Thursday, March 24, 2016

How Do You Say Thumbelina in Japanese?

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2014) is a lovely Japanese animation that combines a classical Japanese look with the broad caricature style of the Japanese funnies to tell an old folk tale.

It's the story of an old bamboo cutter who finds a tiny, perfectly formed 2-inch child inside a bamboo stalk. He takes her home and she soon grows to be a normal child - approximately overnight. The bamboo cutter's wife takes to this girl, but the cutter himself is beside himself with love for the uncanny child. When he finds gold and rich fabrics in the bamboo, he decides to take her to the capital so that she can live as a princess, Princess Kaguya.

The movie is mostly about the contrast between the joy of living in the country at one with nature and one's neighbors versus the cold, artificial life of court society. It's also about the way that a parent's love can ruin your life, by trying to make you conform to some standard, for your own good, of course.

But for me, the joy was in the visual style. It is very different from "anime" or "manga" style, but still of that world. It seems to be based on brush drawings, although there is clearly some computer assist to get the fabric patterns to move with the character's clothing. So it's a combination of simple and deep, old-fashioned and modern. There are little references to Hokusai's wood prints of workers and other Japanese classics. But the bamboo cutter (given a lovely working-class voice in English by James Caan) has a face from one of the 4-panel comics from a contemporary Japanese newspaper.

For a dissenting voice, I must report that Ms. Spenser thought that it was over long, and lagged a lot in the middle (and maybe the end). She may be right. It was quite long. But the end was my favorite part, a celestial procession, beautifully done.

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