As I was skimming the AnimeNation news blog I spotted a bit of wonderful news; Isao Takahata , legendary anime director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli will make “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”, (AKA Taketori Monogatari, or Kaguya Hime no Monogatari) his next film.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter or  Kaguya Hime no Monogatari is one of Japan’s oldest and most beloved fairy tale. The first written reference of this tale that I can find comes from the Konjaku Monogatarishū AKA “Tales from the past”, a collection of myths from Japan’s distant past written around the 12th century. Since the tale of Princess Kaguya is one Japan’s most beloved fairy tales/myths is been referenced in so many anime and manga it’s almost too many to count. Because this tale probably was transmitted orally before it was put to written word several different versions, both long and short exist. Below, I’ll give a a quick telling of my favorite version.

Tale of the Bamboo Princess

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

“Once upon a time” (my words),

       There lived a poor bamboo cutter who was one day cutting bamboo in his fields when he beheld a wondrous light, bending down to have a closer look he saw a beautiful creature in the heart of the reed, the girl was only four inches tall. The bamboo cutter picked the small girl up and took her home to his wife, and together they raised her in a small basket. As the days went by, every time the cutter returned to his fields to do his cutting work he found gold, and soon the cutter and his wife became very rich.

       After a period of only three months the girl grew from her small stature to a fully grown maid, the most beautiful maid in the whole land. When the bamboo cutter decided to name his daughter her held a feast and named her Lady Kaguya or (Precious Slender Bamboo of the Field of Autumn). As the story of Lady Kaguya’s beauty spread throughout the land many suitors showed up at the bamboo cutter’s house attempting to win her love. After a long period of time all but five of the men went home and finally the remaining five men (all Noblemen) asked the bamboo cutter to bestow his daughter to one of them, to which, he replied that since Lady Kaguya really wasn’t his real daughter she wasn’t required to follow his wishes. Even thought the five men eventually went home they still kept asking the bamboo cutter for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

         The bamboo cutter soon became bothered by the men’s demands for his daughter’s hand and he went to her and said it would be fitting for such a handsome and fair maid to marry one of the noblemen, to which, she replied that I’m not so fair to be able to trust myself to choose marriage to an untested heart. So, it was soon arranged that all five noblemen were summoned before Lady Kaguya and each nobleman was be given a difficult task to complete, and the one that succeeded would marry Lady Kaguya.

      The first nobleman, Prince Ishizukuri, was told to travel to northern India and bring back the stone beggar bowl that the Buddha himself had used. The second nobleman, Prince Kuramochi, was told to travel to a mountain named Horai where a tree grows that has silver roots, a golden trunk, and bears fruit of pure white jade and bring back a branch. The third nobleman, Sadaijin Dainagon, was told to find and have fashioned a robe made of the pelts of flame proof rats for Lady Kaguya. The fourth nobleman, Chiunagon, was told to bring back the rainbow hued jewel that’s hidden inside a dragon’s head. The fifth and final nobleman, lord Iso, was told to find and return with the cowry-shell that the swallow carries over the sea plain.

        The noblemen departed to complete their tasks, and over the course of several years either tried to fake, steal, or just plain failed to complete their assigned tasks and Lady Kaguya rejected all five of the noblemen. Soon the news of Lady Kaguya’s beauty eventually reached the Mikado (Emperor of Japan) so he sent one of his palace ladies to meet with, and report back to him everything about Lady Kaguya, but Lady Kaguya refused to meet with her. The Mikado soon sends for the bamboo cutter and his daughter to report to the palace with the reward of a noble title to be awarded to the bamboo cutter. After talking with his daughter, Lady Kaguya tells her father that if she’s forced to his house she’ll die, so the price of his nobility will be his daughter’s life. The bamboo cutter travels to the palace and tells the Mikado of his daughter decision, and the Mikado is so interested in seeing Lady Kaguya that he arranges a royal hunt so he can stop by for a visit the bamboo cutter’s house.

