High school junior Kokone Morikawa (voiced by Mitsuki Takahata), the heroine of the animated Japanese film “Napping Princess,” would rather spend the summer dozing and looking after her widowed mechanic father than watching the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which are only a few days off. But she finds herself caught up in two intertwined adventures: A fantasy based on the stories her father told her as a little girl, in which she must defend the Kingdom of Heartland, and an all-too-real case of industrial espionage tied to the Olympic ceremonies. Aided by her sensible friend Morio Sawatari (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), Kokone must find a way to overcome the interlocking threats.
As he did in the popular “Eden and the East” and “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex,” writer-director Kenji Kamiyama tells a complicated tale without resorting to dull explanations or pat conclusions. Kokone’s quest veers in directions that are often unexpected but make sense within the framework of the story.
Her journey not only enables her to discover previously untapped reserves of strength and imagination, but to learn about her late mother, a fiercely independent executive and a brilliant programmer. The film’s message of female empowerment feels more convincing and satisfying than the facile lessons of the spunky heroines in recent American features.
To present his story, Kamiyama uses visual references that range from epic battles modeled after “Neon Genesis Evangelion” to flying scenes that recall Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Inventive and imaginative, “Napping Princess” confirms him as one of the most interesting writer-directors working in Japanese animation.
In Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena