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Princess From The Moon
cast: Toshiro Mifune, Ayako Wakao, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Koji Ishizaka, and Kiichi Nakaki

director: Kon Ichikawa

121 minutes (PG) 1987
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Shadow Warrior DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Ian Shutter
   SPOILER ALERT!
Princess From The Moon (original title: Taketori Monogatari, aka: Kaguya) is basically a folktale (with obviously Spielbergian sci-fi overtones, and a host of other genre influences) concerning the fall of Imperial Japan, directed by veteran Kon Ichikawa, maker of the rightly famous Tokyo Olympiad (1965). It's 790 AD in rural Japan, and a poor bamboo-cutter mourns the loss of his five-year-old daughter Kaya, in an accident not unlike the opening tragedy of Don't Look Now (1973).
   Shortly thereafter, the bamboo forest seems to burn - although there's no sign of fire - when a strange light falls from the sky and, by Kaya's graveside, the grieving father discovers a shell of gold containing an infant who resembles his dead child. Like a gender-switch variation of the Superman myth, combined with the accelerated growth of John Carpenter's Starman (1984), the baby quickly turns into a young girl with eerie blue eyes, who unwittingly spooks the locals with her unearthly powers (she even has a mysterious crystal ball which later glows on the night of an orange moon). Although the bamboo-cutter remains indignant at his wife's unquestioning adoption of "Kaya's ghost," he accepts her as his own when he realises he can sell the gold metal from the cradle-shell that she arrived in.
   Kaya matures overnight (into Yasuko Sawaguchi) and, soon enough, her dad wants to marry her off to a nobleman, and especially now that her parents are wealthy from the sale of gold, Kaya attracts potential suitors in droves. A smart girl, Kaya invites the three most eligible (a prince, a minister and a councillor) to prove themselves worthy of her by questing for fabled treasures. Her heavenly beauty eventually gets Kaya an audience with the emperor, but she stubbornly refuses his summons. The villain of the piece is revealed to be Reverend Doson who suspects that Kaya is actually a foreign spy (well, he's almost half right). A bald guy with bushy eyebrows, Doson looks just like recurring bad-guy the Hood from Gerry Anderson's puppet-show, Thunderbirds (a comic resemblance which makes him very difficult to take seriously, of course) but his scheme to entrap our heroine proves ineffective.
   We don't see enough of the adventuresome quests, which the rivals for Kaya's hand embark upon, but there's a somewhat amusing scene with a sea dragon that recalls the traditionally cheap effects of Toho's Godzilla movies. In the finale, the lunar cycle brings a magical UFO visual f/x climax, borrowing directly from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), and yet the appearance of this mothership and the postmodern, science fictionalised ascension of Kaya doesn't quite sit well with the less rational traditional fantasy elements of earlier sequences. However, despite its incidental scene-theft and deliberate sponging upon various Western sources, Princess From The Moon is a tolerable swag bag of alien visitation and stranded-on-Earth tales, and makes for a couple of hours enjoyable viewing.
   The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby digital sound in Japanese and English subtitles. Extras: text-only biographies and filmographies, cast listing, Warrior label artwork, and the usual scene access.
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