Movie Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

movie poster Princess Kaguya

“All life on Earth is cyclical — birth, growth, death, and revival…”

A bamboo cutter finds a tiny girl in a bamboo sprout and takes her home.
He and his wife raise the girl like a daughter of their own. They notice that she is something very special and call her “Hime” (princess). Hime grows up in a natural environment where she leads a happy simple life with her foster parents. In doing so, she establishes contacts with her neighbors’ children in a carefree way. She feels a special friendship with the boy Sutemaru.

One day, the bamboo cutter finds a gold treasure in the bamboo grove and regards it as a sign to offer Hime a comfortable and rich life in the city. From then on, the couple and Hime live in a palace with many employees and a lady-in-waiting who is supposed to teach Hime the appropriate etiquette. But Hime is unhappy and longs for the simple life back in the mountains and finds it difficult to get used to the new life. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Hime is a divine being who originally came to Earth from the moon and must return there as well.

Princess Kaguya is based on one of the oldest Japanese fairytales: “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”, a fairytale of the 10th century. (Japanese: “竹取物語” Taketori monogatari. (link to English translation of the fairy tale and to the Japanese version).

“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” by Ghibli Studios is an artistic anime
with an unique impressionistic animation style. Osamu Tanabe is responsible for the character design, animation design, and the layout. Kazuo Oga created the artwork. Isao Takahata states in an interview given to Wired: “All life on Earth is cyclical — birth, growth, death, and revival — as in the songs I wrote for the film. I consider this to be the basis for everything.”

This is a wonderful and beautiful movie! My rating is: (5 of 5 stars) ★★★★★ (Review by Japan Kaleidoskop)

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Drama
Year: 2013
Title (Japanese): かぐや姫の物語
Director: Isao Takahata
Writer: Isao Takahata
Screenplay: Isao Takahata and Riko Sakaguchi
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Length: 2 hours 17 minutes

movie trailor:

Movie Review: Spirited Away

movie poster Spirited Away
Chihiro a 10-year-old girl and her parents move to a new home by car. On her way to the countryside Chihiro’s father takes a short cut and gets stuck on a woodland avenue in front of a tunnel. They get out of the car and walk through the tunnel. On the other side they find an abandoned amusement park of the 1990s.

Here is a strange atmosphere, you see stone frogs overgrown with grass and everything has a mysterious aura. Chihiro is frightened, her parents are curious, they go further into the amusement park which looks like a ghost town. Suddenly, the parents see an open restaurant. On the counter are many dishes filled with food freshly made and it smells delicious.The parents are magically drawn to the food and begin to eat, eagerly, greedily, they stuff the food into their mouths and turn into pigs.

Chihiro is horrified and runs away. The evening dawns. Suddenly, she discovers a large house in the architectural style of the Meiji era. It is a big bathhouse. Shortly after it comes to life when the lights turn on inside. Ghostly silhouettes appear. Chihiro is magically attracted to it and enters another world. On the bridge she meets a ghostly figure.

She explores the hustle and bustle in the bathhouse until she meets a boy named Haku. He is friendly but warns her to flee the bathhouse before dark. Chihiro misses the right time though. In the bathhouse she meets several characters. For example a multi-armed machinist and the malevolent witch Yubāba who rules strictly over everything in the bathhouse and had turned Chihiro’s parents into pigs.

Chihiro manages to put herself at her service and is now part of the staff. She must survive in this environment and at the same time pursuit her goal to transform her parents back into humans. She has few companions, first and foremost Haku and Yin who is also working in the bathhouse as a maid and cleaning woman. Here Chihiro now has to master some challenges. The customers at the bathhouse are a mix of mythical creatures, animal figures, and ghostly beings. Two special guests are a stink monster and the faceless creature from the bridge, which pose a great challenge to the bathhouse.

The scenery is a Meiji house as it can still be found in Tokyo. Historical pictures served as a template. Amusement parks were a big thing in the 90s, there are still many abandoned places in Japan. Chihiro’s father explains to Chihiro that these kind of amusement parks were built during the bubble economy. The Japanese society became more leisure oriented when the economy was booming. (Read more about abandoned amusement parks in Japan in tofugu).

