Director Kenji Kamiyama (Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Cyborg 009, Eden of the East) returns to the big screen with this fantastical anime drama, also known as Hirune Hime (‘Napping Princess’).
The story follows Kokone Morikawa, a bubbly, likeable high school girl who has the habit of sleeping too much. When she sleeps, she becomes Ancien – a brave princess with a magic computer tablet and an appetite for adventure. After her father is suddenly arrested, Kokone’s waking life threatens to become every bit as exciting as her dreams.
More accessible than Kamiyama’s previous works, Ancien is a bold, promising new step for the director. He weaves in familiar sci-fi themes from past work, but these specialist elements thankfully take a back seat to the family focus of this piece.
Visually, the film plays with tone and colour, contrasting the real-life drabness of rural life and cheap family apartments with the oceanic night skies and luminescent hues of the dreamworld. The outlandishly detailed establishing shots and breathtakingly paced action are a pleasure to watch.
Sonically, the film is cleverly propelled along by a dynamic score from legendary Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts composer Yoko Shimomura. Ghibli-esque piano themes are mixed in nicely with some devilishly mischievous bassoon pieces and frenetic string ensemble work for the action scenes.
Kokone is a very likeable character, thanks in part to Mitsuki Takahata’s subtly nuanced performance. Despite her hardships, she comes across as a resilient, self-sure girl and is written with a refreshing amount of agency.
Ancien is not without its flaws: a few sub-plots are paper-thin and one wonders if key scenes were cut to create a more competitive running time. The screenplay is also a little ambitious – dipping in and out of the fantastical might have been better done with some more experimental scene transitions.
Nonetheless, the film succeeds wonderfully in achieving it’s aim – this is a fun action adventure that resonates because it doesn’t glamorise everything. You feel a warmth after watching it, as there’s something in its depiction of imperfect, loving family relationships that stays with you.
By George Art Baker