        When the Mikado enters the bamboo cutter’s house he sees a wondrous light and finds its source is Lady Kaguya, as he gets a glimpse of her face she disappears. Knowing that Lady Kaguya is no mortal woman he begs for her to return, and she does. The Mikado pleads his love for Lady Kaguya, but Lady Kaguya tells him that she must remain at this house, so the Mikado departs in sadness. In the seventh month of the third year after the royal visit, Lady Kaguya looks upon the full moon with sadness and pain, and Lady Kaguya tells her father that the sight of the moon causes her to reflect on the sadness of the world. The next month, Lady Kaguya tells her maids that she’s no mortal woman but was born in the palace of the moon kingdom, and will soon leave this world and depart for her birthplace. . When the bamboo cutter finds out that his daughter would soon depart he becomes angry and informs the Mikado, who sends a whole company to prevent her departure.

     On the night of the next full moon, a great cloud descends from the moon bringing with it a great host of moon-folk, and a glorious carriage. The troop of soldiers tries to prevent the moon-folk from landing but all their arrows miss the mark, and the leader of the moon-folk orders the bamboo cutter to bring forth Lady Kaguya, the power of his command opens all the locked doors, and Lady Kaguya comes forth. The commander tells Lady Kaguya that it’s time to leave this sorry world, and just as she’s about to depart she hands the bamboo cutter a scroll which says that she’s sorry for causing him pain and that if she was born to this world she would have not caused her father pain. Lady Kaguya also says that because her father loved her so well, she’ll leave behind her silken mantle as a memorial so he can gaze upon it when the moon shines and he can remember his daughter.

    Then the moon-folk bring forward a coffer that contains a Celestial Robe of Feathers and a small portion of the Elixir of Life, and after Lady Kaguya drinks some of the Elixir of life the moon-folk   attempt to place the Robe of Feathers over her back but she stops them. She tells the moon-folk that she still has something to do; Lady Kaguya proceeds to write a message to the Mikado, and she gives the scroll and the remaining Elixir of Life to the troop commander. Once Lady Kaguya places the Robe of Feathers over her back all her memories of the mortal world are erased and she departs with the moon-folk to return to the moon.

        The message to the Mikado says that while he desired to be with her, it was not permitted to be, and that basically she wanted to be with him but she was forbidden to do so, and that caused great pain to her heart, so she’s sorry.

       After the Mikado read the letter his heart was so overcome with sadness that he ordered his commander to take the scroll along with the Elixir of life to the top of the highest mountain in Suruga and burn them. His loyal commander, following the Mikado’s orders, climbed to the summit of the tallest mountain and carried out the Mikado’s orders. From that time forward men would look upon that mountain and say that the smoke rising from its peak mingles with the clouds of heaven, and that mountain is now called Fuji-yama, the never dying.

This is a wonderful tale that showcases how the Japanese love of nature is linked with the divine, and I’m sure that when Studio Ghibli completes this movie it’ll be a monster hit in Japan.      

 

      Having decided to organize my movie and anime collection I stumbled upon a few “old but classic” anime films, so today I’ll review Flying Phantom Ship/Sora Tobu yureisen  aka Flying Treasure Ship. This film was released in Japan on May 5, 1969 by Toei Animation, and it was also released in the old Soviet Union on October 10, 1969. Flying Phantom Ship was directed by Hiroshi Ikeda and Hayao Miyazaki did key animation work, storyboards, and giant robot design. When this film is viewed in tandem with Taiyo no Oji: Horusu no Daiboken/Hols, Prince of the Sun aka Little Norse Prince (1968)  the viewer can see the foundations and themes that Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli will base much of their future works.

Plot Summary follows.

     The film begins with a voice over narration explaining that ship wreaks have been occurring all over the world and that the sailors are blaming these wreaks on a phantom ship. Later, we see a family (mother, father, boy and dog) on a boat heading in from a fishing trip, and while traveling along the shore they spot a car wreck, and the boy and his father climb to the wreck and discover an injured man (Mr. Kuroshio). The father decides that he and his son (Hayato) will carry him back up to the road. Once they get Kuroshio to the road they find that Kuroshio’s wife was thrown from the car before it went over the cliff, when she wakes she tells them that a ghost jumped in front of the car and caused them to lose control.

