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why we've been waiting eight years for the new studio ghibli film

Though hampered by death, earthquakes and a spiralling budget, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an emotional triumph of Japanese emotion.

by Colin Crummy
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20 March 2015, 3:10pm

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, director Isao Takahata's fifth for the iconic Japanese anime company Studio Ghibli, is worth the wait. Derived from an old Japanese folk story, the story follows the fate of a magical princess, discovered and reared by a bamboo cutter. When Kaguya grows up, he insists she lives as a royal in the city and waits, like a good princess, for a suitor. But Kaguya is no old fashioned Disney style princess. Nor was the making of the film was so straightforward. Here are five of the obstacles faced by Studio Ghibli.

The Director Took His Time
Producer Yoshiaki Nishimura spent 12 hours a day, six days a week with director Isao Takahata for 18 months before he agreed to make the film. In truth, the project had been in Takahata's mind for much longer. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is derived from an old Japanese folk story about a Moon princess sent to earth as punishment to live with a bamboo cutter and his wife. The director had worked on an animated incarnation of the story some 55 years previously.

It Took Another 18 Months For The Script To Be Completed
Five years into the project, the Studio Ghibli team only had 30 minutes of storyboard. The problem, according to Nishimura was the director, who if he had it all his way would keep production going well into the 2020s. So the studio decided to release the film simultaneously in Japan with fellow Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises in 2013; a move that stirred Takahata into action.

Some Of The Inspiration Is 40 Years Old
The film has a lot in common with the animated TV series Heidi, A Girl of the Alps that Takahata and Miyazaki created for television in 1974. Like Heidi, Kayuga is at home in a wonderfully, romantically sketched mountain idyll; a greyness intrudes when she's forced to hide from public view as a Princess in the city.

The Film's Cheerleader Died In The Process
The film cost 5 billion yen to make - the equivalent of a live action, large-scale movie. The budget made possible by support from Seiichiro Ujiie, the then chair of Nippon Television Network. Ujie said: "I want to see a movie by Mr. Takahata. I don't care if it loses money. I'll pay for it. I'll die knowing I did." The production fell behind schedule and Ujie died in 2011 but not before he'd read the script and seen partial storyboards. His name appears first in the film's opening credits.

Then There Was An Earthquake
The film was in production when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Takahata was concerned about the work but realised that the lessons of the story would serve as an appropriate artistic response to the disaster. Like The Wind Rises, Princess Kaguya is an urgent message to spend our time on earth well and reinforces - through its beautiful watercolour style sketches - the connections between humanity and the planet it inhabits. When production ended, Takahata was moved to say: "It's sad, isn't it."

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

is in cinemas from Friday 20 March.

Credits


Text Colin Crummy