Napping Princess

Review by Michael Leader @michaeljleader

Directed by

Kenji Kamiyama

Starring

Mitsuki Takahata Shinnosuke Mitsushima Yôsuke Eguchi

Anticipation.

You can’t argue with Kenji Kamiyama’s resume.

Enjoyment.

An ambitious and polished adventure with some intriguing themes, but things get a little muddled.

In Retrospect.

Fades quickly from the memory like a pleasant, diverting dream.

This entertaining animated adventure imagines a near-future powered by machines.

Kokone Morikawa isn’t a princess, but boy does she nap. She’s supposed to be cramming for her college entrance exams, but she just can’t seem to stay awake. Asleep, she dreams of a fantasy realm called Heartland, where its citizens all put in time on a huge production line, manufacturing cars from day to night. There’s a stubborn king, his sorceress daughter, and a threat on the horizon: a dreaded colossus that endangers all who call Heartland home.

Meanwhile, in the waking world, it’s less than a week until the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and Kokone’s dad, a gifted mechanic, becomes embroiled in shady corporate shenanigans with his former employers. As Kokone sets out to help her father, and her dreams become more vivid, she starts to wonder… Are the two worlds connected?

Writer/director Kenji Kamiyama made his name with the epic anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East, but Napping Princess is a conscious attempt at appealing to a younger-skewing audience. There’s not one, but two cute companions (a stuffed toy inherited from her deceased mother, a Baymax-like AI-powered Transformer-motorbike invented by her dad) along for the ride. There’s also an endearing family history confidently woven into this gorgeously-drawn inter-dimensional fantasy-adventure, but it’s the film’s allegorical qualities that are most intriguing.

As the dream and real worlds start to overlap – and as it is revealed that Kokone’s father and deceased mother may have cracked the code for self-driving vehicles, piquing the interest of corporate Japan – Kamiyama whips up some curious social commentary that ties the fantastical world to the real one. It’s not every day you see a film that attempts to bridge the gap between airship battles and boardroom meetings, nor is it common to you find yourself lost in a bewildering third act of animated spectacle, mild peril and borderline nonsense, and you think ‘wait, how does this relate to Japan’s failing automotive industry again?’

Kamiyama doesn’t quite have the consummate creative control of Your Name director Makoto Shinkai, so can’t pull off the cinematic acrobatics required to cohere these disparate, competing, confusing elements into a single, effective whole. But, for a time, Napping Princess is an entertaining, if ultimately inessential, animated adventure.

Published 13 Aug 2017

Tags: Anime Japanese cinema Kenji Kamiyama

Anticipation.

You can’t argue with Kenji Kamiyama’s resume.

Enjoyment.

An ambitious and polished adventure with some intriguing themes, but things get a little muddled.

In Retrospect.

Fades quickly from the memory like a pleasant, diverting dream.

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