The Tale of The Princess Kaguya and how Studio Ghibli embraced minimalism

Great spirits of all shapes and sizes streaming into a huge bathhouse. Hundreds of huge bugs tilling through a dark forest, eyes aglow. A young witch with a red bow and a black feline, laughing and skyrocketing over a seascape and the clustered red-tile roofing systems of a port city, riding a broomstick. A huge amorphous spirit of the forest marking throughout whatever in its path, in a mad scramble to find its ownhead


Hayao Miyazaki’s movies are overruning with spectacular, unforgettable visuals, a cornucopian testimony to the power of conventional animation to stimulate marvel at what might be. That makes the movies of his fellow Studio Ghibli filmmaker, Isao Takahata, all the more splendid in contrast: they stimulate marvel at what isn’t.

Takahata was a master of realism in animation, and he understood that revealing what isn’t is as essential as revealing what is. As a result, visual vacuum is main to 3 of his works: Just The other day, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, and My Next-door Neighbors the Yamadas. In parts of these movies, unfavorable space swallows the edges of the frames. The effect is one of increasing, not lessening. The realism of the small information at center screen, and the stylistic option to set them apart aesthetically, keeps these movies securely rooted in a long Japanese creativetradition


Takahata discussed his viewpoint in an interview with Variety in2016 “For many years I have wanted to improve on the simplistic flat-plane image of cel animation. But I didn’t want to solve this by going into the 3D-CG method of three-dimensionality and substantiality,” he stated. “I wanted to solve this by a method of ‘reduction’ of not drawing everything on the screen, in order to stimulate people’s imagination and raise the level of artistry. My assertion was that this method is what can and should be applied in Japan, following on our long painting tradition from the 12th century Scrolls of Frolicking Animals, ink paintings, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints all the way to manga.”

The Princess Kaguya ties a bandage around a boy’s arm in a panel with only the slightest sketches of trees around them, and open sky to their right

A scene from The Tale of The Princess Kaguya drops out the background.

Image: StudioGhibli

Empty space is a rarity in animation in general as much as it is in the rest of Ghibli’s oeuvre. Show me the last American animation or mainstream anime you saw in which the screen wasn’t loaded with vibrant characters and images from edge to edge, and I will show you a lie! While the strategy may seldom be used in animation, the Buddhist principle of mu, or “without,” and the concept of ma, the “gap” or “negative space” recommending the value of the period in Japanese art, are both basic and commonly comprehended concepts in Japanese culture. And Takahata never ever avoided representing them in his work.

In spite of the blank areas, the scenes in these movies look not insufficient, however easily intimate, as if each action or frozen minute embodies its own essence more really inisolation In My Next-door neighbors the Yamadas, empty space increases the comedy of the cartoony visuals and the ridiculous lightness of its main family’s shenanigans in vignette. In Just The other day, where the strategy is used just in flashbacks– also vignettes, as Takahata also understood the power of separated minutes connected– it stimulates a sort of instantaneous fond memories. Here, the memories of Taeko, the protagonist, are faded by time, their context more difficult to understand even as their focal points remain brilliant, whether it’s a button lost on the front walk, or the ruthless, unforeseen soreness of a cheek after a slap from her father’s hand. In The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, it serves a double function, highlighting the intimacy of small minutes while also offering the tale, an adjustment of one of the earliest stories in Japan’s folklore, with a classic, legendary, and melancholic quality.

The central family of My Neighbors The Yamadas sit huddled around and under a table, each paying attention to a different book, newspaper, or TV set, as the background elements fade into soft emptiness

In My Next-door Neighbors The Yamadas, background components fade off into blankness.

Image: StudioGhibli

The strategy is nearly poetic in its improvement of lack to existence, and the sensation it stimulates in the audience can be extensive: a tip of stillness and calm, and of what we lose in the margins of life. When utilized in a full- length story, as in Kaguya, it makes the epic feel intimate. In vignettes, it in some way adds, via subtraction of image, a connectedness that’s nearly reminiscent of renku, the collective Japanese literary kind of connected verse in which a haiku composed by one poet would be followed by that of another, held together not by their instant associations, however by the lack in between them. It’s not nothingness. It’s ma. Well, more or less.

As any author worth their salt might tell you, the blank space on a page is possibility, not oblivion. No animator understood that much better than Takahata. His movies didn’t constantly need stretching panoplies of dancing spirits to be transportative, and he understood it. For him, less actually wasmore


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Neela Josh
Neela Josh
I work as the Content Writer for Gaming Ideology. I play Quake like professionally. I love to write about games and have been writing about them for two years.

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