Princess from the Moon
(Taketori Monogatari) (1987)
Directed by Kon Ichikawa

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * *

DVD In Association with
Rent DVDs online!
In the USA:
Try Netflix For Free.In the UK:

In ancient Japan, a humble craftsman (Toshiro Mifune) and his wife have only recently lost their five year old daughter when a strange light appears in the sky and sets fire to the bamboo forest behind their house, threatening the girl's grave, which is located there. The following day, when the man goes to check on his daughter's grave in the forest, he finds beside it an enormous golden pod, which promptly cracks opens to reveal an infant inside. The man takes the baby home with him and it rapidly matures into a small girl identical to his deceased daughter. Despite her eerie blue eyes, the man and woman accept the foundling as though she were their own and name her Kaya. As their neighbors are less fond of the otherworldly child, the three move far away from their old home into an enormous mansion paid for by selling the golden pod in which the man had found his new daughter. Within a short time, Kaya, now a young woman, attracts three suitors from the imperial court. Unable to decide which of them to marry, however, she sets each of the men an impossible task, promising to wed whichever one of them is successful in accomplishing the chore he has been given. Unfortunately, despite her love both for her adopted parents and for one of her suitors, Kaya learns from a mysterious crystal ball she always carries with her that she is actually a space alien from the moon and that her own people will shortly be coming to retrieve her.

It is hard to believe that any movie directed by Kon Ichikawa and starring Toshiro Mifune could be anything other than a masterpiece. It is even harder to believe that such a movie could be mediocre or bad. Princess from the Moon, however, is in many ways a dreadful film.

The director could easily have enthralled the viewer by telling him a lovely fairy tale, but, instead, he has decided to annoy him with a silly, maudlin science fiction drama. The film's narrative, while it does have its charming moments, is, as a whole, a pathetic and ghastly mess. What is more, not only is the story Ichikawa relates inconsistent and occasionally painful to watch, but it also even plagiarizes both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.

The director's judgment really did leave him when he decided to include his intrusive, and utterly silly, science fiction themes as well as some of his more hammy narrative details. Over and over again, Ichikawa insists upon hurling onto the screen some otherworldly light, extraterrestrial artifact, or absurd sentiment, all of which distract the viewer and spoil whatever pleasure the film's odd virtues have been able to give him. The arrival of the enormous spaceship to retrieve Kaya near the movie's conclusion, for example, is completely ludicrous, laughably melodramatic, and just intrusive. Sadly, there are so many such elements in the film that the viewer may well find himself feeling embarrassed for its director and actors.

Nevertheless, when the movie veers away from such appalling themes it can actually be enjoyable and is, at least briefly, able to engage the viewer. It even includes a number of genuinely attractive sequences imbedded amid its numerous agonizingly bad moments. Several of the scenes depicting the imperial court, for instance, are surprisingly graceful and lovely. Ichikawa presents in these a series of stunning tableaux, setting carefully arranged, colorfully garbed courtiers within simple, elegant interiors and filming them with real skill. The effects he achieves in some of these scenes are occasionally truly beautiful.

In fact, the movie has other virtues as well. The performances of the actors are generally accomplished, and a number of the elements of the movie's story, namely, those not concerned with sweet natured extraterrestrials, are appealing. The inclusion of the quests of the three courtiers briefly gives the film's narrative a real folkloric feel, and the objects for which they are sent are all delightful and evocative of a sense of wonder. The viewer cannot help but marvel when he hears how they are told to seek the incombustible golden pelt of a fire rat, a golden tree with diamond fruits that grows on a legendary island paradise to the east, and a gem set in the brow of a dragon living in the depths of the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, such charming moments are only brief respites in a frequently atrocious movie.

Because it is intermittently abysmal, Princess from the Moon is, whatever its virtues, ultimately, a failure. I cannot even imagine what Ichikawa was thinking when he included spaceships and gentle aliens in his movie, but, by doing so, he has certainly succeeded in making a terrible film.

Review by Keith Allen

Home Page / Alphabetical List of Films
List of Films by Star Ratings
Aesthetic Principles / Guide to Ratings
Criteria for Inclusion / DVD Stores / Blog

© 2005 Keith Allen. All rights reserved.
Revised 2006, 2008

Click Here

banner 2