Napping Princess (Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari)
Japan (2017) Dir. Kenji Kamiyama
Most of us want our dreams to come true, but only the ones that involve attaining a certain goal in life or reaching a state of prosperity in terms of love, wealth and success. The dreams we have that are escapist fantasies and make little sense are to be kept inside our slumber filled heads. But what if they were the dreams that became real?
In a futuristic world called Heartland, the ruling monarch is devoted to manufacturing modern motor cars. His daughter Princess Ancien has a magic computer tablet that can bring inanimate objects to life, like her teddy bear Joy and her motorcycle and sidecar, Heart. Disapproving of the use of magic, the King has Ancien locked away, just as a giant monster of molten lava called Colossus invades Heartland.
To battle Colossus the King builds a fleet of giant Mecha robots which easily fall to the fiery attacks of the Colossus. The only thing that can defeat the Colossus is Ancien’s tablet and the technological knowhow of motorbike riding worker Peach. Ancien escapes the tower and teams up with Peach to bring down Colossus together.
Spoiler alert – this isn’t the main story of Napping Princess. Set in 2020 ahead of Japan hosting the Olympic Games we meet schoolgirl Kokone Morikawa, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ancien whilst her mechanical engineer father Momotaro is dead ringer for Peach. This is because Heartland is the product of Kokone’s vivid imagination when asleep, an unfortunate regular occurrence for someone taking important school exams.
Other elements of Konone’s dream world are part of her real life too, such as Joy the teddy bear and Heart, in this instance both back to being non-sentient features in her life. The most crucial crossover is the tablet Ancien uses which belongs to Momotaro, but rather than possess magical properties, it contains information for a new engineering marvel which Momotaro is accused of stealing from a rival company.
I don’t usually spend this much time in a review with the basic plot outline but this film comes from the fertile imagination of Kenji Kamiyama, whose prior works such as Eden Of The East and Ghost In The Shell – Stand Alone Complex are noted for their sinuous and deeply involved storylines.
As you’ve probably already surmised, the events in Kokone’s dream world mirror those in her real life, with changes made to suit the different narratives. In Heartland, the King is being undermined by his chief adviser Bewan; his real life doppelganger is Watanabe, a top executive from Shijima Motors, whose chairman is Isshin Shijima, also the King of Heartland.
Watanabe is the one after Momotaro’s tablet which he has hidden, his ruthless practices bringing Kokone into the story when she inadvertently finds the tablet and brings it home with her. Kokone receives a warning text from Momotaro just as Watanabe and his thugs break into the house, spurring Kokone into action with help from her friend Morio, as they risk everything to reclaim the tablet and take it to Momotaro, currently detained by police in Tokyo.
Despite the multi-layered density of the intertwining plot lines, this is an easy film to follow and quite accessible for viewers of all ages, eschewing the adult path it could have taken given the desperation of the corporate cover up instigated by Watanabe. Usually, the air would turn blue with coarse language and violence would be a prominent feature in the search for the tablet, but Kamiyama shows no interest in this.
Instead, he suffuses the action of the real life storyline with the same playful whimsy of the Heartland adventure, the latter naturally being more reliant on the fantastic, with giant robots, talking teddy bears and flying motorcycles. There is still a cynical air to this dream world – at the start, Peach is docked pay for the disloyal act of riding a motorbike when he designs cars, and acts of politically motivated power grabs are in play.
Comparisons to the works of Satoshi Kon might arise given the premise of dreams and reality merging, but this is doesn’t stand up to scrutiny since Kon used this to create dissonant psychological landscapes while Kamiyama exploits it for the sake of adventure. It stops making sense however when others like Morio start to share Kokone’s dreams and experience the same physical phenomena she does without actually falling asleep, stretching the concept a little too far.
By the time the relevance and significance of many of the plot points are revealed, we realise the alternate fantasy storyline is actually redundant and this could have sufficed as a whimsical adventure tale on its own, as could the Heartland saga. Kamiyama is essentially presenting two films at once, a commendable notion that has worked before, but when the dream world vanishes half way through, only to return for the climax, nothing is lost by its absence.
The integral missing piece of the puzzle is Kokone’s late mother, opening up the root of this tale being about family ties, which is loosely weaved into the underdeveloped social commentary about traditional and progressive thinking in Japan. The two parallel worlds make this point loud and clear but the link to the 2020 Olympics it revolves around yields no solid reason for actually existing.
Visually this film is stunning, and we’d expect nothing less from a Kamiyama project. Production IG subsidiary Signal.MD present two sumptuous looking worlds pulsating with exquisitely detailed artwork, whilst the current trend of “looser” based character designs synonymous with Mamoru Hosoda has been employed here, which takes a while to get used to.
Napping Princess possesses all the right qualities that make a great fantasy film and hits all the right beats, but falters a little in successfully gelling all the narrative elements together. At nearly two hours long, the flabbiness of the script is exposed but Kamiyama delivers a fun and poignant journey the whole family can enjoy.