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Studio Ghibli Quietly Enters Oscar Animation Race with ‘Princess Kaguya’

Studio Ghibli Quietly Enters Oscar Animation Race with 'Princess Kaguya'

Director Isao Takahata may not have the Oscar pedigree of Studio Ghibli’s is-he-or-isn’t-he-retired figurehead Hayao Miyazaki. But Takahata is a revered animated filmmaker whose latest, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” has been unassumingly picking up festival awards and buzz and critical acclaim, and could prove a stealthy contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.

Here’s why: In his latest TOH! arthouse box office report, Tom Brueggemann writes:

Enterprising GKids has managed to break into the Oscar Animated Feature race with several foreign-made films, and this Studio Ghibli production (not from master director Hayao Miyazaki) is positioned to continue that trend. This is the best-reviewed animated film of the year (by a large margin). Its opening numbers are quite strong, particularly with the modest ad buy. This isn’t at the level of the also Ghibli-made “From Up on Poppy Hill” (from Miyazaki’s son) which last year did $57,000 its first weekend in two theaters in a less competitive time frame. But this is still a good start and positions the film well for awards ahead.

However, Isao Takahata’s delicately hand-drawn retelling of a Japanese coming-of-age folktale — now well-voiced in English by Chloe Grace Moretz, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Lucy Liu and Beau Bridges — has animated juggernaut “The Lego Movie” to contend with. Along with Disney’s “Big Hero 6” and Focus Features’ “The Boxtrolls,” all of which are reaching (or will reach) much broader audiences.

But “Kaguya” is picking up steam among GoldDerby pundits, who’ve listed the film, now at sixth place in the race, just below the Guillermo Del Toro-produced Mexican animated feature “Book of Life.” “Kaguya” reviews are much stronger than that ode to Dia de Los Muertos. But it was a competitive week for animated films, as both features opened on Friday.

2003’s “Spirited Away” remains the first and only Ghibli film to win the animated Oscar, though Miyazaki’s followups “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “The Wind Rises” were nominated. Miyazaki is set to receive the Honorary Oscar at the 2015 Academy Awards, a career-honoring tribute that should afford Ghibli, and “Princess Kaguya,” ample attention.

New Ghibli films from Miyazaki will be missed, but Takahata, who directed 1988’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” carries the animation studio’s torch with mastery.

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