Eastern antidote to Western animation at museum of art 

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Moviegoers raised on the shrillness of American cartoons might not know what to think at first about the comparative calm of Japan’s Studio Ghibli.

It was founded in the mid-1980s by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and its anime offerings are a blissful antidote to the mania of Westernized family flicks. That contrast is particularly evident in the 79-year-old Takahata’s first film in 14 years, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

The film, which screens Thursday through Saturday at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive, kicks off an extraordinary lineup of nine Studio Ghibli features that will play at the museum through Dec. 28. (All-access passes for Celebrating Studio Ghibli! are available; call 236-3100 or visit okcmoa.com for more information.) If you’re a fan of animation, and even if you’re not, don’t miss this rare opportunity to catch some bona fide masterpieces on the big screen.

Based on a 10th-century folk tale, Japan’s oldest recorded story, Princess Kaguya begins when an elderly bamboo cutter (voiced by James Caan) comes across a glowing bamboo shoot. Inside the shoot, he finds a miniature young woman who fits in the palm of his hand. The cutter, known only as Okina (meaning “old fella”), believes she is a gift from heaven and brings her home to his wife (Mary Steenburgen). Within seconds, the tiny curiosity transforms to a normal-sized baby. The cutter’s elderly wife, named Ona (“woman”), is suddenly able to nurse.

“This is all very strange,” Okina says with considerable understatement.
The baby eventually takes the name Kaguya, which we are told translates as “shining light.” Growing at an extremely accelerated rate, Kaguya (Chloë Grace Moretz, The Equalizer) embraces life in the countryside and plays with a group of neighborhood kids whose leader, Sutemaru (Darren Criss, TV’s Glee), later serves as a romantic interest for the girl.

But Okina, certain that Kaguya is a princess and deserving of better things, yearns to give her a life of affluence.

He gets his chance when he revisits the bamboo forest where he found Kaguya. This time, the old man finds gold and fine fabrics, enough to enable him and his family to move to a large house in the capital city of Kyoto and secure a teacher (Lucy Liu, Kung Fu Panda) to instruct Kaguya how to be a lady. The Tale of Princess Kaguya grows more opaque as it goes along, capped by an ending that I figure might be less baffling to Japanese audiences familiar with the story.

But the picture also reflects traits that have distinguished many Ghibli productions. It basks in the serenity of nature. And the princess carries on the studio’s tradition of strong and independent heroines, the kind of tough-minded female character you don’t often find in American animation without producers patting themselves on the back enthusiastically.

Most notably, the film boasts exquisite hand-drawn animation. Approximating the stylized look of storybooks and Japanese watercolors, Princess Kaguya is imbued with a lovely melancholy. Almost any frame would be suitable for, well, framing.

Thursday’s screening is in the original Japanese with English subtitles, but an English-dubbed version screens Friday and Saturday.

Gettin’ Ghibli with it Here are some other Studio Ghibli gems worth seeing this month at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Learn more at okcmoa.com.

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My Neighbor Totoro 5 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday Don’t be scared off by the “family-friendly” label of 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro. This Hayao Miyazaki classic about a furry forest creature that befriends two young girls is one of the all-time greats, an enchanting fantasy that forgoes villains, violence and valuable lessons. Saturday’s screening is in Japanese with English subtitles; a very good English-dubbed version screens on Sunday. Grave of the Fireflies 8 p.m. Saturday Chronicling a boy and his younger sister struggling to survive shortly before the end of World War II, the Isao Takahata-directed Grave of the Fireflies is as emotionally devastating as any live-action film. If you have not seen it before, trust me; you won’t think of animation the same way again. The museum screens only the Japanese-language version, and the film is too intense for young ones.
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Howl’s Moving Castle 2 p.m. Dec. 26, 5 p.m. Dec. 27 This 2004 Miyazaki offering about an 18-year-old woman transformed into an old crone is as weird as it is visually sumptuous. That’s a good thing. An English-dubbed version plays Dec. 26, with English subtitles at the Dec. 27 screening.
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Spirited Away 5 p.m. Dec. 26, 2 p.m. Dec. 27, 5 p.m. Dec. 28 This 2001 Miyazaki stunner might be the director’s best-known work, having earned an Oscar for animated film. Think Alice in Wonderland meets L. Frank Baum, only with an edgier bent. A dubbed version plays Dec. 26 and 27, with the original Japanese version showing on Dec. 28.

Whisper of the Heart 8 p.m. Dec. 26 Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for 1995’s Whisper of the Heart but handed the directorial duties of this coming-of-age tale to his protégé, Yoshifumi Kond?. Sadly, it was Kond?’s only film as director; he died several years later from an aneurysm. It will be shown in Japanese with English subtitles.

Celebrating Studio Ghibli!

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

7:30 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday Oklahoma City Museum of Art 415 Couch Drive okcmoa.com 236-3100 $5-$9


Print Headline: Anime-zing, A lovely folktale, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya kicks off a monthlong celebration of anime masterpieces from renowned Studio Ghibli.


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Phil Bacharach

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