Watching the recent Bandai/GKIDS release Napping Princess was a strange experience. Available on a luxurious, dedicated new Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, I am rarely confronted with a film that impresses and exasperates me in such strong, fairly equal ways. The new movie from writer/director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East) is spectacular in the dreamy, boundless potential of its visuals. It tells an ambitious story, and it has a unique, uncompromising depiction of right and wrong, regardless of the realm in which things are taking place.
On the other hand, it is also dreadfully dull. Not all the time. Perhaps around half of the time. That’s a lot to take from a movie that runs for 110 minutes. What frustrates you the most is the fact that the movie is taking its time for a reason. You get that. You also know that there is a difference between that, and running around in circles. I don’t think Napping Princess is overtly stalling for time. I just think it feels that way. Again, this is a thought that occurs off and on for about half of nearly two hours. You are bound to get frustrated with the way the story is being told. A lot of that is because the plot is a pretty interesting one on paper. A young girl named Kokone moves between the dream world and her own, repeatedly throughout, while she works to clear her father’s name in a real life scandal. As she encounters distinct parallels between the dream world and her own, she begins to see her dream world as a tangible universe with profound connections to her own. She is joined by a companion named Morio. They are with us through the whole thing, but we encounter an extremely diverse range of characters along the way.
While there is no question that Kamiyama created a strong female character Kokone, there isn’t much from the other characters to make that a little more meaningful. Napping Princess may even suffer from being a little too crowed. Or, and this might be worse, the problem could be the most significant one I encountered while watching this movie.
I just couldn’t get behind any of these characters. Every single character has the depressingly consistent trait of being completely unremarkable. There are a lot of characters here. There are ample backstories for many of those characters. Yet the characters do not feel like products of those backgrounds. On the other hand, everyone feels more like an odd, almost empty vessel. They contain dialog, and very little else.
Yet these characters get to exist in one of the most beautiful Anime films released recently. Simply put, the imagery and scenery of Napping Princess is so gloriously vibrant, it has moments of moving you entirely on its own. That’s more than you can say for the characters, who feel strangely cut off from everything that happens in this movie. A lot happens in Napping Princess, so it isn’t hard to imagine how frustrating the viewing experience can get.
These are not interesting people, and that is particularly damaging for the film when such a statement covers the protagonist. This is a movie with lofty ideals, and you can appreciate the fact that they exist in this movie. The thoughts and anxieties Kamiyama explores in a story that goes into the subject of dreams on several is fascinating. You just don’t feel that appreciation through the characters. The problem with that is I think we are supposed to. The film’s failure on this part is distracting to the point of becoming such a focal point, you get bored realizing it over and over again. That translates to getting bored with the film itself.
So there are a lot of conflicting thoughts that come along with that movie. In the sense that I have turned over my personal analysis of this film over and over again, Napping Princess is a success. It is also a marvelously deep movie, in terms of its sights and sounds. It just lacks crucial depth in other areas. I suspect there are people who are better than I am at overlooking the flaw of this movie’s characterizations and pacing. I just couldn’t do it.
Those who can will find much to enjoy with Shout’s Blu-ray/DVD release. Footage from the movie’s introduction at the Japanese Film Premiere, combined with some intriguing interviews and trailers, will give fans of this film a lot to enjoy. That doesn’t even touch the rich, stunning presentation of the movie by Shout!. Regardless of how you feel about the film, there is no question that Shout! is still putting out some of the best DVDs and Blu-rays currently available.
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Despite breathtaking, picturesque visuals, and a unique mediation on the subject of dreams, Kenji Kamiyama’s Napping Princess offers weak characters. This is regrettably combined with an intensely slow, frustrating pacing.
Review copy provided
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