Fans of Japanese animation had their hearts broken last February when director Hayao Miyazaki announced that his film The Wind Rises would be his last and that Studio Ghibli, the animation house that has yet to produce a film that didn't resonate with or steal the hearts of millions of people -- with Miyazaki as its veritable Walt Disney -- would release just two more films before hibernating like a giant Totoro, possibly for good. But before you bow your head in mourning take solace that there are still two films from Ghibli headed our way and one of them, The Tale Of Princess Kaguya, opens this Friday, December 12th at the Sie FilmCenter.
I spoke to Dave Jesteadt, the Head of Distribution at GKids, the company that Ghibli has trusted with distributing the entire Ghibli film library in North America and who releases the latest non-Miyazaki films (Disney has the honor of getting the big stuff to audiences) about what makes Kaguya so special, the future of Ghibli, and why when you think of Ghibli you should also think of the film's director, Isao Takahata.
Kaguya, based on a Japanese folk story, is about a mouse-sized princess found in a magical stalk of bamboo who grows rapidly into a beautiful woman. But Kaguya discovers that her enthralling presence isn't enough to save her from a terrible punishment after she commits a serious crime. The drawing technique used to bring Kaguya to life is a balance of non-traditional line drawing and water color that harkens back to director Isao Takahata's earlier film My Neighbors The Yamadas.
"Kaguya has a unique animation style where loose lines are used in the service of the story, to create an experience where great effort was taken to make the film feel effortless," Jesteadt says. "It should feel like it is being sketched in front of you. One of the standout scenes has the visuals deteriorating along with a character's mental state, starting dense and colorful and becoming very abstract and monochrome by the end."
And with a 134-minute run time the film is no Saturday Morning fluff. "For me, the story is incredible," he adds. "It's a rare film that earns its run time, spinning a story that deals with fundamental ideas of what it means to live, and reckon with our brief time on earth,"
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The film also features a great cast of American actors providing the voices, including Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Liu and others, though the Sie will be screening both the English dubbed AND the original Japanese (with English subtitles) version for purists.
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The director of Kaguya is no slouch either. Isao Takahata hasn't just helmed some of Ghibli's most poetic and haunting entries (Grave Of The Fireflies, Only Yesterday) and also two of its funniest (My Neighbors The Yamadas, Pom Poko), but he is also the co-founder of the studio that has managed to inspire generations of filmgoers with its multitude of thoughtful stories and beautiful animation styles.
Says Jesteadt, "Takahata is actually considered to be Miyazaki's mentor. He's directed a number of amazing films but I think he gets less credit than he is due because he took fourteen years between directing Yamadas and Kaguya, during which time the studio's reputation and global popularity exploded with Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, etc.. So it's strange to think, but Kaguya is actually one of the first Takahata films to get a 'real' theatrical release. His films are incredibly diverse, covering some of the same Ghibli themes of ecological preservation, like Pom Poko, where a group of tanuki/shape-shifting raccoons band together to stop land development, and strong female heroines, but they are also unique, and Yamadas in particular is a genre-bending masterpiece that blends TV sitcom tropes, poetry and family drama. If you consider yourself a Studio Ghibli fan but haven't experienced Takahata's films, you owe it to yourself to check them out. I honestly believe Kaguya might be his best film, and a great place to start."
And what of the future of Ghibli, with Kaguya listed as the next to last film to get a release? On that Jesteadt is as hopeful as one of the studio's memorable animated heroes, "As far as I know, Studio Ghibli has one more film that was released in Japan this summer, When Marnie Was There, which should be released in America around next year. After that, there will be a production hiatus on new films, although opinions vary on how long that will be. I don't believe they will really 'shut down,' but Kaguya is definitely the second to last film for now. There have also been a lot of assumptions that this is Takahata's last film, but he has said several times he would make another one if they could find the money, a strong producer and the willpower to see it through."
It may take some more time but Ghibli fans should muster up the strength and willpower to make it through a potential decade without a stunning new title like The Tale Of Princess Kaguya to dive into.
The Tale Of Princess Kaguya opens Friday, December 12 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Check DenverFilm.org or call 303.595.3456 for showtimes. Tickets are $10 for Non-Members, $7 for Denver Film Society members.
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Dear Constant Reader you can learn more about Keith Garcia on Twitter: @ConstantWatcher