by Yena You
When it comes to Studio Ghibli films, there is a general visual picture that comes to mind: bright colors which frame a realistic and beautifully animated world, usually set in the studio’s homeland of Japan. The animations are created with such precision to detail that viewers are illusioned into thinking that they are immersed in the world itself. However, what happens when one of the Studio Ghibli directors stray from that contemporary, realistic animation style and produces a film with a more traditional and minimalistic animated artstyle? Well, Isao Takahata did exactly that in his direction of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. This particular film presents an ancient Japanese folk tale that follows the life of a beautiful and extroverted bamboo nymph destined to become princess despite her mystical and mysterious circumstances. Takahata primarily uses “charcoal lines and watercolor hues” with a “brushstrokes upon fibrous paper…[and] proudly hand-drawn action” technique” that “draws [viewer’s] attention to the old-fashioned artistry” (Kermode). The effect of this particular technique is unique to Takahata’s storytelling, despite often being compared to Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and director of the Academy Award winner Spirited Away. The two directors are easily recognized for their close collaboration in producing the iconic collection of films which make Studio Ghibli as beloved as it is today (Hu). Therefore, the production of The Tale of Princess Kaguya was particularly groundbreaking for Takahata.
Oftentimes, Studio Ghibli focuses on the beauty of humanity. In The Tale of Princess Kaguya, there are multiple scenes in which such theme of self-fortification is valued and preserved. Takahata provokes such hopeful emotions to viewers through the film when Kaguya’s parents walk through a flowering forest with baby Kaguya in their arms; blossoming flowers left and right fill the frame reflecting the warmth and love that is so heavily shared within the small family. Nonetheless, it is not just Takahata who focuses on this faith in humanity, as Miyazaki’s plethora of films also showcase it. For instance, in Ponyo, viewers effortlessly fall in love with Sosuke’s understanding and amiable persona towards Ponyo, a mysterious fish who magically turns into a human on occasion. Despite the cultural differences that may arise from watching these Japanese films, the lessons which the films emulate are universal, there is a sense of hope in the face of crisis. The constant motifs of family, love, and freedom are the driving forces behind Studio Ghibli’s superheroes, the ones who, physically, are just like viewers: human. But it is their ardor and trust to these personal values that reveal their true magnificence. (The Royal Ocean Film Society).
Takahata and Miyazaki are also known for their frequent use of interconnecting animals with humans. For instance, The Cat Returns is an entire film dedicated to a world of cats in which cats function like that of human beings, working jobs and manifesting relationships on a deeper, more intimate level. In Princess Mononoke, the fox is Mononoke’s closest and most trusted companion. The use of animals is largely used to dilute the heavy story plots that often center around Studio Ghibli films; Takahata and Miyazaki focus on these comical reliefs to ease the tension of the plots (Morgan). Viewers watch these films and find comfort in these animal companions, similar to that of their pets at home. In The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Ponyo, the emphasis on Kaguya’s need to be immersed in nature, with the animals shows her down-to-earth and playfulness that differentiates her from the rest of the society; whereas, Ponyo’s need to be human and not fish, does not imply her wish to not be herself, but her wish to be something greater, to experience a life that is humanly imperfect.
This video essay is a homage to Studio Ghibli’s appreciation for the beauty in human life. In the everyday sense, human life may seem ordinary and mundane; however, it only takes a deeper recognition to see that life is beautiful and human beings are capable of so much.
- Hu, Tze-yue G. “Miyazaki and Takahata Anime Cinema.” Frames of Anime: Culture andImage-Building, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010, pp. 105–136.
- Kermode, Mark. “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – ‘a Beautiful Historical Fantasia’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Mar. 2015.
- Morgan, Gwendolyn . “Creatures in Crisis: Apocalyptic Environmental Visions in Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke.” Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 172–183.
- The Royal Ocean Film Society. “Isao Takahata- The Other Master.” YouTube, YouTube, 2016.