make every fan of original language tracks ecstatic (especially with some of the catalog Ghibli titles suffering the fate of dubtitles recently). Dialog is crisp and clean, locked up front as you would expect and there is some impressive dynamic range. The surrounds are used with great aplomb, filled with detail from the rustling of silk gowns, to the water trickling down a fountain in the background. The LFE levels are solid and give a nice heavy low end to the film with even a few moments where it makes you jump with the impact.

Extras :4stars:

• Announcement of the Completion of the Film
• Japanese Trailers and TV Spots
• "Isao Takahata and His Tale of The Princess Kaguya" - A feature-length documentary on the making of this masterpiece

Overall: :4.5stars:

Studio Ghibli titles are always a weakness for me, personally, and Isao Takahata is second only to Hayao Miyazaki in the Ghibli lineup, so it is no small wonder that “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” was able to steal not only my heart, but also nab a nomination from the Oscars for best animated film. The video and audio are bar none excellent Studio Ghibli work, and the feature length documentary with the director on a third disc really beefs up the extras to make this one a must buy for animation fans in general, as well as the usual Studio Ghibli crowd. Must Watch.

Additional Information:

Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Lucy Liu
Directed By: Isao Takahata
Written By: Isao Takahata
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Studio: Universal
Rated: PG
Runtime: 137 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 17th 2015

Buy The Tale of the Princess Kaguya On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Must Watch

More about Mike

2,072 Posts
Great. Thanks for the review. I will have to check this movie out and will purchase the blu ray. I have the other Studio Ghibli movies so will add this to the mix. :)
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