“Visually, Spirited Away marks the pinnacle of Miyazaki’s artistry. His vibrant and multilayered netherworld is imbued with so much personality and depth that it appears to be a character unto itself. Effortlessly combining computer-generated images with painstakingly hand-crafted cel-based art, Studio Ghibli has (once again) raised the bar for excellence in the two-dimensional domain of animation.” (Animerica)

The entire scenery of the bathhouse, the magical figures, the lovely design down to the last detail, the music and the inventive story make the film simply unique. The film conveys elements of traditional Japan and Shinto religious symbolism.

“This notion of learning to live with a sound, pure heart/mind is a central theme in Miyazaki’s ‘Spirited Away,’ as the story depicts Chihiro’s journey from being a sulking child to that of a young person who acts with genuine sincerity toward others and the world. Miyazaki portrays this spiritual transformation in a captivating way. He places Chihiro in the realm of the fantastic: the strange world of Yubāba, Haku, and the bathhouse, where she is put to the test, and through her tribulations cultivates a pure and cheerful heart which in turn enables her to help her friend Haku remember his true identity.” (Shinto Perspectives)

The movie has won many awards, including an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It is considered one of the best, most successful anime.

“Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a masterpiece in the way that it shows both the goodness of simplicity and the purity of the youthful heart, as well as the way it allegorizes the evils of Japanese post-modern social and human conditions.” (Jump Cut)

Title: Spirited Away (千と千尋の神隠し)
My Rating: (5 of 5 stars) ★★★★★
Genre: anime, adventure
Year: 2001
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Length: 125 minutes

Link to the International Movie Database

Movie Review: The Cat Returns

Movie Picture The Cat Returns“The Cat Returns” is a fantasy adventure for children starring the cat figurine Baron and the stray cat Muta as a sequel of the anime “Whisper of the Heart” (1995).

Plot summary
Haru a high school student rescues a cat from a car accident. The cat survives and suddenly talks to her in human language. Haru understands that the cat is thanking her. She is a little surprised, but her mother tells her later, that she could understand cat language when she was little. Once she fed a white kitten with fish shaped cookies who understood her words.

Later in the night, Haru awakes and hears strange noises outside of her bedroom. She steps into the front yard where a long procession of cats like from a medieval court arrives in front of Haru’s house. A messenger thanks her politely for rescuing the cat which is no other than the prince of the empire of the cats. The cat king himself, seated on a palanquin came in person and presents her an official invitation to his empire.

The next day more cats follow Haru to thank her, but Haru is annoyed by them because they make a mess in her school. She is distressed and takes a break when a cat messenger of the king of the cats tells Haru that she shall marry the cat prince. She protests but nothing seems to work and she is in deep trouble. Haru suddenly hears a ghost voice which is telling her: Go to the cat bureau and seek a white cat!

On the market Haru finds a big talking cat which is no other than Muta, the cat from “Whisper of the Heart”. He leads her to the cat bureau. There she finds the cat figurine Baron or better known as “Baron Humbert von Gikkingen”.

During her stay at the cat bureau a crowd of cats kidnap Haru and take her to the cat kingdom. Muta and the Baron follow her with the help of a crow named Toto. In the cat kingdom Haru is meeting the cat king and his entourage and everything is ready for her marriage to the cat prince. Can Haru escape from this situation?

The central message of this anime is “always believe in yourself” and “believe in who you are” which the Baron is telling Haru. The main theme is empowerment. What the movie shows also, when you seek help from your friends, together you will manage your problems.

The story is based on a manga by Aoi Hiiragi. It is a fantasy story with the main characters Haru, the cat Muta and Baron, the cat figurine.

Animation and Cinematography
The anime shows mostly fantasy scenes where animals speak and behave like humans. Fantasy characters are mainly talking animals: The Baron resembles the “Cat in Boots”. Muta is a huge moody cat.

The initial and final scenes play at home in a big city in the 1990s. The fantasy scenes are set in the cat bureau and mainly in the cat kingdom which looks like from a fairy tale.

The anime shows a lot of funny scenes in the castle with many lovely details and comical characters who are performing funny dancing, flying, and fighting scenes at the kingdom of the cats.

The movie is an interesting sequel to “Whisper of the Heart”. The story and animation are dynamic with characters overall charming and funny.

Title: The Cat Returns (猫の恩返し)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4 of 5 stars)
Genre: anime, kids & family, fantasy
Year: 2002
Director: Hiroyuki Morita
Screenplay: Reiko Yoshida
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Length: 75 minutes

More Information
Link to (trailer and more information)