“Kaguya-hime no Monogatari”, or “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”, is the work of master storyteller and director Isao Takahata of the infamous Studio Ghibli. It is an utterly beautiful film based on the oldest known Japanese folktale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.”
On February 22nd, this film will battle it out at the Oscars in the Best Animated Feature category. Here are five reasons why I think “Kaguya” should win the Oscar.
1. This may be Isao Takahata’s final film.
Although he has not officially declared his retirement, at age 79, this will most likely be Takahata’s last work. With both Miyazaki and himself finished with filmmaking, Studio Ghibli is entering a new era, as the old era is coming to an end. The influence that this duo has had on Japan, on the animation industry, and on people, cannot be understated. Miyazaki received an Oscar for his 2001 film “Spirited Away”, but Takahata has not yet received such a reward. Of course, it is more about the act of honoring one of the greatest storytellers of our generation than it is about receiving some silly statue. However, “Kaguya” should win the Oscar so that we can bestow upon Takahata this well-deserved honor.
2. “Kaguya” is hand-drawn.
Not only is it hand-drawn, but it is drawn in an absolutely captivating traditional Japanese style. The simple character designs, the use of space, the use of white. All of it is gorgeous. If “Kaguya” wins the Oscar, it will be a healthy reminder to all of us (a.k.a. Americans) that there are more ways to make animation than just CGI, most of which are superior. It is true that “Song of the Sea” is also hand-drawn and “The Boxtrolls” is stop-motion, which is wonderful in its own right, but hand-drawn animation is the essence of animation as an art form, and combined with these other four reasons, I truly feel that “Kaguya” deserves the Oscar the most.
3. “Kaguya” has “Ma”
There is an artistic term commonly used in Japanese art called “Ma”. This historical term refers to the use of space within an artistic work. Takahata makes fantastic use of Ma, from the heavy use of white and empty space in the drawings, to the slow-paced narrative and character development, and simple, yet perfectly composed musical score. Everything comes together harmoniously, including the space, the Ma, to create an incredibly compelling film.
Many Western animated films lack this sense of Ma. There is always something going on. An action scene, melodrama, fast-paced, nonsensical madness. It is more of a roller coaster ride than it is a work of art. There is no intricacy. There is no intimacy. There is no indication that the film was made by human beings, with unique, individual personalities and ideas. If “Kaguya” wins the Oscar, it will show us all what an animated film should aspire to be.
4. “Kaguya” is culturally relevant.
This is not just some family comedy flick or an action movie. This film is telling the story of a Japanese princess and Japanese family in historic Japan. So many films, especially animated ones, are about first-world, middle-class, white people. That, or talking animals. “Kaguya” proves that you can make a great film about real people in the real world. They are relatable, they are hard working, they laugh, they cry. They are alive.
Yes, it is true that there is a fantasy aspect to this film, but that is not inherently what the film is about. This is an animated film about people. This is a story about life.
5. “Kaguya” is not afraid.
I am not just referring to the character Kaguya herself, but the film as a whole. Takahata is not afraid to depict reality. This film contains many things that American animation would never touch. There is a scene when Kaguya is breastfed as a baby, a scene where she swims completely nude with some boys, a scene where she has her first menstruation, and thus has “come of age.” Takahata has a gift with his ability to humbly and gently handle tough topics such as these within a story, especially as an animated work.
Of course, Kaguya herself is also not afraid. She is strong, she is intelligent, and most of all, she understands the truth. She understands what is important in life. She wrestles with grief, she smiles in happiness, and she beings to understand that they are in fact one in the same. Happiness cannot exist without grief and pain.
“Kaguya” needs to win the Oscar so that everyone can finally see that animation too can deal with difficult questions and concepts. These things do not have to be reserved for live action film or literature or “fine art”. Animation is fine art, and it can handle these themes just as well, if not better, than any other medium of storytelling.
This is one of the most incredible lineups in history for the Best Animated Feature category.
Not only do we have two huge blockbusters from Disney and Dreamworks with “Big Hero 6” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2”, respectively, but there are two foreign films nominated this year as well: “Kaguya”, as well as the Irish-made film “Song of the Sea.” Laika’s stop-motion skills are also nominated with their offering of “The Boxtrolls.”
Not only is it incredibly rare for foreign films to get nominated, it is even more rare for foreign, hand-drawn films to get nominated. It is also quite unusual to see stop-motion films nominated. As of recently, most nominees, and most Oscar winners, have been CGI features. This is truly a historic lineup this year. With the exception of yet another generic Disney offering, all of the nominees deserve recognition. However, I hope that by reading this, you can clearly see how worthy “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is of winning this year’s Oscar.
The ceremony date is February 22nd. I hope to see Isao Takahata on the stage.
♪ Go round, come round, come round ♪
Come round, O distant time
Come round, call back my heart
Come round, call back my heart
Birds, bugs, beasts
Grass, trees, flowers
Teach me how to feel
If I hear that you pine for me
♪ I will return to you ♪