     Hayato’s father decides to carry Kuroshio to an abandoned house for shelter because a storm is coming, Hayato tells him that the house is supposed to be haunted and his father tells him not to be silly.  Once they get to the house Hayato’s father goes to get firewood, while Hayato and the woman go exploring for some towels and other stuff. While exploring the house they run into a skeleton like ghost that send them running in terror, when his father comes back with the firewood he tells them not to be ridiculous about ghosts. Later the ghost shows up again and Kuroshio’s wife passes out, Hayato’s father demands to know what the ghost wants and the ghost tells them that Kuroshio and his wife poisoned him and his wife and his child and set on his ship on fire to make it look like an accident, now his ghost and the phantom ship survive until Kuroshio repents for his crimes.

     Just as it looks like the ghost will attack a rescue squad arrives at the old house to save Kuroshio, and we find out that Kuroshio so rich and powerful that even the Secretary of Defense comes along to help him. The next day Hayato and his father are driving home from work and they talk about the events from earlier and end up in a traffic jam. A squad to tanks comes rolling down the road crushing everything in their way and begin attacking a giant robot, the robot claims to be a messenger from the phantom ship. Hayato’s father is injured in the attack and Hayato takes him home where he finds his house severely damaged and his mother injured, later at the hospital his mother dies, and his father is fading too. Before he dies, he tells Hayato that he’s not his real father and that he and his wife found him washed up on the shore ten years earlier and that inside Hayato’s watch they placed a picture of his real family they found on him.

      Hayato is left all alone in the world with only his dog Jack reminding him of his old life. When the Kuroshio’s find out what happened they decide to take in Hayato and raise him as their own son, Hayato asks Kuroshio if he can join the fight against the giant robot and the phantom ship. Later Hayato and Kuroshio watch a news report showing the robot attacking the phantom ship, during the battle the phantom ship appears to destroy the robot, then it flies away.

     When Hayato begins to explore the house he finds a hidden underground weapons factory, and he also finds out that Golem’s base is located there. Hayato finds a secret meeting underway between Kuroshio, his corporate men, and some government officials, they were using the robot to terrorise the people and destroy military gear so they can profit from making and selling more weapons to the government, and this whole scam is being funded by sales of the imported Boa brand soda. After Hayato finds all this out he decides to tell the world about this plot but nobody will believe a crazy story like that coming from a kid. While trying to expose the plot Hayato also finds out that Boa soda is also responsible for the deaths of a lot of people, Kuroshio then tries to use Hayato in a propaganda TV ad, but he tries to expose the plot on live TV but they interrupt his rant with a Boa soda ad.

     As Hayato is being dragged off stage, the TV studio is attacked by large robots that look like ocean creatures and Kuroshio is cornered by one of them, and it announces that he will be punished for his failure to destroy the phantom ship, he is soon destroyed by the robot. Hayato and his dog Jack are chased by the monster through the TV studio, they get cornered on the roof of the studio but are rescued by the flying phantom ship. On the Phantom ship the “ghost captain” tells Hayato that he rescued him because of his bravery, and that he’s not really dead and only wears the costume to hide his burns, but he won’t take it off because it’s become part of him now. The Captain explains to Hayato that they have been battling Kuroshio weapons selling plans and that the BOA group controls everything, he also gives Hayato a tour of the ship and it’s weapons.

     During the tour Hayato has a attack and passes out, in the sickbay the doctor tells the Captain that he was suffering from Boa soda withdrawal and the doctor gives him the cure. When Hayato had his attack he disabled the stealth drive system and the ship gets damaged in battle and sinks underwater, and the attackers think that the ship is destroyed and soon leave the scene.

     When Hayato wakes up he finds a cute young nurse watching over him, the ship heavily damaged, and the Captain seriously injured. The Captain’s mask is off and Hayato recognizes him as his real father, the Captain confirms this upon seeing Hayato’s family picture. Later the girl walks in on Hayato who is sulking and tells him to get off his ass, only four people survived attack and only they are in any shape to fight. He complains about the situation to her but she tells him she knows how to steer the ship, and that they should attack BOA’s base, he complains that the missiles are broken so what weapons do they have left to use, and she says that they should do a suicide attack.

