The film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya begins, in the manner of older western movies, and as many studio Ghibli movies do with the credits of filmmakers and cast over a unique background. However, for this film the animators noticed a chance to place the movie in a specific historical context and display the credits over a sheet of woodblock printed paper (See the image on the left). This kind of decorated paper was often used during the Heian period (784-1183 CE) for anthologies of poetry which had been beautifully rendered in calligraphy. This technique, called Chigiri-e involves handmade paper which is torn and aligned on other paper and additionally decorated with flecks of metallic dust or colored pigment. After completion, a calligrapher could write poetry over it, creating a beautiful, almost rustic look. As the textbook Art Beyond the West states:
two pages of the collected poems of Minamoto no Shigeyuki (?-ACE 1000), Artist Unknown
In these upcoming posts I will point out some particularly interesting parts of the film that tie into important aspects of Japanese aesthetics and techniques of art-makingOf all of the Japanese animation film studio, Studio Ghibli’s films, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is arguably the most rooted in Japan’s secular and religious history. Full of references to traditions in both artmaking and society, it not only celebrates Japanese religious and secular culture but also looks at and brings up important questions about certain less than perfect parts of that culture.
I also will address the broader philosophical ideas that shaped Japan’s culture, connecting these concepts from the film with quotes from the textbook Art Beyond the West by Michael Kampen O’Riley. The film Princess Kaguya is a visual masterpiece created appropriately in the popular Japanese anime style, an animation style which incorporates many historic Japanese illustration tendencies and traits of the past. This seemingly small yet incredibly effective choice for the movie, as well as the Studio's other films, makes it clear that this film’s intent is not just to look at and analyze the past but also to examine the present and elude to the future. While the movie may take on more complex meanings to those familiar with the artistic traditions and culture of Japan, Kaguya also lets those who have no such context appreciate and connect with the film and come away with new enlightening ideas about the world, life, and being human. I will begin by examining the Chigir-e torn paper artistic technique, then take a look at the Haboku (Broken Ink) painting technique, and finish with Pureland Buddhist imagery and philosophy. Together these different historic and cultural tie-ins will highlight some interesting aspects of the film, providing a fascinating context for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.