Clarke's Law, originated by the great science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke, states that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Napping Princess is one of an enormous number of works over the decades that have played with this interplay between magic and technology.
Kokone (Mitsuki Takahata) is an ordinary high school girl who gets caught up in industrial espionage machinations when her father is accused of stealing tech for automating of motor vehicles from a previous employer. She goes on the run with his tablet computer and the family motorbike which the father has been tinkering with. Meanwhile, her sleep is overtaken by dreams of a magical kingdom which Princess Ancien (also voiced by Takahata) tries to protect from monstrous behemoths, despite the machinations of an evil vizier, with the aid of... a magic tablet (an alternative title for the movie of 'Ancien and the Magic Tablet' can still be seen in the end credits). Is Ancien a parallel version of Kokone? If not, who is she? What exactly is the technology the father has been developing? As elements of the real world and Kokone's dream world start to bleed into each other, events buld to a climax around the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics opening ceremony (the film was released in 2017, they couldn't have known).
Writerdirector Kenji Kamiyama carries over much of the art style from his previous work Eden of the East, as well as innovative use of modern and near-future telecommunications. He is a dab hand with science fiction, having been one of the primary hands in the creation of the acclaimed series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. The vibrant energy of the fantasy scenes, complete with a steampunk sensibility that blends in robots and machines seamlessly, contrasts with the mundanity of modern Japan, and the combination is visually arresting.
The concept of a fantasy world that parallels and comments on the real one is hardly new - I could point to The Wizard of Oz or Sucker Punch, or in anime Black Rock Shooter and When Marnie Was There. It's a rich seam for stories though, and far from mined out. I feel that Napping Princess overplays its hand a bit though. It feels like a teenage writer's first excited attempt at playing with a high literary concept, enthusiastic but lacking the methodical discipline that comes with experience, losing its cohesion towards the end. Kamiyama is not a teenager though. He has over 20 years of experience with exactly this kind of work, during which he has been in pretty much constant demand. My theory is that this is actually a story he came up with in his youth and held onto until he could bring it to life, and his affection for it has blinded him to its flaws. That is very much speculation though, and I admit that I have no real evidence to back it up. It could just as well be that the change in story length from the 25-minute TV series episodes he is accustomed to proved his undoing.
As I have said, the visuals are impressive, and the cast and score do their job without standing out. I like the fact that the ideas in the story reach for something bigger, and if only they were stronger, they could have carried the other elements to somewhere really impressive. It's still a good and enjoyable film, as a couple of hours' entertainment, but with the elements it has, I still want to hope for something more...
For my full review, see my independent film review weblog on Blogspot, Cinema Inferno.
Review by justbob1982 from the Internet Movie Database.