Dreams have been a constant crux of the human mind for as long as human activity has been documented. There’s something inherently fascinating about disconnecting from the world we live in, to somewhere else where limitations can’t hold you back.
It’s also where the crux of Napping Princess is, which looks at dreams, their purpose, and whether we’re closer to them now than ever before.
Napping Princess takes place within two contrasting, yet similar worlds. The real world is set in Japan in 2020, with the country gearing up to get ready to host the Olympics. It gives the film a modern day setting, but also means a couple of other things. It also demonstrates how the film sees this world as a vision of the future of Japan. Much of the bid campaign for Tokyo 2020 sold an image of Japan as a visionary of the future, because of advances they’ve made in technology. Its motto asks you to “Discover Tomorrow”, an invitation that Napping Princess humbly accepts.
Conversely, the dream world gives a look at Japan through the lens of youth. The most important thing to note about this world is that it’s the creation of Napping Princess’ main character, Kokone. Kokone is from a more rural area of Japan, and has bright aspirations of studying at university in Tokyo. Her dream world is a more personal view of how she sees the world around her, her relationship with it and her family.
Kokone’s dream world is as bright and rosy as the real-world Japan, but one that is heavily tainted. Her family’s line of work is within the car industry, so unsurprisingly cars are what completely dominates this world. However, this isn’t seen as a good thing. Cars are causing over-crowding within the world, and the people working these manufacturing jobs are often depicted as showing disdain for it. They’re locked within this system, even shown to the point of wearing padlocks at work. It shows that Kokone does not have a high opinion of her family’s work. She sees it as something that’s outdated and a source of a lot of stress. This is further seen by the roles her family take within this world. Her grandfather is pictured as a tyrannical leader of the world, which because of his rigidness is allowing for society’s dissatisfaction to continue. This is to reflect his position in the real world as a chairperson of one of Japan’s largest car manufacturing companies. A company that despite playing a large role in the Olympics, is not able to keep up with the times.
Despite all the negatives of her dream world, Kokone also sees hope. After all, it’s still a world that’s bright and colourful. Her father is shown as a rebel against the systems in place, a symbol of going against conformity. In a world built around cars, he rides around on a motorbike. He’s the person who accompanies Kokone throughout most of her journey in this world. In the real world their relationship feels a lot more distant. He’s not around often, and has many problems to deal with involving her grandfather’s company. His role within her dream world shows a longing desire to spend more time with him, but also a deep love and admiration for him.
Most importantly though is how this world uses magic. Other films of this ilk usually use magic as an extreme way of expressing character emotions. Magic is something that’s separate from the real, but that isn’t the case in Napping Princess. Instead the “magic” is all done through a tablet. A tablet that’s functions exactly like many we see today. This tablet is the sole possession of Kokone, and because of her actions you quickly see a change in this world. It changes the landscape of the world and gives renewed life to it. Her two biggest achievements is reanimating a teddy bear to life named “Joy”, and an all new auto-driving vehicle called “Heart”. This shows how much of a belief Napping Princess has in technology. Technology is what gives life in this world. Technology is what literally brings Heart and Joy. It says to its younger audience members that exploring with technology is a wonderful thing, something that they can change the world with.
What really drives it home however is how the tablet, Heart and Joy take key roles back in the real world. They’re all key elements to how Kokone interacts in the real world. The tablet is a source of conflict within the film, but also something that helps Kokone throughout her journey. Joy, as its namesakes implies, brings a lot of happiness and is what inspires Kokone the most. Joy is her main companion, and her best friend. Heart is seen as the vision of the future in the real world, because of its role in Olympics, and most importantly how it helps bridges the distance between herself and her family. This crossover between dream world and real world objects through technology shows how the film sees the future. The future is something that before could only be dreamt about, but now is attainable because of the vision of youth. It also shows how technology brings people together, with these pieces playing major parts in fixing family relations which before looked like they’d always be broken.
In an medium where many of anime’s family films are deep-rooted in Japanese tradition and history, Napping Princess provides a refreshing new outlook on old formulas. It understands that children have been and are continuing to grow up in a world full of technology. It also understands that adults continue to have fears and worries of that fact. Underneath its child-like wonderment and warm vibes, it has a cross-generational message about technology, saying that it isn’t something to be feared and in fact should be something to be explored. It sees technology has something that can bring us closer to our dreams, because it can bring us a lot of heart and joy.