     Later Hayato’s city is shown in ruins from BOA’s creatures attacks, and many more people have died from Boa soda, so the kids decide to attack BOA’s HQ, Hayato learns that the girl’s parents were also killed by Kuroshio and BOA. After traveling through many obstacles, enemy patrols, minefields, and an attack by an underwater robotic monster controlled by BOA they get close to the main base. When they are almost there they see a whole battery of underwater guns waiting to fire on them, so they decide to charge through and ram the base. Just as they are making the final approach Hayato’s father tells the kids that they should take the escape capsule and not die with the ship, so at the last moment they escape the dying ship.

     The ship strikes the BOA base and the nuclear reactor detonates destroying BOA headquarters, and all the monsters controlled by BOA stop working. Later we see the Captain, the doctor, the nurse, and Hayato back on land with the Captain telling Hayato and the girl to have fun, then we see Hayato and the girl sailing on the open seas having a good time, and looking towards the future. Well, that’s all for the movie, below are a few screen shots from the end of the movie.

     Well, now for the review, and it will a fairly quick one, when viewing this 38 year old movie one must look past the technological limitations of anime of that time. When looking at this show today, the anime quality is pretty poor, the animation looks fairly crude and has limited frame rates, some of the character designs are simple but they still manage to convey the necessary emotional context. Flying Phantom Ship is mainly a cautionary tale, many Japanese fears of the times were contained in this movie,  a fear of the power of new mega corporations, a fear of a rising military industrial complex, and a fear of imported products.

     The whole plot point involving Boa soda’s addictive and unhealthy properties can almost be seen as a shot at Coke, while drinking a lot of Coke might not kill you like the Boa soda does, but in real life drinking that much soda might kill you, only slower.

     One of the most predominate themes in this anime is to be wary of the military industrial complex, this was made famous by President Eisenhower during his farewell address in 1961, he warned the country about the dangers of linking governments, war, and corporations together because it might lead to a state of permanent war footing. So in this anime we have a corporate titan conspiring with government officials to keep a conflict going so more weapons will be destroyed in order for more weapons to be produced and more profits to be made, and the only people getting the shaft are the innocent people killed and wounded in the crossfire.

     In this film our young hero Hayato is brave, strong, and has a tremendous sense of justice and he is willing to fight and maybe die for what he believes in. Our young heroine, the nurse, is brave, compassionate, level headed, and also willing to sacrifice herself to defeat evil. One of the standout things in this movie is the beginning of the formation of what I’ll call the “Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli hero/heroine archetypes“. What I mean by this is a almost unbroken chain of young hero’s and heroine’s that are featured in Miyazaki/Ghibli productions that exhibit a certain look and personality type, and as we move forward in anime history these character types continue to distill and concentrate these traits until they reach what I’ll call the Miyazaki pinnacle.

     For the male hero type it progress from Hayato in Flying Phantom Ship – 1969 to Conan in Future Boy Conan – 1978  to Pazu in Laputa -1986  until the pinnacle hero type of Prince Ashitaka in Mononoke Hime – 1997. For the female Miyazaki  hero type there are what i consider two be two pinnacles and the progression is from the young nurse from Flying Phantom Ship – 1969  to Lana in Future Boy Conan – 1978  to Princess Nausicaa in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – 1984, Nausicaa is what I will call the first pinnacle, she is a lethal warrior, but exhibits a compassion and a love for peace that leads to her messianic death and rebirth, and the second and more vengeful pinnacle is San from Mononoke Hime – 1997  she is every bit as deadly as Nausicaa but she lacks Nausicaa more peaceful nature, she has to accept peace because she basically has no choice.

     Some people might argue that Miyazaki did not have much influence on the 1968-1969 films and that the films influenced him instead but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t matter, your can directly trace the lines of influence from the earlier films to the modern Miyazaki/Ghibli fantasy hero series/films.