A few days ago NHK, a Japanese TV station, aired a special Ghibli-Disney programme that included a 25 seconds clip of the other Studio Ghibli movie that is being released this year: Takahata Isao’s 「かぐや姫の物語」(Kaguya Hime no Monogatari/The Story of Princess Kaguya, Japan, 2013). The clip is not so much another teaser trailer as an animated flip book of images (or a series of film stills, if you prefer), which offer a charming glimpse into the mysterious world of the princess. Watch for yourself:
Now, before we take a closer a closer look at the clip, some factual details. We have a release date: Kaguya Hime premieres in Japan on November 23. We have also a soundtrack, composed by Hisaishi Joe, with singer-songwriter Nikaido Kazumi contributing the main theme song いのちの記憶 (Inochi no Kioku/Memory of Life). The single with the theme song has been on sale in Japan since July 24 and can be ordered via Amazon.jp, among other places.
Back to the video, image-by-image.
We start in a 竹林 (chikurin, a bamboo grove –> practising my Kanji), with a split stalk – presumably the one inside of which the bamboo cutter finds the princess. The feel is mysterious, the grove is hazy (morning fog?) and the colours might suggest dawn, although they also seem slightly eerie to me. The cut stalk, meanwhile, has a golden glow, although the princess isn’t visible.
This image we’ve seen before in the teaser trailer, it’s the wee princess in her new home:
Another shot we have seen before, of an unidentified boy (I’m guessing) peering out of a window.
Then it starts to get exciting. A somewhat older (teenage? or perhaps even adult?) princess wooshes by, running somewhere. I love this image for a number of reasons. There’s the narrative mystery (What is going on here? What has just happened? Why is the princess running? And where?). There is also a change of setting as we are no longer in the bamboo cutter’s house in the remote countryside, but a more urban place – we see outlines of buildings that seem fancier than the rural house, we see silhouettes of people, gorgeously suggested through dabs of grey with a paintbrush. And there is a change of mood: we are going dark here.
If the images up to now reminded us that Takahata’s animation style is somewhat atypical and more minimalistic than that of other Studio Ghibli directors, this particular screen shot drives it home: this is a painting, made with a dainty brush and watercolours, very distinct from what we have become accustomed to in animation. It is even different from Takahata’s 「ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん」(Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun/My Neighbours the Yamadas, Japan, 1999), which had a watercolour feel (though it was in fact the first Ghibli film to be fully animated by digitally) but featured sharper, more cartoon-like lines and of course a palette of rainbow pastels – much lighter and more comic than Kaguya Hime.
The princess races through a wide empty street by moonlight. Note the town setting, note the colourful trail of fabrics (clothing she is shedding?) she is leaving behind her, starkly contrasted with the monochrome-bleak tone of the rest of the image.
Somehow I feel transported to another world. Art-wise, this feels like a drawing you would find in an old book of myths and legends or perhaps on some traditional scroll. Story-wise, I sense a very troubled, possibly angry Kaguya here, like a fury whose path I wouldn’t like to cross…. I’m guessing she has been upset by one of her suitors.
The verdict? I’m getting very, very excited here, perhaps more excited than for 「風立ちぬ」(Kaze Tachinu/The Wind Rise, Japan, 2013). Kaguya Hime feels different. Given its folktale beginning, given Takahata’s filmography and visual style in past works, I always expected that, but this could be a real gem of its very own kind. I have no idea how the animation is being made, whether water colouring is in fact involved and to what degree digital animation was used, or if at all, but even these glimpses into the world of Kaguya are a feast to my eyes already.