I have to admit this just came totally out of the left field for me: a friend of mine (knowing that I’m the Ghibli fan that I am) posted this clip on my Facebook page this morning with the words “You’ll understand more of this than me”:
Now, let me tell you, I had literally just woken up (yeah, I’m that kinda person that checks her email first thing in the morning, before I’ve even gotten out of bed), it was 6 am and I hadn’t even put my contacts in yet. So, blurry-eyed and half-asleep I was, but it took me no more than a few seconds to realise: Kaguya Hime! It’s Kaguya Hime!
Indeed, it’s the teaser trailer for Takahata Isao’s「かぐや姫の物語」(Kaguya Hime no Monogatari/The Story of Princess Kaguya). I hadn’t expected it at all, since we are gearing up for the world premiere of Studio Ghibli’s「風立ちぬ」(Kaze Tachinu/The Wind Rises) at the moment, with little word about Kaguya Hime since it was announced in February that its production and release date had been delayed. I did notice the other day that Asian Wiki has Kaguya Hime listed among “Upcoming Movies” for the month of August (no specific date), which struck me as a little odd. I don’t think the film will actually be released in August, both because it seems too close to Kaze Tachinu‘s screenings (commercially it wouldn’t make sense, I’d think) but also because previously Ghibli hinted at an autumn date, which I think would be September or October. I could be wrong of course and we might get our second Ghibli gem of the year sooner than expected.
Now, on to the teaser: apparently it aired on NTV as part of a variety show called 1 Oku Nin no Dai-Shitsumon!? Waratte Kora Ete! (via Anime News UK – their RSS feed was the first thing I checked right after seeing the teaser) – the background noises we get during the teaser, I think, are audience reactions from the programme.
My first impression is that we are getting a very traditional tale (unsurprisingly, given that the film is based on the Japanese folk tale Taketori Monogatari/Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) here, with Takahata using a very simple drawing style that looks like more like watercolouring than animation. It’s wonderfully distinct, not only because it is so different from all the entirely computer-created film we get nowadays but it’s Takahata’s own art, nothing like other Ghibli productions either. The style is of course perfect for this kind of tale, giving it a lovely old-age feel, underscored further by the music (women chanting).
This is our opening frame, showing us the hut of the bamboo cutter, who, in the original tale, is an old man that finds a tiny child in a mysteriously glowing bamboo stalk one day and raises her together with his wife:
Then we get a glimpse of what is going on inside the hut, with a woman, presumably the wife, kneeding (dough?) and a little baby playing around on her futon. It’s Kaguya Hime, our little princess, for sure. Her name, かぐや姫 (Nayotake no Kaguya Hime) means “princess of flexible bamboos scattering light” (source) by the way.
Now, don’t you just love this: Baby Kaguya crawls out of the bed sheets in childlike curiosity to explore the world. And what do we get – a bum, a little baby bum. Hilarious. I love it. Everywhere else in the world, animators would have never even put in a scene like that, or if they had, surely someone would have censored them before the film even made it to the ratings board. But it is such a true-to-life scene, one that does make one think of the old times, when we ran around as little children, naked, or half-naked, with not a care in the world.
Who is this? I have no idea. That’s the first I have seen of this character. It’s a kid. We only get a close-up, which makes the character even more intriguing because it has got long hair and could be either a boy or girl. My bet is on boy (the hairstyle is more boyish than girlish). This must be a young neighbour of the bamboo cutter, one that will likely befriend our princess and maybe even accompany her in her adventures. There isn’t such a character in the original tale, in which Kaguya is courted by five princes, whom she all rejects by giving them impossible tasks, and later the emperor, whom she turns down as well, only to eventually leave the earth and return to her home on the moon.
I’m fairly certain Takahata will closely stick to the original tale, so who knows what the role of this boy is. It’s possible that he’s even the emperor as a child, who, for one reason or another, is in a countryside hut next to the bamboo cutter’s (maybe a journey got interrupted unexpectedly and he and his entourage had to spend the night?).
It could be his first glimpse of the princess, the one that seals his wish later to marry her. I’m spinning tales here, of course – maybe he is just a neighbour after all, one that watches Kaguya go through all the hardship with her suitors.
Whichever it is, I’m not expecting a happy ever-after, let alone a romantic happy ever-after – this is Japanese animation after all, with its love for open endings, AND it’s Takahata Isao, who gave us「火垂るの墓」(Hotaru no haka/Grave of the Fireflies, 1988), which was heartbreakingly sad from beginning to end.
We’ll know more soon.
- Official website: http://www.kaguyahime-monogatari.jp (nothing there yet except the film poster)