The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Let’s be real here The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is perfect oscar bait. How so you may ask? Well the different categories have their own unique types bait. Animation though really doesn’t so much as critics liked it and it was it animated. However The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tips into the foreign film bait as it was produced by Japanese animated powerhouse, Studio Ghibli in 2013.
First off it’s cultural story, the academy eats that shit up, it has a sad ending, oh they love that, tears replenish their electrolytes and it’s done in an interesting animation style. Now I’m being little insulting as I think the Academy Awards are pompous and self-congratulatory, just because something is nominated or wins it doesn’t make it good. So is The Tale of the Princess Kaguya a good movie? OMG, yes, it’s wondrous.
I watched this in Japanese with English subtitles. It was directed by Isao Takahata.
Kaguya with a caged bird
The story of is based on a classical Japanese folk story called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter from the 10th century, a.k.a The Heien period. I read it once ages ago but let’s just focus on the movie and not its merits as an adaptation.
One day a Bamboo cutter sees a glowing stalk of bamboo, when he goes to investigate it he sees a tiny girl. He thinks she is a Divine Princess and takes her home. He shows her to his wife and the girl transforms into baby. The girl grows up very quickly and she makes friends with the local boys and enjoys her rural life.
The Bamboo cutter finds gold and fine clothing and thinks that the heaven means for the girl to grow up in the capital as a proper princess. So the Bamboo cutter takes the girl and his wife away from their mountain home to the capital where the girl is groomed to be a proper Heien lady, which is contrary to her free-spited personality but she complies. When she comes of age she is given the name of Kaguya for the light she seems to radiate.
Rumors then circulate about Kaguya’s beauty and five suitors ask for her hand in marriage. They all liken her to legendary treasure. Having to interest in marriage Kaguya asks each of them to bring her the treasure. Two try and fake the treasure, one abandons the quest, one tries to woo her with lies and one dies. Having caused misery to them Kaguya goes in to a state of depression. The Empeors then tries to pursues Kaguya and asks her to be his and against her father’s wishes Kaguya refuses. The Emperor then visits and embraces her and she vanishes. ZShe reappears and the Empeor withdraws but still wished Kaguya to be his. But the die has been cast because when the Empeor embrace her Kaguya wished in her heart for the moon to take her away and that wished is too be answered.
Kaguya tells her parents that she is really from the moon. While on the moon she has committed a crime by wishing to go to Earth and having a mortal life after a Celestial lady had experience it. She then tells them that on the 15th the Moon Host will come for her because she has wished for it but she doesn’t want to leave.
Kaguya and her servant then go back to her hometown where she runs into one her friends, Sutemaru, with whom her had a strong bond. She tells him that she would have been happiest with him. He tells her that he will protect her and that they should run away. They fly into the sky but Kaguya is torn from him and he awakens in the feild and thinks it was a dream and returns to his wife and child while Kaguya return to the capital.
Her family tries to protect her but the Moon host comes for her and once a moon robe in placed on her she will forget everything of her life. Kaguya and her parents beg for a moment but the robe is put on her as she hugs her parents.
As Kaguya arrives on the moon she looks back at the Earth with tears in her eyes.
Kaguya as a baby and her parents
This story is a universal story about the exception of parents and the happiness of children. Parents do their best but they always want their children to do better than them though sometimes that doesn’t bring the child happiness. It’s an ageless story that speaks to vast audience.
Kaguya is the bamboo grove
If I had one complaint with the movie is towards the middle it gets a little boring. Japanese film have a history of being stylistically slow which can add to the mood but it is an acquired taste. I would say that the pacing is good though as weird as that might be to say that it slow but the pacing is good. Otherwise it a lovely movie and my crummy write up doesn’t do it justice.
Kaguya and Sutemaru
The characters are fairly simple but they have complexities. Kaguya’s father is well meaning but does place high expectations on Kaguya. The mother is a little more of the salt of the Earth and understands Kaguya’s longing for the rural life more. Kaguya’s governess, Lady Sagami, is strict but well-meaning. Kaguya’s main love interest, Sutemaru is not that interesting as a character but you do root for them. I really loved Kaguya’s servant, Menowarawa, she is adorable.
Kaguya is the most established character. It’s a coming of age tale so we see her grown-up from an active girl to a bright graceful lady. Though even when she is a proper lady she doesn’t lose that natural spark she has throughout the beginning of the movie. That being said this type of character is nothing new, it’s been done a billion times but Kaguya is likable so she doesn’t feel like a rehashed character.
Kaguya running away
The main selling point of this movie is its animation. It has muted tone which I very often sight has a negative but here it’s not. The animation has a very story-book like quality to it, almost like a scroll from the Heien period. Two scenes that really stick out to me is Kaguya running from her naming party where the animation takes on this sumi-e, brush stroke energy and the second is where Kaguya and Sutemaru fly. That scene was gorgeous. I don’t think the animation willl be to everyone’s liking but I appreciate it style, elegances and mood.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is a very poetic movie that has all the right elements to be considered a masterwork. I think this might be one the best film from Studio Ghibli and that is saying a lot.