Hayao Miyazaki's 2002 fantasy film “Spirited Away” is the only Best Animated Feature winner to be produced outside the English-speaking world. In fairness to the voters who still haven't bestowed Sylvain Chomet with an Oscar, there haven't been that many opportunities for outsiders to power through – the Academy only cemented the category for its 2002 ceremony (making Miyazaki's the only traditionally animated film to ever win the award too). So while the Oscars may not reflect the artistic legacy of Studio Ghibli – currently on a “brief pause” as it figures out how to be a money-making operation without recently retired, Walt Disney-like leader – the company arrives to the 2015 race with a major contender: “Tale of Princess Kaguya.”
Adapted from a 10th-century Japanese folktale by director and Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (“Grave of the Fireflies,” “My Neighbors the Yamadas”), “Princess Kaguya” is the story of girl discovered in a stalk of bamboo, raised as a regal figure, and driven back to the stars by the material demands of society. Animation curator GKIDS has released the first trailer for the English-dubbed version of “Tale of Princess Kaguya” and it's clear there's no vocal change in the world that could undercut Takahata's vision; Realized with impressionistic water colors and charcoal sketches, the film stands apart from American studios and even the classic anime style of Miyazaki.
Chloë Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Darren Criss, Oliver Platt, James Marsden, and Lucy Liu round out the English cast of the Best Animated Feature hopeful. Competition is stiff this year, with Fox's “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” Warner Bros.' “The LEGO Movie,” Disney's “Big Hero 6,” Laika's “The Boxtrolls,” Fox's “The Book of Life,” and GKIDS' own “Song of the Sea” all with footing to take the prize.
At the Toronto Film Festival, where “Tale of Princess Kaguya” made its North American debut, Takahata admitted in a Q&A that, while he hopes to make another film one day, Studio Ghibli's unknown status and his abilities as a 78-year-old animator leave him feeling pessimistic. “Tale of Princess Kaguya” could be the animation master's last film. A similar fact gave Miyazaki's “The Wind Rises” enough momentum to crack 2014's Best Animated category, without seizing it from “Frozen.” History is not in Takahata's favor, but the fact that “Princess Kaguya” is a visually-stunning tearjerker should only help.
“Tale of Princess Kaguya” arrives in theaters Oct. 17.