Princess from the Moon [Taketori monogatari] (1987)

If you’ve seen Studio Ghibli’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, then this film will seem very familiar.  

Well, mostly.

It is, of course, based on a traditional Japanese story, albeit one not familiar to most Western audiences.  The basics are the same as the more recent animated film:  a bamboo cutter finds a mysterious baby, and he and his wife raise her as their own child.  Only she seems to have strange powers – and, oh, there’s that bit about her suddenly maturing into a young woman overnight…

But what distinguishes this lovely 1987 film is that Toho studios decided to give the story a rather odd science fictional twist.  Now the girl is apparently an alien, and her arrival is marked by a Close Encounters-style light show.  When the people of the Moon eventually return to take her home, they show up in the compact version of Close Encounters’ mothership, with plenty of lights and loud musical notes.

All of this takes up a lot less of the film’s running time than it sounds, and we also get plenty of period costume drama, a humorous subplot featuring rival suitors, and even a sea dragon!

Truly a strange film, one that neither manages to be SF or a traditional fable.  Toho made it at an odd moment in their long history:  not long after their return to monster movies with Godzilla 1985 but before they really got moving on their Heisei era Kaiju Eiga movies in 1989.  Perhaps they were looking for some new direction to explore.  Perhaps they needed to find something for their effects department to do to justify its continued existence.  Or perhaps it was merely an eccentric attempt to tap into E. T.‘s success.

If it weren’t for his voice, the aging Toshiro Mifune would have been almost unrecognizable as the woodcutter, nor does the movie give him much to do.  For that matter, their giant rubbery monster gets even less to do than the giant contractual obligation Walrus in Gorath.  One wonders if the dragon was there for the same reason as the Walrus – because the American market expected a giant monster in a Toho film.  However, it may have been left over from Toho’s failed collaboration with Hammer films,  Nessie.

Still, it does give us some fascinating moments – such as the hail of arrows with which the Mikado’s troops greet the Moon ship.

Now there’s something you don’t see everyday, Chauncey…

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