Isao Takahata

7.0 Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
6.3 My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)
7.2 The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

Isao Takahata (Japan, 1935), a frequent collaborator of Hayao Miyazaki, directed several anime films: Taiyo no Oji Horusu no Daiboken/ The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968), Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), based based on Johanna Spyri's novel "Heidi's Years of Wandering and Learning" (1880), and Hotaru no Haka/ Grave of the Fireflies (1988), based on a short story by Akiyuki Nosaka.

Then came Omoide Poro Poro/ Memories Come Tumbling Down/ Only Yesterday (1991), Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko/ Pom Poko (1994), and Hohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun/ My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999).

Kaguya-hime no Monogatari/ The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013) is his visual masterpiece, a fairy tale that ranges from folk tale to science fiction.

A humble peasant is cutting bamboo trees in the forest when suddenly he sees a tiny girl emerge from a glowing bamboo shoot. He brings her back to his home carrying her in the palm of his hand. The wife, who seems to be childless, is immediately seduced by the tiny creature and decides to raise her personally. The moment the wife grabs her the tiny girl starts growing into a regular-size baby. They are convinced that she must be a divine gift and destined to be a princess. The girl keeps growing at an astonishing speed, rapidly catching up with the children of the village who call her "Little Bamboo". After a few days she is already more than a toddler, a little child playing in the garden and in the woods. One day she almost gets attacked by a wild pig and an older boy, Sutemaru, saves her and then carries her on his shoulder, all of this while the bamboo cutter is desperately searching for her in the forest. Another day the bamboo cutter sees a glowing bamboo tree and starts cutting it: a treasure of golden gems flows out of here. Again, he thinks it's a gift from heaven meant to provide the princess with what she needs. The princess is still hanging out with Sutemaru, who saves her from more trouble when she, thirsty, steals a melon from someone else's field. The princess is growing up rapidly and now she looks even older than the village children except Sutemaru. He captures a phaesant and she collects herbs to cook it. However, when she gets home, she finds her foster parents ready to take her to the capital city: the bamboo cutter has decided to use the gold to buy a mansion for her and give her the education of a princess. She leaves the shack where she grew up and moves into the city mansion, surrounded by servants and coached by an experienced courtisan. The princess is initially amused by the new costumes worn by her foster parents and enjoys the new clothes, but soon begins to miss the country life and the children. The governess teaches her the manners of a noblewoman but, at heart, she is still a wild country girl. Nonetheless she acquires the skills of a guqin player in record time. One day the wife tells the bamboo cutter that the girl just had the first menstruations. This calls for a party to celebrate her womanhood. An old sage is called to pick a name for her. He calls her "Princess Kaguya". He is profoundly impressed by her beauty and moved by her musical skills. She is not allowed to attend the wild party because now she has to remain secluded, hidden inside the mansion, but Kaguya overhears some people making fun of her humble origins and flees the home. She walks, or better runs, all the way back to the village... but only to find out that a new family lives in the hut where she was raised. She is so tired and dirty that they think she is a homeless beggar and give her a bowl of food. She finds that the forest has died because people cut too many trees, and an old man tells her that it will take at least ten years before they grow again. The families of her friends have all moved to other villages. It starts snowing and she falls asleep. When she wakes up, she is back in her mansion: it was a dream. It is time to find her a husband. Her legendary beauty (that only the old sage has seen) makes it easy to attract suitors. Five aristocrats are selected. They come in grand pomp at the mansion. She hides behind a curtain while each of them compares her to something that doesn't exist. She tells them that she will pick the one who brings her what he promised, but each promised something that is impossible. They all leave in shock, and her father is worried because she refused all those excellent suitors. She is happy like a child when her foster parents take her to see the cherry blossoms in the countryside. She runs and jumps like in the old days. But an encounter with villagers who treat her like a princess reminds her that she is no longer part of that world and she returns to the mansion in a melancholy mood. On the way back she sees her childhood friend Sutemaru running away after stealing a chicken. He is being chased by a mob but, upon seeing her, he freezes. The mob captures and he is beaten while she watches powerless. The five suitors try in vain to satisfy her requests. Some bring fake gifts, one gives up, one lies, one dies trying. Finally, the emperor in person hears of Kaguya's beauty and demands that she joins his harem. She refuses, something that never happened before. The emperor gets even more curious and walks to the mansion. He tries to take her with force but she disappears under his body and then reappears away from him, like a ghost. Her parents are more shocked than ever after she rejected the emperor in person. Kaguya spends nights staring at the Moon. Then she reveals to her foster parents that she came from the Moon and the people of the Moon are coming to pick her up after she begged them for help to escape the emperor. Kaguya is not happy but there is no way to change the course of events. She dreams of returning to the village, of finding Sutemaru (now married with a child), of flying away with him, but the dreams end with him waking up and returning to his wife and children and continuing his life as a humble peasant in the forest. Her foster father tries in vain to stop the Moon people. They arrive on a cloud that looks like a flying saucer. The musicians play a festiva music while a Buddha-like man stands up in the middle of the cloud. Kaguya walks like a zombie towards the cloud/spaceship. She knows that her memories will soon be erased forever and hugs her foster parents one last time, enjoying for the last few seconds the memories of her childhood. As the cloud flies towards the Moon, Kaguya, standing next to Buddha, looks back at the Earth that is becoming a small sphere in the distance, and cries.
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