“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is the first animated feature in more than a decade directed by Isao Takahata, the 78-year-old Studio Ghibli stalwart. Exquisitely drawn with both watercolor delicacy and a brisk sense of line, the film finds a peculiarly moving undertow of feeling in a venerable Japanese folk tale about a foundling country girl who can’t shake a sense of being out of place.
Kaguya enters the world more bewilderingly than most: She’s discovered nestled within a radiant bamboo flower by a woodsman, who raises her with his wife. Her upbringing and friends are normal, but she matures in unearthly leaps and bounds, crawling one moment and walking the next. Then gold and robes magically appear to her father in the forest, leading him to move the family to the capital to raise the girl as a princess.
Kaguya is groomed to join the aristocratic classes and cosseted indoors; a parade of comically obsequious suitors follows. But despite all the attention, wealth and good intentions of her parents, she nurtures a certain despondency — and there’s plenty to recognize in her struggle to find her footing and her need to insist on her independence.
“Princess Kaguya” looks like a departure from Takahata’s most famous film, “Grave of the Fireflies,” or his last, “My Neighbors the Yamadas” (though that one included a reference to this folk story). But his artistry and feeling for his main character are just as deeply felt here.
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